Video Games based on the Warhammer 40k IP have become commonplace, can Eisenhorn Xenos be one of the stand outs in this bloated field of games?
The Warhammer 40,000 universe has always been more than just Space Marines and forces of Chaos. The 40k IP is easily the most important thing Games Workshop owns. The universe is so immense yet in many ways also so well fleshed out it rivals even Star Wars as the best SciFi setting in existence for gaming or story telling purposes. This is in no small part due to the massive number of books put out by the Black Library over the years. Voluminous tomes of fiction by some very prolific writers, they really don’t get the credit (and I suspect the pay days) they deserve. One such shining example of author and story line that are equal parts immersive and exceptional are Dan Abnett and his Eisenhorn Trilogy. For years when working at my FLGS in college, and still to this day as a regular 40k player, when someone new asks me about the setting and ways to get into it and learn about it I point them to the Eisenhorn trilogy first. Easily one of the most compelling trilogies set in the 40k universe it came as no surprise to me when the IP for it was loaned out for an Action style video game. I was immediately pulled in by the idea of playing as one of my favorite 40k characters of all time, and the more I read about the game, the more excited I became.
The game being set in the world the novels created, in and of itself, would be exciting enough. However they decided to take it a step further and have the games follow the story line of the novels by Dan Abnett with the first being Eisenhorn: Xenos. Again, this is exciting news itself as a fan of the novels but then you come to find out that Dan Abnett himself was writing the dialogue in the game as well as the plot. If you’re a true fan of the 40k setting you’re an Abnett fan and if you like PC Gaming as well then this would have been great news to you, as it was to me. I logged into Steam and downloaded the game and got to playing.
The game uses the Quake engines, as so many games do, which is a very solid platform to build a 3rd person Action/Adventure style game from. Right from the get go you recognize the world and story line you’re thrown into. As you play through the first level of the game you’re familiarized with the basics of moving, running, jumping and all the other basics. You get to use the Auspex to take control of door locks, vid screens and the like. One of the coolest aspects is how you get to use the Psychic powers of Gregor Eisenhorn to control minds of the enemy, blind them, and distract them. Combat is great. You get to use the ubiquitous Auto-pistol, a Power Sword, and you can even use your psychic powers to shove the enemy away. It’s all very 40k in feel and design. If you’ve read the novels you also become keenly aware of Abnetts presence. After playing the game for the first time for about 2 hours I went and sat down with my Omnibus copy of the Eisenhorn trilogy. I started reading Xenos again, immediately lines from the book and game began to line up word for word; the imagery of the worlds set up by Abnett jump off the page and mesh perfectly with the visuals I had just fought, crawled, creeped, and puzzled my way through. The way the characters, dialogue, and settings line up with the novels is truly uncanny.
The other great part of this game that becomes readily apparent almost immediately is how well it portrays the immense size and power of the Imperium of Man in the 41st millennium. From the get go you get a real sense that you’re in the 40k universe. Few other video games have captured the essence of the 41st millennium as described by the fluff. Space Marine did a decent job for the first 2 parts of the game plus the back ground imagery and the sheer size of the Titan when you fought on it got the point across well. Some games like the Dawn of War series, while entertaining and amazing as RTS games go, did not capture the 41st millennium well. The RTS may not be a good way to get the full scope of 40k across but the DoW series’ failed to really give you a sense for anything outside of the Table Top game on a PC screen. Eisenhorn is better at immersing you into the world of 40k than any video game that’s come before.
All that said the game has some fairly major drawbacks. These are the usual complaints leveled at games like this or Space Marine. They become repetitive fast. Particularly the combat which quickly devolves into button mashing, mouse clicking, hack and slash repetition quickly. Another drawback to the game is the lack of open world format. I understand that games like this and Space Marine would be extremely difficult to pull off in a GTA style open world format but a universe as cool as 40k deserves that type of immersive treatment. It would be awesome to play as Eisenhorn, or even an Arbites or Clan Gang member, in an open world. Why though do I think this is a draw back if I admit it would be hard to pull off? Because this game and it’s visuals scream for the player to explore them. You can’t help but look out on several of the sweeping vistas given to the player and be drawn into wanting to explore the numerous settings more fully.
The way Eisenhorn: Xenos draws you into the story line while simultaneously giving you a close up look at “living” the 41st millennium as a member of the Inquisitions Ordo Xenos is exceptional in the video game world. This game, like the novels it is based on, easily give the best picture of the 40k universe the medium of video games has ever produced. Not playing as a super human, bio engineered, bad ass really gives a more human feel to the universe which was always a major benefit of the Abnett trilogy.
Eisenhorn: Xenos is a great game for anyone who loves the 40k universe. If you’re a huge fan of Dan Abnett or of the Eisenhorn trilogies you’ll also get a ton of enjoyment out of the game. A full play through takes a couple dedicated hours of play and the stamina to get through more than a few fairly annoying puzzles along the way; overall the unique story line and the way the game is presented overcomes the draw backs for those who truly love 40k.
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