Trudging through Diablo-like combat in the 41st Millennium.
There’s a lot of appeal to the idea of a top-down action RPG that lets you blast your way through the Warhammer 40K universe as a power-armored behemoth, a deadly assassin, or a devastatingly powerful psychic. Unfortunately, Inquisitor – Martyr’s repetitive combat and bizarre itemization leave a lot of that potential squandered. It’s far from being a disaster, with a cool story and plenty of single- and multiplayer modes to be had, but manages to fall well short of most other contenders in the Diablo-like subgenre.
The story puts you into the morally questionable jackboots of an Inquisitor: an elite agent of the Imperium of Man whose job is to track down and eliminate cultists, heretics, and aliens who oppose the God-Emperor’s rule. Each of the three potential Inquisitors has a unique voice and personality brought to life by voice actors who aren’t afraid to ham it up in true 40K fashion, and seem to be having a good time doing it. Even the supporting cast has dialogue that’s well-written and well-acted, even if they’re a bit two-dimensional in terms of characterization.
When you’re done chatting with the crew and thrown into the thick of the action, however, the shine disappears quickly. While the three classes each have a distinct playstyle, they don’t feel like they were put together with interesting tactical combos in mind. The heavily armed and armored Crusader was the most fun to play, and his schtick basically boils down to pointing a bullet hose at the enemy horde and holding down the trigger until they’re all hamburger. There’s a good variety of enemies, from squishy ranged cultists to hulking abominations that charge into melee, but not enough that made me change up that very simple routine. Even most boss fights felt like chipping away at a giant health bar until it fell over while occasionally avoiding residual danger puddles left by area attacks.
The Crusader points a bullet hose at the enemy horde and holds down the trigger until they’re all hamburger.
Let’s see, which one of my hotbar abilities do I want to use? Short burst of bullets, long burst of bullets, or fire slowly while walking backwards? You can vary it up a bit by switching between weapon types and equipping items like grenades or armor with pre-mounted rocket launchers, but I never felt like there was a lot of synergy between my powers, or the ability to pick skills that will set up great combos like you might in Diablo 3 or other more tactically engaging action RPGs.
The Psyker class is a caster that can equip spells which, if overused, causes warp anomalies like wandering balls of elemental energy that deal friendly fire damage. This is a cool spin on a resource system, with ability use getting more dangerous over time rather than just stopping you from using your powers, but at the end of the day I usually still just found myself shooting at bad guys. Finally, the Assassin has some cool stealth and sniper abilities, but a lot of missions are going to force you to reveal yourself sooner rather than later and go guns blazing. Against smaller groups, it can be a lot of fun to whittle away the enemy line with one devastating headshot after another. But as the number of hostiles increases – along with their health bars – as the missions get harder, this whole playstyle becomes far less viable. And that’s a shame.
The Psyker and Assassin are also more reliant on the cover system due to their lighter armor, which is annoying because it just doesn’t work very well. Cover can be easily destroyed by enemies – or circumvented entirely with grenades, which every bad guy seems to carry plenty of. Why even include a cover system if you’re going to make it so ineffective and difficult to use?
Why even include a cover system if you’re going to make it so ineffective and difficult to use?
Heroes are also subject to Suppression, a stacking debuff that builds up the longer you’re out in the open taking fire. The more lead flying your way, the faster it builds. This adds an interesting wrinkle to how you approach encounters and select gear: it’s possible to have a physically tough character who gets suppressed easily, or one without a deep pool of hitpoints but the ability to stand in the face of withering punishment without batting an eyelash. Managing suppression and getting a feel for the tempo of it adds to larger fights, and were among the few things about Inquisitor – Martyr’s combat system I took a liking to.
The other big annoyance I ran into was the way gear progression forces you into a lot of counter-intuitive choices. Every mission you select from the bridge of your personal ship has a difficulty rating which is compared to a power rating based on the average item level of the gear your character has equipped. Rather than merely serving as a guideline for difficulty, your attack and defense stats are actually penalized by a certain percentage when entering a mission you have too low an item level for. The bizarre thing is that item levels seem to be arbitrary, and not at all tied to the stats the gear actually gives you. This led to a lot of situations in which I was incentivized to equip gear with what were, on paper, worse stats just to bring my arbitrary item level up so I wouldn’t be penalized for taking a higher-level mission. It’s frustrating, counter-intuitive, and ruins the ability to continue to benefit from a really good item you found early on.
There are a lot of cool ways to interact with the galaxy map and generate new missions. Uther’s Tarot allows you to custom-tailor the difficulty, objectives, enemy roster, and types of gear you want to drop by selecting from a series of cards. Priority Assignments give you a potentially endless supply of missions linked by an overarching story that even involve some cool choose-your-own-adventure elements. This all feeds back into a currency-based progression system called Glory as well as reputation with the various star systems, which can unlock powerful rewards. The problem is that with the missions themselves losing their novelty so fast, I didn’t feel a strong desire to pursue any of these paths avidly.
The main campaign is almost worth the slog of samey missions and familiar enemies thrown in your path. The dark machinations taking place across the Caligari Sector present an interesting and well-written mystery reminiscent of some of the better 40K novels, like the Eisenhorn trilogy. There are even a couple of major, plot-affecting choices to make, including whether to side with the Radical or Puritanical branch of the Inquisition. Each philosophy opens up its own powerful skill tree. A couple of late surprises, like getting to pilot a gleefully destructive combat walker, added some much-needed variety, but it was too small a dose. The fact that all of the good stuff sits on top of sagging combat and itemization makes it a much harder prospect to recommend.
You also have the option to dive into four-player co-op or a control point-based PvP mode. The co-op can be entertaining as it allows combining abilities from different classes in interesting ways that compensates somewhat for the fact that each, individual class is a bit one-note. The PvP mode, on the other hand, regularly matched me with someone significantly above or below my power level – to the point that the match wasn’t realistically winnable for one side. While I suppose that’s better than not being able to be matched at all, it certainly didn’t get me excited to re-queue for another cakewalk or face-stomping. I found myself wondering why there wasn’t some mechanic to level out the relative power of competitors a little, since PvP is so much more rewarding when it’s a test of skills rather than gear.