I still remember the first time I discovered Games Workshop, Warhammer 40,000, and miniature gaming in general. In my early teenage years, I stumbled across a Games Workshop Store while on a trip to a mall in Texas, and one small demo later, I was parting ways with my saved up allowance to buy some Tyranids.
This was way back in the days when you could get a box of 16 Genestealers for around $20, allowing even a kid to collect a small army of miniatures.
While I have dipped in and out of the physical game over the years, 40k has entertained me through novels- and of course video games- ever since. Games Workshop used to be quite stingy with the Warhammer license, meaning that video game adaptations were few and far between.
All that changed when they opened the floodgates in the 2010s, releasing a tidal wave of games from countless smaller and middle tier studios. Sadly, a lot of them ranged from mediocre to complete shovelware, designed to make a quick buck on mobile devices. That said, we’ve still had plenty of pretty decent, and even great, 40k games over the decades.
The recent announcement of 9th Edition, as well as the Skulls for the Skull Throne 4 event, has given me the perfect excuse to climb upon my pulpit and preach about 40k video games with the same fervor as a member of the Ecclesiarchy.
Here are five of my favorite games set in the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium.
Final Liberation: Warhammer Epic 40,000
Publisher: Strategic Simulations
Developer: Holistic Design
Release Date: November 20th, 1997
I’ll admit that my nostalgia goggles are probably at full power with this one. Final Liberation: Warhammer Epic 40,000 is by far the oldest, and therefore most archaic, 40k game on this list. I have fond memories playing this as a kid, due in no small part to the gloriously cheesy FMV cutscenes, and the Kane-like overacting of Commissar Holt.
The game itself is a relatively faithful adaptation of Epic, a 40k spin-off that used smaller, 6mm miniatures to depict massive battles and gigantic war machines that would be nearly impossible to replicate in the normal tabletop game. This means that there is a lot of dice rolling and random chance built into the game, which some people may or may not like.
Final Liberation: Warhammer Epic 40,000 isn’t actually part of the Skulls for the Skull Throne event, because the only place to buy it is GOG. Luckily, GOG is also running their Summer Sale right now, meaning that the game is 75% off its already meager price of $5.99. Bear in mind that since the game is over two decades old, you may need to do some fiddling to get it working on modern PCs.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
Publisher: THQ (Now Sega)
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Release Date: September 5th, 2011
We all knew this one would be on the list somewhere. Space Marine remains the best shooter in the 40k universe, though that probably isn’t saying much considering its competition includes Fire Warrior and Eternal Crusade.
Space Marine was compared a lot to Gears of War when it first released, primarily from clueless people and members of the press that didn’t realize that 40k predates Gears of War by so much, that it’s old enough to be its father.
Instead of plinking away with assault rifles from behind a chest-high wall, Space Marine has a much larger emphasis on getting stuck in the middle of a group of Orks, so you can shred them apart with a bolt pistol and chainsword.
In fact, melee executions are the main way to heal yourself, proving that any good servant of the Emperor is too full of righteous fury and devotion to the Imperium to die.
I actually replayed Space Marine a few years back, and it still holds up pretty well. Obviously its visuals have aged quite a bit over the past nine years, but watching an Ork’s head explode from a bolt round is still cathartic. It’s a shame that the final boss is pretty lame, and THQ’s death ensured that the game’s cliffhanger was never resolved.
If you somehow don’t already have this awesome Astartes power fantasy in your game library, then you can buy it for $7.49 right now.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War & Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Release Date: September 20th, 2004 & February 19th, 2009
No discussion about Relic Entertainment and 40k would be complete without mentioning the Dawn of War franchise. Many fans still hold it up as one of the best 40k video games ever made, and its beloved by RTS gamers in general. The original Dawn of War defined the post-Homeworld Relic RTS formula, that was further cemented with Company of Heroes a few years later.
Capture point resource mechanics, brutal and gory combat, morale systems, squad-based infantry, and units that could be customized to fit different roles with individual weapon upgrades. These mechanics would all become stables of Relic RTS games throughout the 2000s and 2010s.
Dawn of War II went in a different direction than the original by de-emphasizing the base building, and featuring a campaign that was more RPG-like; where players controlled a smaller squad of unique, upgradable characters instead of large armies.
There is quite a lot of debate between which one is better, but most people agree that they are both great games. As much as I like Dawn of War II, I always leaned a bit more towards the original myself.
Regardless of the opinions on Dawn of War vs Dawn of War II, I think we can all agree that Dawn of War III was the digital equivalent of a wet fart in a crowded elevator, as evidenced by the fact that all the post-release content was cancelled when the player base dwindled to almost nothing in just a few weeks.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Tindalos Interactive
Release Date: January 24th, 2019
Now its time to look at some of the more recent games to explore the 40k universe. Much like Final Liberation, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is based on one of the many spin-off specialty games GW made in the late ’90s and early ’00s, specifically Battlefleet Gothic. As you can probably gather from the screenshot above, Battlefleet Gothic is all about space combat in the 41st Millennium.
Way back in 2012, developer Tindalos Interactive created Stellar Impact, a MOBA based on capital ship battles. While the game was short lived and had many flaws, it proved that the devs had the potential to create some pretty compelling space battles, and that they were a perfect fit for making a Battlefleet Gothic RTS.
Ship combat in 40k is a bit like it was during the Age of Sail, and its perfectly recreated in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2. Gigantic, lumbering space battleships slowly maneuver into position to deliver devastating broadside bombardments, while nimble torpedo boats have to predict the course of their target to unleash volleys of unguided warheads.
The game’s tactical fleet battles are all about positioning and thinking ahead. Even the smallest vessel needs time to turn around, and most of your activatable weapon skills need to be manually aimed. Well, unless you are one of those cheaty-face Necrons and can just teleport your ship 180 degrees around.
I wrote a review when the game first came out. It’s pretty old though, so bear that in mind if anything I say in it is no longer accurate. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is currently 70% off, which I believe is the steepest discount its ever had.
Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus
Publisher: Kasedo Games
Developer: Bulwark Studios
Release Date: November 15th, 2018
Finally, we come to Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus, a 40k game I personally rate as perhaps the best one we’ve seen in the last few years. Not only does it dive deeper into two interesting 40k factions that don’t really get all that much attention in media (the Adeptus Mechanicus and the Necrons), but it does so in such a great way.
The game places you in command of a detachment from the enigmatic Adeptus Mechanicus, as they explore a Necron tomb world. The game has a vaguely XCOM feel as you dive deeper into ancient hallways filled with alien technology that is beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.
The core of your force are upgradable tech-priests that bring powerful skills and exotic weapons to battle, but can die permanently if you aren’t careful.
Not only does Mechanicus have excellent turn-based tactical combat, but it truly understands the lore of Warhammer 40,000. The writing is fantastic, and perfectly captures the themes and culture of the Mechanicus and Necrons.
The Necron Lords are all over-the-top, maniacal, and speak in grand, verbose language. The tech-priests meanwhile are almost computer-like, often dismissing concepts of morality or the human risks of their operations over what is the most logical course of action for their overall plans.
Of course, this is hardly a comprehensive list of all the good Warhammer 40,000 games out there. Gladius – Relics of War and Armageddon are pretty decent too, and I hear that even previously mediocre games like Inquisitor and Deathwing have gradually gotten better over the years.
So, which 40k video games are all of you the most fond of? Sound off in the comments below!