Name: The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth
Developer: Steel Wool Studios
Publisher: Steel Wool Studios
Released: 27.02.2017 (Early Access)
Platforms: PC, VR
Reviewed on: PC
Acquired: *A copy of this game was provided from publisher for review purpose*
The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth (Henceforth abbreviated ‘HH:BC’ because damn, what a long name) is a a strategy game based on the world of Warhammer 40k – Games Workshop’s sci-fi universe. Although it is playable in VR, I sadly do not have a headset so this review will only cover the PC version. The current early access build comprises act 1 of the story, with more content promised to arrive soon.
The current early access version of HH:BC comprises five missions, and as such there is not a whole lot to dig into here. That said, the cutscenes between missions, while crude, generally have intriguing plot hooks. Act 1 follows Sarc – a technician on the planet Calth – as the planet comes under attack and he must team up with a squad of space marines to get to the bottom of the data problems caused by it.
I am not familiar with the world of Warhammer 40k beyond the broadest strokes, which means a lot of the more specific lore and history is lost on me. If you are coming from the same position, HH:BC might appear a bit lore-dumpy. A lot of information is presented with no discernable way to figure out more inside of the game. (There is a menu option called “Lexicanum” which sounds like it might help, but crashes the game so who knows)
The graphics of HH:BC are simplistic, flat and honestly quite boring. Presumably this is necessary for the game to run in VR, but given the performance issues on just one screen I have my doubts. Characters are rendered in flat colors and clunky shapes and the environment follows a similar pattern. Additionally the game ran at a steady 9-12 fps on my PC, even though it is about the level of recommended specs and changing graphic settings takes several minutes.
All of your space marines also share one set of animations, which means seeing a squad move into position and take a shot means watching three models perform the exact same motion in sync. This might be a minor nitpick, but reinforces the sense of simplistic and weak visuals.
That said, the iconic look of the Warhammer 40k universe provides a stylish design. Tall pillars, classical architecture and gargantuan statues provide a visually interesting, if not graphically impressive, backdrop.
The minute-to-minute gameplay of HH:BC is not particularly engaging. While squads have a lot of options, it often boils down to “stand still and shoot” or “move to cover and shoot”. There is some strategic depth in the choice of weapons and their effects, but the first act is not enough to showcase it.
My primary issue however, is the speed of it all. Each unit has two action points, but can only spend one at the time and between each action point you spend the control switches and the enemies take a turn. This makes rounds take a long time. An average round is probably 5-6 minutes long without thinking time and most of it is spent watching animations. In the final mission of act 1 I spent 2 whole rounds doing nothing but moving six units forward, having defeated all enemies. That is about four minutes of no decisions being made and the slowness is amplified ten times by having to see “Ultramarines’ Turn” between each action point and the single digit framerate.
There is definitely some potential in the combat, but battles need to speed up and pose more interesting challenges before it hooks me.
The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth is very obviously designed for VR. Text panels are billboarded in midair and the camera angle is meant to lend itself to seeing “the midst of the action”. With the low framerate and awkward camera angle, clicking icons and surveying the map becomes a major chore, rather than an exciting core loop.
It is quite possible this works better in VR, but I can’t recommend the controls for PC.
As it stands, there is not much replay value in HH:BC. The first act with tutorializing is about 80 minutes long and does not provide a lot of options for strategic depth or variations. There is also the problem of slow and clunky gameplay and load times of several minutes. There is always the option of playing multiplayer matches, which solves the problems of depth but not the overarching issues of the game.
I cannot recommend The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth. If you are interested in trying strategy games for VR or are an enormous fan of Warhammer 40k there might be something for you here, but the slow pace of gameplay, poor graphics and performance issues make it a hard sell.
Replay Value: 4/10
Total Score: 4/10
*We won’t recommend this, but the game’s got potential*