Saying we were a bit excited when it was announced that after a decade of waiting, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine was getting a sequel would be an understatement. Developed by Relic Entertainment and released in 2011, the original Space Marine was both an adrenaline-pumping action game and an evocative depiction of a 40K Forge World. We were eager to line up Saber Interactive, the studio developing Space Marine 2, for an interview during this year's PC Gaming Show (opens in new tab).
Tim Willits, Saber's chief creative officer, is a veteran developer with credits going back to id Software's 1990s heyday, having designed levels for Ultimate Doom and worked on games like Hexen and Quake. Willits brought the historical perspective, saying, "I bet many people do not know that the original DoomGuy was actually a space marine inspired by an even older space marine, which is the Warhammer 40,000 space marine."
Where DoomGuy pretty much exclusively fights demons, Captain Titus spent the previous Space Marine game demolishing orks and the forces of Chaos. It looks like he'll be doing the same to swarms of alien tyranids in its sequel. "In this particular game the tyranids are the main focus," said Saber's creative director Oliver Hollis-Leick, "and what makes them compelling is that they are extragalactic locust-like creatures, they've come in from goodness knows where, they spread like wildfire, they devour everything in their path, and they leave nothing in their wake."
"One of the great things about the tyranids is they come in the thousands," said Willits, "and our proprietary engine, the Saber Swarm Engine, can deliver these epic battles. Just like our previous game World War Z where we had hundreds of zombies, now we will have thousands of tyranids, and you will rip and tear through them all."
Rip and tear, hey? Can't quite place it, but I think I might have heard that somewhere before.
One of the main reasons Relic's Space Marine is still fondly remembered is its combat, which pushed back against the popular cover-shooter formula of the era with a system that rewarded you for closing on enemies like you'd just been given a motivational speech by Alec Baldwin. Its gory chainsword, power axe and hammer executions were both fun to watch, and how you got your health back in the absence of hip-level walls to hide behind. What's Space Marine 2 got in store for us there?
"The combat in Space Marine 2 is a mix between in-your-face melee combat, along with some really cool over-the-top weapons," said Willits. " We looked at the original Space Marine game where they had a lot of this 'push-forward combat', which has inspired many other videogames." Willits would know, having been studio director at id during the 2016 Doom reboot, which similarly rewarded players with finishers that handed out both health and ammo.
"That 'never-stop, never-take-cover combat' is integral to Space Marine 2," he went on, "along with these really cool, powerful weapons. You're either tearing up enemies in front of you, or you're blowing 'em away from the back of the battlefield. It's the best of both worlds."
It all goes back to the tabletop games that inspired all the Warhammer videogames. During research for Space Marine 2, Hollis-Leick and Willits looked for inspiration at Games Workshop's Warhammer World museum, which exhibits hordes of professionally painted miniatures. If celebrity visitor Henry Cavill says it's a cool place to visit, that should be good enough for anyone.
"You find yourself crouching down and looking into the ranks of space marines that are facing tyranids or orks or whatever," Hollis-Leick said, "and something Tim and I said at that moment was, 'We need to make this come alive. I don't want to look at this, I want to be inside this. I want to be gunning down tyranids by the thousands. And so seeing that actually happen and come alive has been thrilling."
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 2 will be coming to PC, as well as PS5 and Xbox Series S and X, soon.