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Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr is a hack 'n' slash action-RPG from NeocoreGames, the creators of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing series. As you may have guessed, it uses Games Workshop's futuristic Warhammer 40K setting that in theory should lend itself pretty well to a game about hacking, slashing, and shooting your way to loot and glory.
With hack 'n' slash games usually favoring fantasy settings, the developers saw 40K's grimdark sci-fi aesthetic as an opportunity to experiment with some of the genre's established mechanics and add thematically-appropriate things like a proper cover system, hulking vehicles, and more prominent and varied ranged weaponry.
The big question here is whether this experimentation resulted in an enjoyable game that manages to capture the uncompromising and gritty spirit of 40K. Having spent roughly thirty hours with Martyr, I've assembled my thoughts on that below. So, with the Emperor's blessing, let's proceed.
Systems and Gameplay
The game starts with you creating your own personal Inquisitor by choosing their background. You can be a Psyker, a Crusader, or an Assassin. These backgrounds act as the game's classes with their own attributes, skill trees, and unique combat resources, offering three fairly distinct ways of playing the game. Furthermore, each class has three sub-classes of sorts that determine your starting equipment, perks, and unlocked skill trees.
As you progress through the game, you start realizing that the NeocoreGames team took the kitchen sink approach to game design on this one. The amount of interconnected systems and different kinds of progression in Martyr is overwhelming. I'm exaggerating of course, but it is as if the developers just threw mechanics at the wall to see what would stick, but they all did.
Your Inquisitor has a rank, which is essentially their character level. As your rank goes up, you get access to additional passive skills, perks, and equipment. There are 18 skill trees per character, each with a dozen or few dozen skills that make your Inquisitor better at some specific thing like using ranged weapons or single-target attacks. You start with several of them unlocked and get the rest by performing Heroic Deeds.
Heroic Deeds are like achievements of-sorts that grant you attribute points and unlock new skill trees and perks. Perks act as these tree-less passive skills with somewhat unique effects, while attributes give you additional passive bonuses aimed at making your Inquisitor generally stronger.
You also have power rating to keep in mind. It tallies up your relative equipment power and then compares it against any mission's difficulty rating. If your power rating is higher than the mission's difficulty, you do more damage and take less and vice versa.
As you complete missions you get experience, credits, Fate points, Glory points, and, I kid you not, a lootbox filled with randomized level-appropriate equipment. And if you keep doing missions in a particular star system of the game's Caligari Sector, your influence there rises and you get some rewards for that as well.
At the risk of having you lose your minds and succumb to the corrupting taint of the Warp, Glory points mark your weekly progress, giving you some goodies once a week depending on how much Glory you've earned, while Fate is used primarily in crafting (yes, there's an intricate crafting system with its own tech tree) and for the so-called Tarot missions that introduce a very minor, but nonetheless present, CCG element to the Martyr formula. These Tarot missions allow you to construct a challenging mission by assembling a set of cards that determine the mission's type, side challenges and rewards.
With how needlessly convoluted and superfluous it all is, at this point I may as well cover my walls with notes and newspaper clippings and connect them with a web of red string that spells “WHY NEOCOREGAMES?” if you tilt your head and squint hard enough. Especially, considering that this is me just giving you the big picture and skipping some of the less prominent features like morality, priority assignments, and system protectors.
But you know the worst part about all that? None of it really matters. Take Heroic Deeds for example. Instead of offering fun challenges or handicaps and making your regular grind more varied and exciting, they usually just boil down to killing a certain number of foes or healing a certain amount of damage. Most of them get auto-completed as you go through the game normally and as such have very little reason to exist. Same goes for the lootboxes. Why do they need to exist when the game's monsters drop loot already?
Then, you may be thinking that 18 skill trees sounds neat. It does. Until you realize that these passives usually give you such mind-blowing bonuses like +1% crit chance or +1.5% damage, while the major keystones go all out and give you something extremely cool. Like +1% life leech on crit or a stacking 5% damage bonus. Amazing.
