Supposedly lost for centuries, a derelict fortress-monastery Martyr is found drifting in the space. It’s a hot property for The Empire, keen to find out what went amiss and also to unravel the ship’s technological secrets. An inquisitor, a high-ranking officer in the imperial secret police, is sent to investigate the wreck. It turns out it’s not that abandoned after all. The Empire has many enemies, threatening the absolute authority of God-Emperor, and this time they are servants of Chaos. The plot thickens as the inquisitor fights Chaos both aboard Martyr and through the galaxy in the pursuit of clues. The developer NeocoreGames is best known for its Van Helsing trilogy so it comes as no surprise that Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr is also a Diablo-style dungeon crawler action RPG.
Warhammer 40,000 has been turned into numerous games over the decades, usually as first-person shooters or strategy games, so it’s perhaps surprising how well the grimdark fictional universe works as a dungeon crawler. It manages to depict the franchise’s heavy agenda and brutal action effectively from the top-down perspective. For starters, the player chooses the inquisitor from three classes, representing the holy trinity of role-playing games. The Crusader is your bread and butter warrior/tank, the Psyker typifies a warlock/mage while the Assassin compares to a rogue/hunter. Each class is personified as a unique character down to the voice acting. Crusader is a hulking brute of a man who uses his physique and armor to deal heavy melee damage. Psyker, a man of more tenuous frame, draws from Warp to cast various ranged spells to burn down swarming Chaos. Assassin may have a face of an angel but she’s a cunning and mean killing machine. Each class has three subclasses, affecting their starting skill trees.
Whoever your inquisitor will be, he or she is a powerful force with a highly respected standing in The Empire. Far from typical space marine grunts, inquisitors are both judges and executioners – and very hard to kill. It turns into an empowering gameplay. Befitting the franchise’s miniature tabletop game origins, Martyr is more slow-paced than typical Diablo clones and allows time to react to enemies. Certain jankiness in the action only emphasizes the satisfying combat performance. I stuck with the sniper (the assassin subclass) for most of the campaign and traded in her secondary weapon set of autopistols for one-handed melee weapons to fend off swarming hordes with. The click of her sniper rifle’s bolt, accompanied by a gratifying thump in the gamepad, usually resulted in one-shot trash mobs. Target acquisition is sometimes erratic, though, causing some unnecessary tension. There’s a cover system in Martyr, something that’s a more typical for third-person games, so it must be the genre first in a dungeon crawler. For a nimble character like the assassin, who’s the only class in the game to be able to doge, it felt quite redundant, apart from recovering health faster while ducked behind barricades and corners.
An all-encompassing single player campaign gradually introduces the essential mechanics and play modes. The commanding deck of the inquisitor’s spaceship acts as a central HUB from within the game is played out. You move between locations through a very Mass Effect-like 3D galaxy chart but there are also shortcuts to jump straight into current missions. The spaceship crew multitasks as quest givers, traders and craftsmen. While the campaign itself is a series of interlocked quests (or investigations as the game calls them), there are three types of side missions. Sometimes, other Inquisitors may need your assistance in their matters, taking you into several multi-part side quests. Primary assignments are procedurally generated mini-campaigns which can be called upon in any star system the inquisitor is currently visiting. Their chances of success can be affected by a few preliminary actions, in practice varying their difficulty. The player has more influence over Tarot missions, as their loot, opposition and objectives can be affected by choosing from a set of tarot cards. The campaign is only for single players but other game modes can be played in an online or local co-op. In the latter, the second player is a random, preset helper with no inventory or progress. While I appreciate the addition of co-op play, I think the isolation is the way Martyr should be played. There’s also a PvP mode but due to pre-release lack of online buzz, I couldn’t test it out.
Making the most difference to other action RPG games is that combat skills aren’t tied to the character classes. Instead, they’re dependent on the equipment, giving more freedom over forging different playstyles. For example, the sniper assassin can use several weapons, from sniper rifles to shotguns, each giving their own set of skills to be used in combat, like explosive shots and damage over time attacks. Gaining levels (or ranks, as the game insists using its own terminology) unlocks new item types which are then featured in the future loot. There are two weapon loadouts which can be equipped only between missions. So, if you’re trying out a new weapon type and find out you’re crap with it, you just have to deal with it until the end of the mission and resort to your second weapon set.
