The term ‘too good to be true’ seems to find far too much relevance in the gaming industry, and Eternal Crusade is just one of many games that are near perfect on paper, but fall drastically short in execution.
Boy, this review is starting well, isn’t it!
But before we get started on the rambling criticisms and general whiny moaning, you need to know some history about the project to really get an understanding as to why Eternal Crusade falls so short of the mark.
The dubious background behind Eternal Crusade
So recently, the owners of the Warhammer IP, Games Workshop, have gone into panic overdrive after losing their go-to guys for video game development, that being THQ.
The result? Everyone seems to have been given the greenlight to make games in the Warhammer universe, the best, the worst and even a stray pigeon that once broke into the headquarters. The reality is there are currently way too many games coming out that range in competency and quality. Games Workshop has adopted Russia’s 1915 infantry doctrine to help guide them in how to efficiently manage their IP’s, hoping to continue a flawless record of success.
But the biggest problem is that Games Workshop doesn’t seem to check CV’s anymore, and many devs have been granted projects far beyond their experience level, ultimately resulting in enormous numbers of shoddy products.
This right here, is where Eternal Crusade comes in.
Pitched as a huge, dynamic war for an unfortunate planet involving thousands of players fighting it out in real time, with some very clever free to play elements, it sounded like a game we Warhammer fans have been dreaming of. The problem, however, was the developer.
Behaviour Interactive are hard working guys, with tons of games to their name. But their list of projects never inspired confidence. Their track record includes a wealth of movie tie in games, low quaility handheld titles and a hell of a lot of outsourced work on other companies projects. To put it simply, these guys have never worked on anything of the same calibre of Eternal Crusade. Not even close, and the project would have been a mammoth task for even the biggest companies out there.
It didn’t take long for the cracks to form, as the grand plans were slowly stripped away, leaving behind the huge player numbers in favour of a much smaller, match based experience. It became a full priced title and dumped many social elements, making the end result a great deal less compelling. The after a very lackluster few months on early access, the game suddenly went gold, and was marketed as a finished project. But it certainly doesn’t feel like it.
In the end, we have a shoddy games that fails to live up the high expectations BI set out for themselves, but it really isn’t their fault. They did their best with what they had, but they simply weren’t the right guys for the job, and the end result is clear evidence of this. We genuinely feel sorry for them, as Games Workshop isn’t exactly know as being the best guys to work with, and we rest the blame entirely on them. Games Workshop’s ambition was at odds with their penny pinching, and the choice of a cheaper developer has actively worked against them.
The actual review (we promise)
You may have worked out what we think of Eternal Crusade already, if you are psychic, but the question remains; What exactly is the game all about?
Well, the project has been stripped down to a much more basic format, with a maximum player count of 60 on the larger maps and 40 for majority. There are four faction in the game to choose from, Space marines and their spiky evil siblings, the Eldar and Orks.
Combat shifts between ranged battles, close quarters brawling and vehicles while players attempt to retain domination of a series of maps. Success in matches gradually affects who has major control of the planet, but this has little effect other than occasionally changing the colour of various sections of the map.
How it plays will be very familiar to anyone who spent time with THQ’s criminally underrated Space Marine from 2011, as the format and animations seem almost ripped directly from that title. Each faction has a number of unique roles for players to fulfil, such as healers, anti-armour, close combat and jetpack units, all who provide enough variety to feel appropriate. This also plays into a wealth of weapon and appearance customisation options, but anyone other than the two Space Marine factions has an enormously reduced range of options.
In action, combat feels…bad. Weapons lack punch and tend to sway all over the place, which is made far worse considering most foes have far too much health or simply seem to randomly decide not to take any damage from a bulls eye. The Eldar are particularly frustrating to fight in any ranged confrontation, as they are extremely fast and have very small hitboxes, which combined with the epidemic of stupidly inaccurate weapons makes battles with them an exercise in murderous rage. It does fit with the lore of the universe, but considering every faction seems to have the same number of hitpoints (even the walking tanks that are space marines) the Eldar have a huge advantage in close quarters shootouts.
The result is a game that devolves into chaotic melee brawls, which while fun, are plagued with numerous technical and control problems. When you do decide to charge in with your chainsword or choppa you quickly realise the game has a few more tricks up its sleeve than just mashing. Blocking, parrying and guard breaking all play a role, while flying units can land devastating ground pounds from the air. It can be a tense and very enjoyable duel between mighty titans, when it works. However, often hits won’t register, blocks decide to not work every now and then, and janky animations make reading your foe a difficult task.
These problems are only made worse thanks to some terrible net code, where rubber-banding, connection drops and server errors are endemic in the experience. Huge, unexplained lag spikes are the absolute bane of the game, making brawls unpredictable and sometimes utterly broken. You will die with no warning, suddenly find yourself fighting the arse-end of a T-posed Ork boy as he zips around the map like a c-tier Dragon Ball Z character and you might fire into the atmosphere at the speed of a ballistic missile when the server forgets where exactly you are on the map. All of these events happened more than once. We aren’t kidding.
Adding more issues to the already sloppy formula is the terrible, terrible performance. On a GTX 1080, we continually saw the game stutter, drop down to 30 FPS and lower and become borderline unplayable. If Eternal Crusade was a looker we might be able to see past the performance, but this game is U-G-L-Y. Low-res textures, blocky character models and effects that belong in 2007 do not endear us to the game. The Unreal Engine is suffering here, and you can feel it struggling to keep itself from imploding. It is clear most of the assets are left over from when the game was much larger in scale, but the lack of any basic visual finesse is inexcusable when you consider this was developed with the PC market in mind.
But the worst part of all of this, the most damning, awful and morally corrupt feature that had us reaching for the cyanide? They had the audacity to add a real money cash shop to the game. Yet another full priced game using free-2-play business models and it’s still awful. So far, paid equipment is purely cosmetic, but considering the game is around £35.99 from most retailers, this is insulting.
Maybe we’re being overly negative, maybe we’re letting our expectations get the better of our judgement, and maybe, just maybe, we are bitter, jaded fools lost in the ever turning cogs of capitalism, comrade. But, even with all that in mind, Eternal Crusade just isn’t a good game.
If it wasn’t for the Warhammer name slapped on the cover, we really doubt we would even be talking about it right now. Eternal Crusade is just another poorly thought out, woefully executed and depressing milestone for Warhammer fans.
Honestly, we hate the fact we’re kicking the game while its down, as Behaviour Interactive were clearly making the best of a bad situation. But in the real world, doing your best isn’t enough to make a good game.
Summon the Exterminatus!