Oh, and if you think that maybe the developers have some plans to reign things in with future updates, already your character screen has the yet unavailable Warzone levels tab that will soon offer you a new form of progression and the ability to earn endless levels after you reach your normal level cap of 50.
And with that, let's move on to weapons and gear. After all, hack 'n' slash games are known for their showers of multicolored loot. Martyr has that in the form of the tried and true color-coding system of white-blue-green-purple-orange loot, together with a few unique prefixes. You know, the usual. And if you are particularly perceptive, right now you're scratching your head over that last part. Yes, for some inexplicable reason the developers decided to swap the established rarity of uncommon green and rare blue and go with the opposite. Yes, it is confusing. No, I don't know why they did it.
Right, gear. You have two sets of weapons, an armor slot, and over half a dozen slots for various implants and trinkets. To give the game some credit, it's actually pretty cool to be collecting eye implants and holy seals instead of the usual gloves and greaves.
As for the game's arsenal, it's quite varied and includes pretty much everything you may expect from a 40K game - plasma guns, heavy bolters, power swords, melta guns, you name it. This weapon variety is particularly important because in Martyr your weapon determines your active skills. Most weapons give you four, except for one-handed melee weapons that give two since they're intended to be paired with a shield or a pistol of some kind.
So, you can have four weapon skills at most. Eight if, through some feat of mental gymnastics, you count both your weapon sets. And that's that. Once you unlock a weapon and equip it, that's all that it will ever be. There is currently no way to upgrade, alter, or customize weapon skills. And if you consider that these skills usually consist of an auto-attack and three other attacks that aren't that impressive either and usually just apply some status effect or do some limited area damage, you get a recipe for a very boring combat system.
You'll never have attacks that eradicate entire screens of enemies in a single shot, you won't be able to pinball around the battlefield with your axe spinning like a madman, and your sword's combo-attacks will never go past you holding down left click and counting to five.
On top of that, the game's keybindings are downright sadistic. You have four weapon attacks and two main mouse buttons. Usually, in a situation like this, games give you a couple of spammable attacks and augment them with a set of situational skills you have to target manually, along with some buffs and auras.
This is kind of what Martyr's utility, armor, and world skills try to accomplish. Sure, the targeting is somewhat wonky and if there's a pillar or a crate between your missile barrage and your target, you better believe that those crates are getting the full brunt of the Emperor's wrath instead of the enemies hiding behind them, but it more or less works.
But the game's main attack skills can mostly be classified as some variation of strong shot, anti-armor shot, burst shot and AoE shot, and you're supposed to use them on cooldown. Seeing how those cooldowns are rarely longer than 2-6 seconds, the default 1 and 2 number keys for them make no sense at all. Imagine playing a shooter where you aim with the mouse but shoot with the keyboard. That's roughly how playing Martyr feels like. And the kicker here is that the game's keybindings are extremely capricious and don't let you use key combos like shift click or alt click. You're basically stuck with shooting with the keyboard here.
And if that's not annoying enough, the cover system seems to be bugged, because half the time going into cover means you lose any ability to hit anything for some reason. And no, it's not some intended cover penalty because, like I said, it only happens occasionally and seemingly at random. Because of that, most of Martyr's combat devolves into you standing out in the open and holding the left mouse button.
In such a situation weapon variety is the main thing that can stave off boredom, if only for a while, but unfortunately after unlocking everything there is to unlock in Martyr, I found that most of the higher-level weapons aren't very fun to use. Heavy bolter, for example, can't hit the broad side of a barn, grenade launcher shoots roughly once per hour, and the grav gun has limited range and doesn't do that much damage. Of course, this may be a personal preference thing, but by the time I was done with the game I was still using dual bolt pistols and a greatsword, two very early game weapons.
At one point earlier I mentioned vehicles. In theory those could alleviate some of the tedium that creeps up on you after holding down left click for thirty hours, but having completed a fair share of side missions for this review, the only time I've ever encountered these vehicle missions was during the main campaign. And let's just say with how sluggish and unresponsive they were, I count that as a blessing.
