Men of Tanith, do you want to live forever!? Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach is one of Slitherine & Matrix Game’s flagship strategy titles — it looks great (the best-looking game they’d ever made until Battlestar Galactica Deadlock came along), it’s really engaging on a tactical level, and overall was a pretty decent facsimile of the table-top experience.
The game’s first DLC, Legacy of the Weirdboy, was a small step, but it really fleshed out the Ork’s as a faction – their penchant for low-cost mob units and swarm tactics, mixed with a healthy amount of chaotic heavy hitters, made them unpredictable and very boulder-like in how they moved across the map. Coupled with this was a short but very inventive campaign that showed off how creative the team could get with the basics of what they’d created, through some very unique missions types and evolutions of each scenario.
Now, the game’s second DLC, Sons of Cadia, is here. The Astra Militarum is out in full force having joined in on the war for Alaric Prime. Guardsman armed with Lasguns & Grenade Launchers stand shoulder to shoulder with Ogryn’s and Tempestus Scions. Behind them, they’re supported by hero units ranging from Psykers and Commissars, to full on Castellans. Complimented by a modest range of armoured units, the Guard are an army that can in the right circumstances deal out more damage than the Space Marines… unless you get into melee. Then they just die. (Seriously, don’t do it.)
Along with an entire new faction, you get a host of new abilities. We’ve seen some of the usual suspects like grenades, to other abilities such as med-packs, faster movement and a tactical scanner that reveals portions of the map. Sanctus Reach has always had a problem with XP management (and nothing’s changed in Cadia), but provided you can get the unlocks, your army will be pretty formidable and be able to pull off some neat tricks.
Playing as the Guard is in itself more art than science. A basic unit can deal out some pretty respectable damage on its own, and since they’re cheaper than a Space Wolves tactical squad, you can field more of them at once. Guardsmen also have a pretty lethal reaction fire, and if you deploy your squads right you can lay down a field of death that would fell most units. As we alluded too above, the problem is when the Orks managed to slip through into melee. Still, there are other units one can make use of: The Basilisk makes its mark known in triumphant glory, more accurate and lethal than the Space Marine’s Whirlwind. Grenade launcher units – like Bullgryns & Grenade Launcher-equipped Guardsman – are good for hammering that morale… and of course there are the flamer units.
For the heavier opponents, a menagerie of Lemun Russ variants are at your disposal, but my favourite has to be the Armoured Sentinel. It’s able to travel quite far and its long range lascannon is great for sniping at strong, single units. It’s incredibly versatile as well, as it can still move after it’s used up all its shots.
There are some things missing that I was hoping to be included, like heavy weapons and mortar squads, and there’s generally a level of minutia in the Guard faction that is also absent. If you thumb through the Militarum’s Codex, you’ll see plenty of mechanics that revolve around squads of units working together in tactical unison. Fire teams take up positions, short-range mortars or heavy bolters deploy for fire support, all coordinated by the Platoon Commander that can give special orders to allow for action efficiency and focused attacks.
Now obviously, not everyone would have necessarily had the same expectations as me coming into this DLC, so take all of this with a pinch of salt. Some of the late campaign heroes have some special abilities that are the same as the Special Orders you’d find in the codex. During these specific missions, you have moments where the Astra Miliatrum really comes alive as a faction that stands apart from the Space Marines and the Orks, where they genuinely feel different in how you set them up and make best use of their faculties… but these moments are rare. I feel there’s a missed opportunity for a lower-level hero unit that could do some of these more regularly, to really hit home the ‘Platoon’ dynamic, but I guess that’s just me.
Legacy of the Weirdboy introduced story-boards to the main campaign, which have now been left out again. Sanctus Reach is a dry game as it is, and the lack of story-boards doesn’t really help with trying to connect with the campaign at large. The campaign itself is 9 main missions long, which is certainly nothing to sniff at, but it lacks some of the creativity shown in Weirdboy. The missions are variations of either “Attack” “Defend” or “Both”, with the most interesting ones being the defensive missions because then it turns into a pseudo-hoard scenario which really does test your tactical thinking.
For example, in one mission the map’s single victory point is defended by only two Imperial Knight units, with the rest of your 10,000 point army on the edge of the map. You have to fight your way through a veritable tide of Orks, and then hold on for 17 turns. These types of missions are pretty cool and will test the limits of your tactical flexibility, and there are other cool set-piece battles as well.
To buy or not to buy?
This is actually a pretty simple proposition – if you liked Sanctus Reach at launch and like the idea of leading the Guard on the battlefield, then this is a pretty good buy. There are enough key beats that are touched on to give you a decent experience as the Astra Militarum, and you certainly get your money’s worth in terms of new content.
If you’re not bothered by the squishy humans though then this expansion’s focus may not be worth the investment. There’s a Morkanaut and some new Imperial Knight units you encounter in single-player that can also be marshalled in skirmish and multiplayer, but we wouldn’t call these must-haves per se.
Straylight have shown a competent handling of the subject matter so far – misteps can easily be attributed to budget or design constraints, and everything they do now will probably just go into making a kick-ass sequel anyway. Sons of Cadia can feel a bit more of a slog than the other campaigns at times, but the devs creativity and reverence does still shine In moments of glory. We look forward to seeing what they do next.