Warhammer 40,000 ought to be a great setting for a bloody, old-fashioned top-down action RPG. The universe is full of power-armoured individuals cutting swathes through enemies with mad weapons. Chief among these heroes are the Inquisitors: part crazed fanatic, part internal affairs agent, they find corruption everywhere and burn it with flamethrowers. They're judge, jury and executioner in one giant metal suit, with guns that can melt buildings.
Fresh from completing the Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing trilogy, Neocore reckons it can nail the fantasy with Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr. The focus is on weighty, thoughtful fights with clusters of smart enemies. You can blast them from afar with a bolter or rend them with a chainsword at handshake distance while your foes—mostly Chaos heretics so far—work together to avoid a gory death. "They are going to have AI, which means that they are going to have leaders, they are going to send out alerts" says lead writer Viktor Juhasz.
They're going to take cover, too. Like the grandiose stone masonry of the Imperial battleship you fight through, cover can be blown to chunks with bolter fire. "You can use the cover, monsters can use the cover, and sometimes if you try to jump into the middle of a group behind the cover, the monsters might flee and find refuge behind the cover on the other side". From the footage I've seen so far, this leads to longer encounters than you'd expect from Diablo or Torchlight. It works. The Inquisitor is a clanking, loping figure, locked into a holy sarcophagus that doubles as armour; don't expect any dodging backflips.
Your Inquisitor can be upgraded throughout the story campaign. "Well, we are going to use the traditional level-up system, and we are going to use a crafting system, which will be smoothly tied into the 40K lore, and we are going to have various skills tied to various weapons, and we are going to have some skills which are tied to the different classes," Juhasz explains. At one point in the video the Inquisitor picks up a plasma cannon and the skills on his taskbar shift to a new set of abilities. It fires powerful blasts of luminous blue flame, but can overheat when used too often.
The story is largely set aboard an ancient drifting spaceship monastery that "belonged to a very obscure sect of he Inquisition a very, very long time ago". The developers want it to feel like a horror scenario akin to Alien, which is the reason the campaign will only be playable alone. "The sense of exploration, the sense of claustrophobia, is very important, which could be ruined a bit by having, I don’t know, three of your friends swarming all over the place and jumping through the same cutscenes and dialogues."
You will still get to visit open areas set on moons and planets, and there are contained vehicle sections that let you requisition some of the Empire's finest war machines. If you're keen to play with others and explore more open environments Martyr contains an immediately-accessible Inquisitorial Campaign mode. This randomly generates missions spread across an entire sector of space, and is designed to give some context to your crusading. There are various factions to impress, and the sector can suddenly find itself beset by invasion from some of the meaner villains of the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
"These events will pretty much just introduce a conflict and it’s up to the players to decide which side they’re going to take. So, for example, one of the sub-sectors is attacked by the Dark Eldar and the other one is attacked by the Orks, and the player is, on a metagame level, going to decide which chains of missions they’re going to embark on, and based on what the majority of the players decided, that’s going to determine what the next event will be."
In addition you can build fortresses that can be invaded by other Inquisitors, adding an indirect PvP element to the sector-wide metagame. As your Inquisitor becomes more powerful, you can fly to new subsectors swarming with fiercer enemies. The Inquisitor Campaign will provide a gradual drip-feed of progress that will hook players for a long time, or so Neocore hopes.
The metagame will be irrelevant if Martyr's core combat isn't up to standard, and it faces some serious competition from Diablo 3. However, it's good to see the game pursuing its own style and pace, which carries right through to boss fights. At the end of the video the Inquisitor fights a towering demon of Nurgle. Large monsters have locational damage systems, which the Inquisitor exploits to blow both of its arms off before putting it out of its misery. It's gory, tactical, and suitably over-the-top. If the combat becomes stompy and satisfying enough, this could be a neat addition to the ever-growing roster of Warhammer games. It's due out next year.