Robust passives and interesting builds could also help, however, with Martyr's lackluster passive skills and the importance of power rating that makes you ignore any and all gear stats and just go with the highest rated gear, there aren't really any builds. Sure, you can specialize your character to be better at certain things or add some oomph through perks, but at the end of the day, you'll just have a character that runs slightly faster and hits slightly harder. The differences in playstyle will be minimal.
Now, once you reach the end-game and stop replacing all your gear every two missions, then you can sink some time into stalking the merchant who rolls over her gear selection once an hour, or try your hand at crafting the gear with the stats you need yourself, but that's only if you don't have a very exciting session of watching paint dry scheduled already.
Now, to end this section of the review on a somewhat positive note, I'll mention the inoculator. This piece of gear serves as your multi-use healing potion that you can greatly customize with the help of a certain NPC. It can heal in a variety of different ways and it can grant you all kinds of buffs, and the best part is that you assemble this multi-purpose potion yourself, balancing the positive effects with the number of uses you get before having to recharge the inoculator. I quite enjoyed tinkering with this particular gizmo and think it's a neat way to handle healing.
Story and Presentation
For an action-RPG, Martyr's main campaign is quite engaging and story-rich. It follows an Imperial Inquisitor on a holy mission to discover the secrets of a derelict spaceship - the eponymous Martyr. On this quest you'll meet colorful characters from across the Imperium of Man, fight a fair share of Chaos Daemons, Chaos Space Marines, and even a few regiments of rebel Imperial Guards (with additional enemy types already promised, starting with the Dark Eldar), and in the end discover some well-hidden truths about your Inquisitor and play an important part in deciding the fate of the Imperium.
The story does not pretend to be something it's not and as a result is way more enjoyable than it could have been had it took itself too seriously. It has that cheesy B movie or middle of the road Warhammer novel feel to it, aided by a glorious overabundance of delicious 40K technobabble. Now, I'm no Warhammer lore expert, but I know the basics, so most of the terms were familiar to me already. Yet at the same time, I feel like the game's writers did a good job introducing all these concepts without devolving into lengthy exposition or making things incomprehensibly confusing.
Another great part about all this is that all character interactions are voice-acted, taking place while you go about your daemon-slaying missions and in the process making the tedious combat somewhat more bearable. And, especially when it comes to the Crusader's voice actor, the modulated, static-filled voices sound quite decent.
Admittedly, at certain points the story takes some nonsensical turns and has a few entirely pointless reveals that end up leading nowhere and make the middle section of the game feel like some, pardon my French, young adult TV show where all the problems could be solved by the characters talking to one another for five minutes. Still, this wasn't enough to sour me on the whole thing, and overall I think the game's story is its main strength.
In all honesty, I would have much preferred this game to be even more story-focused, drop the action prefix and be a full-fledged cRPG with intricate maps and hand-placed tactical encounters. But since that isn't the case, let's continue with the review.
On the art side of things, the game's attention to detail is quite impressive. If you know anything about the 40K aesthetic with its giant statues, bulky power armor, gilded two-headed eagles, and a very generous helping of skulls everywhere, rest assured that Martyr has all of that in spades. In fact, the game's art design is good enough to make you want to zoom the camera in as much as possible just to get a closer look at the great visuals. Of course, this inevitably gets you shot from off-screen and forces you to zoom back out.
And while the game's art direction is great, its level design leaves a lot to be desired. You generally get these maps: a linear weave of spaceship corridors, a narrow and linear exterior map that's either an Imperial city or some chaos-infested warzone, or an empty snowy square. And by square I don't mean a city plaza, I mean a literal square that doesn't even pretend to be something else and has a yellow line denoting the invisible wall where it ends.
And now, let's get to what is perhaps my biggest gripe with the game. While its story has some universe-shattering revelations, its gameplay doesn't keep up. The attacks just don't feel powerful and impactful, and a good Warhammer game should be all about those. Cinematic slowdowns, great sound design and attack animations, it all factors into this, and I really wish the developers took cues from character action games on how to create satisfying weighty combat.
