In Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 2, you not only play as a superhuman, you feel superhuman.
From the moment you step off of the troop transport, you tower over the ranks of humanity’s unaugmented armed forces. The mortal troopers of the Astra Militarum (previously known as the Imperial Guard) are the main line of defense for the totalitarian regime that rules humanity: the Imperium of Man. They look up to you, literally and figuratively, as if you were a demi-god. And as Space Marine protagonist Lieutenant Titus enters the ongoing battle, his chainsword carving through hordes of chitinous purple aliens, you realize that they’re right to do so.
Throughout the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Space Marines are called in to deal with some of the biggest threats to humanity, and Space Marine 2 offers up a doozy: an entire planet swarming with xenomorphs called Tyranids. In our hands-on with Saber Interactive’s upcoming third-person action game, we fought swarms of Tyranids and waded through chunks of alien gore and viscera in a short, yet deeply satisfying hour-long test build of the game. Even in this early demo build, it’s clear that Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 2 already captures the super soldier power fantasy with gusto and confidence that would give even the Spartan super soldiers of Halo Infinite a run for their money.
One of 2023’s most anticipated upcoming games, Space Marine 2 explores both sides of the Warhammer 40,000 coin, offering a glimpse into a complex and deep world of dark sci-fi while also satisfying the player’s inner adolescent by giving them an arsenal of over-the-top weapons, a hulking suit of power armor, and encouraging them to get stuck in.
Space Marine 2 comes over a decade after the release of Its predecessor; the original Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine was released way back in 2011 and remains something of a cult classic. Developed by Relic before its parent company, THQ, went bankrupt in 2012, that game did an impressive job of capturing both the look and feel of being a Space Marine while offering players a tantalizing slice of the Warhammer 40,000 universe in which to immerse themselves. With the dissolution of THQ, fans feared there would never be another installment in the series, especially since the first game ended on a dramatic cliffhanger.
However, Space Marine 2 brings the series back with a power fist-sized wallop: the game looks and sounds fantastic. The roar of chainswords and the percussive thump of Boltguns (an automatic rifle that fires rocket-powered explosives as ammunition) are underscored by the tread of Titus’s power boots to create a glorious cacophony. Character models, like Titus himself, are lush with detail, too, with nods to elements of the lore that are sure to please fans.
This attention isn’t just lavished on Titus himself but on every fine detail of the game world and its inhabitants. The Imperial Guard troopers that Titus has been sent to support look as if they were lifted right out of a Warhammer 40,000 sourcebook. Their mud-stained fatigues and signature laser rifles brought to life with impressive care and attention.
In one particularly thrilling section, you move to support an Imperial Guard tank as it advances towards an objective. In much the same way as Halo 3 at its best, you feel as though you are at the tip of a spear, doing battle only where the fighting is thickest. You feel powerful and important, but also part of something bigger.
Rather than sticking with the formula of the original, however, Saber has opted to innovate in several key ways. In both the first Space Marine and now Space Marine 2, pains are made to emphasize that ‘cover’ is something for less durable soldiers who aren’t, essentially, walking tanks. As a result, the best way to stay in the fight is to regularly dispatch enemies in gory executions, a process that fills up a shield bar that protects you from incoming damage.
There are fewer opportunities for executions in Space Marine 2 than in its predecessor, though enemies are still torn apart into meaty chunks with a violent abandon worthy of Mortal Kombat 1. However, this is because Saber’s take on the Space Marine fantasy places a greater emphasis on well-timed parries. Successfully parry an attack from a weaker enemy, and you’ll instantly execute them, often tearing them limb from limb. Parry an attack from a stronger foe, and you’ll stagger them, making them ripe for a devastating follow-up attack.
It’s a more precise take on the Space Marine, but no less effective. After all, as well as being hulking behemoths, Space Marines are a well-trained and disciplined group, often using brains as much as brawn. To that end, Saber has fleshed out Titus’s supporting squad, making his companions feel more responsive and dynamic in battle.
If you fall, they’ll revive you. If you’re bogged down in melee, they’ll often help you. While their behavior isn’t perfect, it errs on the right side of sensible, ensuring you feel supported as you make your way through Space Marine 2’s hostile environments. It’s a nice touch, while also providing the conceit for the game’s co-op campaign mode - which, unfortunately, wasn’t part of our preview.
They’re coming out of the walls
Perhaps, what most distinguishes Space Marine 2 from its predecessor, however, is the primary antagonist. The Tyranids are relentless, and Saber has gone out of its way to capture the sheer scale of the threat. Moving with a hive instinct, the xenomorphs are so abundant that they seem to flow across the screen like a river made of teeth and claws. These come as a welcome contrast to the brutish Orks of the previous game, who, though formidable, couldn’t induce the sheer horror of the Tyranid xenomorphs.
Even superhuman Titus has to go all out when dealing with such a threat. Let up for even a second and the sheer volume of these creatures will overwhelm you. The Gaunt - one of the basic Tyranid footsoldiers - can be deadly if it gets the drop on you, while Gargoyles - flying Tyranid variants - swarm in the hundreds, blocking out the sun. This enemy variety kept me on my toes, too, with ranged enemies providing covering fire as melee specialists move to close the gap. It makes for a satisfying ebb and flow in combat that prevents the action from becoming stale.
Even after only an hour with Space Marine 2, it has fully sold me on the idea of a xenomorph-induced biological apocalypse in Warhammer 40,000's universe. The absurd scale and brutality, not to mention the grim darkness, of the 41st Millennium are captured in every second of the experience. As a fan of both the setting and the series, I couldn’t ask for more.
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Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.