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The Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda of Warhammer 40000: Eternal Crusade

Eternal Crusade could’ve been an awesome Warhammer MMO, but Games Workshop keeps making terrible decisions.

by Ian Williams
Nov 11 2016, 7:00pm

Here is a brief list of what the recently released PC shooter Warhammer 40000: Eternal Crusade is not.

Eternal Crusade is not, despite years of labeling it as such, a massively multiplayer game. There's a very light strategic layer in a map which looks like it was drawn hastily on a napkin, but that's barely a nod to those who want larger-scale play. Otherwise, the game just offers Battlefield-style lobby play: you search for a game, you go in, and theoretically it happens on this map, though you never see any drawback or benefit from outcomes in the larger "world".

All Warhammer 40000: Eternal Crusade screens courtesy of Bandai Namco

Eternal Crusade is not finished. You can feel a good game in there, a love of Games Workshop's venerable, grimdark, heavy metal sci-fi world of Warhammer 40,000 (or 40K to its legions of fans, which is also a joke because the most popular army, the Space Marines, were originally formed in legions. This is funny, I swear) bleeding through the terribly balanced forces, half-baked vehicle combat, and kludgy animations. Dark rumors on the game's reddit place the problem at publisher Bandai Namco's feet. It was pushed out six months early, they say, and it feels like it.

Eternal Crusade is not smart about hiding its monetization scheme. You have access to some bare bones weapon choices and cosmetic stuff, like skins and shoulder pads. There's a ton of high-priced stuff to expand from that base. We're talking 10 dollar guns and half that for hard-to-notice gloves and such. Whether it's "buy to win" is tough to say right now, but the game is aggressive in funneling you toward purchases which, at a 50 dollar price for the game, feel terribly steep.

Eternal Crusade is not remarkable, and this is the important bit. For whatever reason, Games Workshop, creators of the long-lived twin worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40000, just do not care much whether the games they license are good or not.  Eternal Crusade is so mediocre, just another game, another year, in a never-ending list of mediocre Warhammer/40K games.

This is not at all to say that Games Workshop licensed games are always bad; Total War: Warhammer is proof enough of that, as are Vermintide, Dawn of War, and a few others. But that number is dwarfed by the small army of games which just feel half-baked or downright bad.

Eternal Crusade isn't even the first MMO entry to sputter; Mythic tried and eventually failed to get Warhammer: Age of Reckoning stable enough to last longer than a few years. There's Warhammer 40000: Regicide, an unremarkable take on chess. The compelling but broken Blood Bowl. Fire Warrior, the Tau shooter which was so utterly devoid of charm that it barely seems to have existed at all.

The question is: why does Games Workshop seem to care so little about the quality of the video games based on their world?

The easiest answer is that they simply don't care. A company waves the 3-4 million dollars (a rumored figure, based on some poking around) at Games Workshop's licensing department and it's approved. It's a compelling answer; Games Workshop is slowly coming out of a disastrous decade for the company, with stock crashes and a vastly diminished market share. The once near-monopolistic behemoth of the wargaming world needed every cent they could get.

Warhammer 40000: Eternal Crusade

The problem is that they clearly do care. Recently, Games Workshop decided not to renew their licensing agreement with Fantasy Flight Games. The license covered any card games, board games, or pen and paper roleplaying games based on Games Workshop's worlds. It's worthy of mention because most of Fantasy Flight Games' output from the partnership was well-regarded, especially the RPG lines, which competed for sales with Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder.

It seems the team at Games Workshop thinks it can do better in-house. They used to publish much more than just wargames, with roleplaying games and board games done with their own designers. Whether they can do better isn't of interest; what's important is that they are paying attention.

Which brings us to a stranger conclusion. Games Workshop pays attention, but not to video games. The clearest proof of this is just what Behaviour Interactive, Eternal Crusade's studio, did before landing the 40K license.

Behaviour is mostly know for two things: grabbing licenses and churning out games based on them for quick cash, and doing ports of existing games to and from consoles. Whether those are worthy goals for a studio is a separate matter; the important thing is that there was never anything in Behaviour's past to suggest that they could tackle something as technically complicated and as weighted with expectations as a 40K MMO.

The former is easy enough to understand; MMOs are hard, expensive, complicated things. There's no bigger project in video game development, even now, as the sun is sets on the age of the MMO.

One only has to look at how popular the now defunct Warhammer Age of Reckoning was at release to get a feel for people's hunger for Warhammer and Warhammer 40000 MMOs. Prior to Behaviour's stab at a 40K MMO, it was THQ's project, one of their last. All it took was one trailer to send people into a tizzy back in 2010.

For Behaviour to go in and try this project is fine, even admirable; no studio's past should forever define its future. But it's also hard to look at the underwhelming released game and ignore Behaviour's prior output of games like SpongeBob SquarePants: Plankton's Robotic Revenge and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and not wonder how the hell they managed to get such a coveted license.

So we're left with yet another Warhammer 40000 game, probably forgettable, possibly salvageable, but definitely lacking. It seems Games Workshop just doesn't realize what a big deal video games are. Which is fine, but it's tough to look at something like Total War: Warhammer in conjunction with games like Eternal Crusade and not wonder how much better Games Workshop's fans could have it.