If you remember the opening cinematic for the original Dawn of War, then you probably know what I'm talking about here. That is what I want a 40K game to feel like. It needs to feel epic, over the top, and ooze a mix of style, gore, and raw warp energy. As it stands, had there been Space Orks in Martyr, instead of a thunderous WAAAGH, their warcry would probably be a feeble mehhh.
Despite being primarily a single-player game, Martyr requires you to be online to play it. Because of that you get PvP, co-op missions, regular global events, leaderboards, and player guilds.
When it comes to Martyr's PvP, matchmaking seems to be something that only happens to other games. After waiting for roughly 5 minutes, I joined a 1 on 1 PvP match. The goal was to take control of two strategic points and hold them while they generated a hundred victory points. Just your regular king of the hill-type deal.
The match started, I left the protected area and ran around for a bit when I found my opponent. I hit him for something like 50-60 damage with my strongest attack. He responded by hitting me for 1500. I laughed. Then I respawned and tried again to approximately the same result. After that I alt-tabbed and waited for the match to be over because there didn't seem to be a clear way to surrender.
Then, I tried co-op. It didn't have any respect for matchmaking either and after a few minutes put me on a team with three high level players where I was absolutely useless. And while my own ping was quite decent, my teammates seemed to struggle, freeze and teleport all over the place.
The second time I tried co-op, I had a high-level character already. After a brief wait I got a message telling me that matchmaking was not available at the moment.
Honestly, unless you're into the idea of joining a guild, I don't see a good reason for Martyr to be an online-only game. In fact, you can't even trade with other players at the moment. I don't think anything else needs to be said here.
Nothing happened when I tried launching the game for the first time. Some basic troubleshooting and a few Google searches later I found a multitude of Steam forums topics discussing this very issue and describing a solution that involved manually copying and renaming one of the game's files. This was a couple weeks after the game's official launch and who knows how long since it went into Early Access.
Other than that, Martyr had its fair share of bugs but none of them were critical or overly annoying. Mostly just minor stuff like missing or interchanged bits of voice acting, odd pathfinding that often got you stuck on corners, and visual glitches with textures freaking out. And on the text side of things, there were a few typos here and there.
The game didn't take long to load and ran fairly well for the most part. However, occasionally I did get some frame drops for seemingly no reason. Fighting a horde of daemons? No problem. Walking down a corridor with some allies? No can do, boss. It didn't happen too often but nevertheless deserves mentioning.
There also were some questionable design decisions, like the aforementioned loot color-coding confusion. The game's UI can't be moved or resized, you can't change your gear during missions, hotkeys open menus but don't close them, weapon skills don't follow a clear pattern (sword has a single target attack then an AoE attack, axe has them reversed), that sort of thing. Once again, I don't know how stuff like this got through Early Access.
If you're looking for a good hack 'n' slash action-RPG, I find it hard to recommend Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor - Martyr. Its systems are too messy, gameplay too simplistic and samey, and its execution leaves a lot to be desired. If you just want a good game, perhaps you should try Path of Exile, Grim Dawn, or something from the Diablo series instead.
Now, if you're interested in a cheesy Warhammer 40K story, get excited when presented with an opportunity to swing a power sword or fire a bolter, or would like to see a different take on the tried and true hack 'n' slash formula, then perhaps you might find some enjoyment in Martyr. You'll have to dig deep through all the mess to find it, but it's there.
In fact, I believe that Martyr has a lot of elements of a good game. They're just undertuned, as if the developers didn't know how to make an action-RPG fun or simply were afraid to take bold, balance-shattering decisions. And if at some point someone high up on the NeocoreGames team in a fit of inspiration decides to turn all those elements up to eleven and tighten up the game's story, improve its area design and item variety, add unique playstyle-altering skill trees, and make its combat feel epic, then Martyr can become something spectacular. But that's a big if.