Review – Warhammer 40K: Battle Sister Stumbles Into VR

Warhammer: Battle Sister was released on December 8th, making it the first VR product with the official Warhammer license. The title is 30 USD in the Oculus Quest 2 store, and for VR and Warhammer fans alike, buying this game might seem like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, as the experience proves, more things need more brains behind them.

Warhammer is a franchise with nearly 40 years of popularity behind it, so this is a title I wanted to love. Dark and gritty futuristic fantasy should be an easy sell. Combine that with the thrill and immersion that virtual reality combat is capable of, and the sell gets even better. Even the studio behind Battle Sister, Pixel Toys, is responsible for Drop Dead — one of the most stylized and fun zombie shooters available. Warhammer 40k: Battle Sister is something I walked into with eyes open and hopes up. After playing, those hopes are only half-fulfilled.

Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sister Stumbles Into VR
Lots of this. Image courtesy of Pixel Toys.

For one, the bugs are there — and unfortunately, we're not talking about Sorrow Swarms. The game itself is linear, to the point that players will encounter invisible walls and learn that they can't go slightly uphill. This makes it clearer when scripted events that are supposed to take place to open the next area don't, or for some reason reset as if that scripting trigger was never pulled. In one session, a space knight was demanding I activate a console that wouldn't respond to my input (and looping his command every 2 seconds) so I had to reload the level before said console would work. Incidentally, the NPC who had previously given me a flaming sword right before that simply skipped that script the next time around, leaving me to wonder if I should reload again from an earlier level.  Fun.

When not being combat-heavy, Warhammer 40k Battle Sister makes for a heavy-handed pull into the Warhammer universe. The story is full of the expected tropes: In the 41st century, constant, hellish war has taken over. Everyone has a rank, everyone is part of a faction (everyone also wants you to know their rank and faction) and you're one of super hyped, all-women warrior space-nuns known as the Battle Sisters. Yes, you are Ophelia, a 5'8 mentee of some badass fellow Battle Sister who (and you can tell this at the start of the game) is definitely going to live a long time. At the game's get-go you're given some weapons, learn that the height is adjustable but not past 5'10, and off you go.

Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sister Stumbles Into VR
Got faith? Image courtesy of Games Workshop

From there, it becomes apparent that unlike Drop Dead, the gameplay mechanics in Battle Sister leave lots to be desired. With the player's infinite regeneration mechanic giving Wolverine a run for his money, getting shot feels like a nuisance, and the game's difficulty is unadjustable and easy. While the ammo carrying system is great, most guns respond like pea shooters. The way that bullets chip away at enemy health pools feels apparent, whereas in other shooters (such as the aforementioned Drop Dead) health pools are more seamless.

If you want to try the alternative to gun combat, the melee in Battle Sister means waving a weapon with the effort of a tai-chi centenarian results in overpowered slice-chop kills. You can block enemy gunfire with melee weapons which sounds awesome, but the way it executes throughout the game means that lazily holding a melee weapon in front of you guarantees taking about 40% less damage. Players shouldn't expect it to feel as dynamic as say, the lightsaber mechanics from the Vader Immortal series.

Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sister Stumbles Into VR
Image courtesy of Games Workshop.

Enemy AI also makes success unrewarding, because enemies and NPC's alike operate soullessly and mindlessly.  Horde enemies consistently approach the player in a bee-line from their designated spawn points, and after players shoot/hack an enemy into oblivion, they'll still hear the slain — sometimes without a head — invariably yell the same lines like "My soul!" Good VR demands a lot of possible interactions, and unfortunately in Battle Sister the way that environments and enemies interact, even to grander implementations like telekinesis/faith, is lackluster.

Warhammer 40k: Battle Sister feels rushed. Little things like improving how enemies respond to being shot, not making weapons clunky, even fine-tuning when controllers vibrate would go a long way. There is a Warhammer story within this package, but it's not captivating enough to recommend this title to most people. Facts are, there are plenty of VR shooters for a lower price that will have more refined mechanics, and Battle Sister could still use more patching and updates.

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About Eric Hillery

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