Eisenhorn: Xenos is another of the multitude of Warhammer Fantasy and 40K games that has rather suddenly appeared (which is brilliant) as Games Workshop seems to be struggling a little in the physical world (which isn’t so brilliant). This time the license is based on a book (Eisenhorn Xenos, funnily enough) rather than being its own new-fangled story and I’m finding it hard to tell whether it errs on the side of being looked forward to or not. And just to be clear I’m all in favour of the premise, just not the execution as it currently stands.
It should also be said that the game is beng developed for both PC and mobile devices which I believe – as I’m sure many others will – hampers it. Yes, the textures are done differently for each but that’s not the issue; the core combat, animations, and all the audio are where my concerns lie. The latter two are both subject to change/improvement and the combat might be enhanced by these, but it does still remain my largest concern. It is by no means fun or exciting, but serviceable and interesting to a degree. That said, I have quite low standards for getting through combat because storytelling is a bigger factor for me.
The combat is akin to something like Fable: a button a piece for melee, ranged, and will (magic) attacks. There’s a rhythm-based mechanic to the melee (still closer to Fable than, say, The Witcher – which I love despite its flaws) but it doesn’t carry much weight in its current form. There’s also a mechanic where you can let loose targeted attacks aimed at specific targets, which isn’t that far from Fallout’s VATS system; though it only targets individuals as a whole rather than their body parts. That’s about the most interesting thing about the combat though, as the stealth and finishing moves are a little lacklustre in their current forms.
Visually it might not be stunning, but it does capture the scale and feel of the Imperium of Man which is always what strikes me as important for any game set in either Warhammer universe. The world has the 40K feel and the environments, while sometimes constrictive, do have some areas which convey the scale and vastness of the structures you’re moving within, such as the giant tomb in the preview build.
It’s difficult to tell how much the sound design plays into the slightly hollow feeling I get from the game. I’m a big fan of Mark Strong and him taking a second run at 40K as the Inquisitor, Eisenhorn, after being in the Space Marine game gave me high hopes. He plays both parts in much the same way but Eisenhorn feels less full of life, more like words spoken off a script than played as an acted part. It may be that the cutscenes don’t alter the music to fit the mood better, or maybe Mark’s performance isn’t quite so Strong this time… *cough*
The story is ripped straight out of the book and as a Warhammer fan but not a reader of the books (for my sins), I’m still invested enough to want to know how it all turns out. The game is sticking to the book in just about every way that it can, making compromises in order to let the player have a little freedom to customise their experience with regards to combat.
There is stealth (or the option of stealth) in parts where it may have been full combat in the book, and you can pick and choose who you bring along in the chapters that follow the preview build. I’m guessing that the fact that you can customise the equipment won’t break the plot so long as you’re not getting your hands on Lightning Claws but my only options were: power sword, upgraded power sword, and two pistols and a shotgun. There’s meant to be a vast array of weapons to choose from in the final build but there’s no inkling as to what this array may be yet.
I really want to be hopeful for it but it feels like I’m setting myself up for disappointment. It lacks polish and that’s what Pixel Hero Games (the developer) are mostly working on. I really hope that they manage to succeed as the idea is great. However, I can’t help but feel worried that the game coming to mobile devices has meant its design has been compromised.