The game rewards the time you put into it. There are several deeds to meet, like dealing 500,000 points of melee damage or surviving a certain amount of missions without dying. They unlock new skill trees, perks and attributes. Indeed, there are lots of variables to consider in kitting out your inquisitor to best suit your personal playstyle but it only deepens the hardcore aspect of the character customization. It can seem that a lot depends only on decimals but at least you get to choose those fractions, slowly but determined to make the inquisitor the most lethal and resilient in purging the unholy scum.
Of course, there’s the loot, another major factor in the character building. The item drops are color-coded in a usual grey, green, blue, purple and eventually in gold to show their rarity – or more precisely, their power. Every mission has a recommended power rating, which is a total value of equipped items. It affects the modifiers to the damage dealt and received. If your power level is higher than the mission requires, you deal more damage and can withstand more punishment. If your power level is lower, you still can enter the mission but be prepared for a harder challenge, as it takes more hits to kill the enemies and you’re more vulnerable. Sometimes, meeting power levels leads to a situation where you’re forced to equip an item just because it rates higher than the one you’d prefer.
In one instance, my sniper rifle got so outdated in terms of its power rating that I had to equip another weapon, even though it didn’t suit my playstyle. The following mission was a struggle because the stand-in assault rifle just felt wrong. Here, the Tarot missions are a godsend (or should I say, a god-emperorsend?) as you can force certain loot to appear more often. I chose a card with a high drop rate for rifles and eventually got what I wanted. And a gold-coded relic sniper rifle, no less! Weapon enhancements, different implants and supporting tools, like healing injectors and grenades, all add to the power rating as well. All these can be made via crafting, too, but it takes a painfully long time to develop anything even remotely useful so farming items with Tarot missions is easier.
In principle, Martyr repeats much of the same NeocoreGames did in Van Helsing games but Warhammer 40,000 mythos masks it successfully. Basically, you’re doing the same things over and again – the same action, the same missions, the same enemies and the same environments. You could say you have seen everything the game has to offer during your first couple of evenings with it. Here, the short missions are a clear advantage, though, as you don’t get a chance to get bored while doing them. The basic gameplay is also satisfying and motivating in itself. It never gets old to gain your position and carefully rotate your cooldowns to shoot the Chaos into a bloody pulp. The campaign is long and varied and branches into many exciting directions – even if you’re doing the same kind of missions (elimination, data recovery, defense and zone control). The game modes and weekly challenges net different currencies, used to receive loot boxes and gain glory in online leaderboards. There’s no shortage of things to do and more content is promised in the future, both as free and paid DLC.
Ominous ambient music and pompous voice acting stir up the vigor of the inquisitor’s dark agenda. The art design evokes a foreboding gloom, with a pervasive gnarled decadence and a great sense of volume with huge pillars of forgotten tech-cathedrals shooting out of the screen. Gorgeous pyrotechnics illuminate pus and blood-smeared desolate corridors of space vessels and mirthless outskirts of a rare planet you visit. The visual fidelity comes with a great cost, though. The screen resolution is sub-standard on a basic PS4, with jaggies and low rendering all over the place. The view can be reduced to a crude mess of pixels in a second, thanks to the dynamic scaling that occurs far too often in the ever-so busy action. Even then, the frame rate remains choppy and at worst is dropped to a crawl. There’s no excuse for a modern, full-priced console game to perform so poorly. It’s like playing a graphics-heavy PC game on an outdated hardware and being too stubborn to scale down the graphical assets. Come on, if we consider games in the same genre, even years old PS3 conversion of Diablo III ran silky smooth with no cost in visuals - and it had more frantic and overwhelming action.
If you can look past the lackluster technical performance, there's a deep and involving ARPG with a gratifying action and a rewarding gameplay in Martyr. Dungeon crawler meets Warhammer 40,000 in such a natural and effortless way that I got really engaged in dealing justice in the name of The God-Emperor. The game is not just another Diablo clone either as NeocoreGames has woven enough depth of its own to the well-worn concept. The dark science fiction setting is also a refreshing departure to the sword and sorcery the genre usually sees. Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr is a good game and has makings of a great one too - if only its technical issues are eventually fixed.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.