I love the Warhammer 40.000 universe, I really do. Having said so, I know very little about it. I dislike playing figurines and while I’m a wiki-addict, most of my knowledge comes from friends who have read the many novels. But even so, the name Eisenhorn means something to me. It’s a name I’ve heard in gasps of awe. The Inquisitor Eisenhorn of the Ordo Xenos is a badass among many in this ultra-testosterone-fuelled universe.
When I saw the press release announcing Eisenhorn: Xenos for PC my eyes went wide, my mouth slack and I think I might have drooled a bit. When I told my friends about it, the ones that introduced me to the character, to say they were excited is an understatement.
So what do I think of Eisenhorn: Xenos so far?
Before I tell you let me just get the introductory bit out of the way. Eisenhorn: Xenos is a 3rd person action-adventure game developed by Pixel Hero Games, adapting the first Eisenhorn novel by Dan Abnett. It’s a direct adaptation with no changes in the storylines, so if you’ve read the novel, you won’t find any surprises here. Having said so, there are variations on the way the scenes play. For example, a scene where Eisenhorn busts head you can go through with stealth and assassinations.
I tried to be stealthy…wasn’t so successful, so punchy-stabby was the way to go for me. I would like to believe that Eisenhorn approved.
Eisenhorn: Xenos’s locations look amazing, capturing the feel of the Warhammer 40.000 universe. Impressive feats of technology no one truly understands but still manage to keep working, and Hubris is a perfect example. The machinery and infrastructure keep churning but they barely hold together. The tombs look pristine, keeping the illusion of nobility, but the place is falling apart behind the scenes. The giant buildings and their gold standards and inlays shine in the light, all for the glory of the Imperium of Man, but the maintenance shafts, the engineering corridors, they look old and worn.
But while there’s been considerable effort made into the locations, the character models need some polishing as they look stiff and plastic when they talk . The lip sync is all over the place, and at worst they look like puppets talking. It’s particularly bad for the Chastener.
Gameplay has one major issue with me, and this is a purely personal: too many forced walking segments and Eisenhorn walks too slow in them. I know you want to add some drama to his gait, but he’s an inquisitor, he moves with purpose and he’s a character who doesn’t like having his time wasted. He should and would move faster than he does in the game at this point. Also, I want to explore his cutter at my speed, so don’t slow me down within its halls, decks and rooms.
The combo system in combat could use some work. The timings are good, help you understand how to play the character effectively but keeping the combo going doesn’t seem to have any benefit. You already stun-lock enemies when you attack them, so that’s not a benefit from high combos, and you don’t seem to deal extra damage with them, so I fail to see the benefit of stringing the combo together. I do like that you block by attacking your attacker, it’s fun. But sadly that one moment also exposes another major issue with the fights: they lack weight.
When your blades clash in a block, you hear the clang, but it doesn’t feel like the strikes had any weight behind them, as if they were fighting with plastic swords. It sounds harsh, I know, but this is the Warhammer 40k universe, and even the tiniest weapon has impact, even the tiniest gun is like the Noisy Cricket from Men in Black. So when you have power-swords sheathed in lightning and you see blood spraying but the characters barely flinch from the impact, it feels off. The finisher is particularly bad at this.
The gun is better in this regard, though it has the same issue with the combat system.
One a final note on this is the stamina bar. It feels a bit tacked on, particularly because it only comes into play in combat for attacks and your “hold breath” move that stops time and lets you do three consecutive attacks. You use it and the stamina—and the hold-breath gauge—depletes and you have to wait to attack again, but you can still dodge and move around. I like stamina bars but only when they have an overall effect on the gameplay, when they’re a core mechanic that powers many moves.
But I do love how they present Psykers and Eisenhorn’s psychic abilities. Eisenhorn’s Will aka Force Push is awesome and the mini-game for brain hacking was pretty fun. I love the audiovisual cue, the shadows around him, the deeper voice and the ‘cloud’ that surrounds him when he uses his psychic abilities. It’s powerful stuff.
Your psychic sense telling you where enemies are is pretty good but I wish it had more uses than this. So far, it’s only useful when you’re trying to be stealthy, but nothing else.
Also not a fan of the inventory system, feels a bit clunky and it was always unclear what I as equipping or not.
Mark Strong’s voice acting as Eisenhorn is amazing, he adds such depth and gravitas to an already heavy character. It’s superb, it really is. Eisenhorn fans will have shivers running down their spines when he starts talking. In fact, the overall cast is quite nice, though there are three that could use some improvement, and they’re the Chastener, Eyclone and Midas. Midas in particular sounds very unconvincing. I loved Eisenhorn’s Psyker’s voice actor, the placid tone of voice mixed in with the vacant stare help sell the Sanctioned Psyker to you, how their life is, particularly that of an Astropath. He seems unfeeling, but Eisenhorn knows that he sees the world in a different way. It’s great stuff!
In conclusion, there are things to fix, things I would change but the feel and atmosphere of Eisenhorn is there and with an adaptation, it’s one of the most important things. I hope they can improve on some of the rough spots because the game has a lot of potential and I want to see it succeed, particularly because I want them to then move away from the novels and create their own Eisenhorn stories.
In the coming days, I’ll be uploading a preview video. Sadly, because I’m not yet in my place (recently moved), I can’t upload the video yet!