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Making a Warhammer 40,000 MMO: The History

Garrett Fuller Posted:
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During E3 we had the chance to sit down and comb through the first released information on Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade. It was very exciting for our team.  However, as many 40K forum users say when it comes to 40K MMOs, we took it with a grain of salt. Everyone remains skeptical about a 40K MMO because well... it has been tried before. Games Workshop has had an interesting history in the video game market with both 40K and Warhammer Fantasy as well. Lots of games have been made, some have been promised, and others have quietly disappeared. As an avid 40K fan myself, I want to look at the journey of making a 40K MMO and why fans should really be excited about Eternal Crusade based on what we know so far.

Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millenium Online

You cannot talk about Eternal Crusade without first mentioning Dark Millenium. This was to be THQ’s first foray into the MMO genre with 40K as its flagship game. We did a host of interviews on the title a few years back. The team building the game had very little MMO experience and was building a version that sounded like World of Warcraft with Space Marines. Some of the design elements that stand out are: it would only have two factions (a major flaw when working with 40K), the main Space Marine faction would have been Black Templars, and somehow Orks would fight next to Chaos.

If you go back and read our interview with Tim Campbell from back in the day, you will find a lot of the questions we asked seemed to be avoided. The answers were more about fan hype that anything else. I clearly remember one thing that told us the game was basically going to die. It was at E3 when they showed off the second major trailer for the game. The second big trailer was just a re-skinned version of the one shown the year before. That kind of signalled the death knell. In many ways, I am glad this game fell into the Warp. It may have taken time, but if we were only playing an RPG version of 40K as a Black Templar and only fighting one faction, well that just left far too much of the original game behind.

Warhammer in Video Games

On a quick note, Games Workshop has had plenty of ups and downs in the video game market. In the MMO space, there were two versions of Warhammer Online. The first was from a small studio called Climax who had even released a bunch of screens for the game. This project failed and Mythic picked up the rights to produce Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. WAR as many called it, was a solid MMO with lots of strong artwork and design. However, the game suffered from promising too much and never delivering. Another major flaw was to approach the Warhammer world using only two factions. You would think the team who made Dark Age of Camelot would have known better. Sadly, Warhammer Online was strong out of the gate, but lost tons of steam when it came to delivering on its promises of PvP and endgame.

A Goblin Shaman, Chaos Warrior, and Dark Elf Sorceress walk into a bar...

Dawn of War and Space Marine

These two games represent the best in Warhammer 40K video games. We cannot forget the game Fire Warrior for the PS2 as well. When you think of the dark grim future on your PC or TV screen, Dawn of War is probably the best format for the game. It allowed you to play multiple armies and launch tabletop style campaigns without having to spend hours painting models. With the expansions and Dawn of War 2 the game succeeded in adding almost every army seen across the galaxy into the game, that is one of the core elements to 40K, allowing players to play the armies they love.

Before their re-launch in 2011, even the unpopular Necrons made it into the Dawn of War series.

Space Marine took the IP to a whole new level. Finally a solid shooter was produced with an Adeptus Astartes hero.  So many games had come before: Halo, Gears of War, etc. all rose to popluarity following the concept of the space warrior. Space Marine sold marginally well, but was not enough to save the fading THQ publisher. If you get the chance to try the game, pick it up. It should be fairly cheap now and does a good job of capturing the violent combat in 40K. The reason I mention Space Marine here is because the team at Behaviour has said that combat in Eternal Crusade will mirror the combat from Space Marine. It will be a mix of shooter style game play with some heavy melee elements thrown in.

Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade

Behaviour’s team has already impressed us with some good decision making on a 40K MMO right out of the gate. To start, there are four player factions (not 2): Imperium, Chaos, Orks, and Eldar. The NPC faction is the Tyranids. This gives players a decent choice when declaring a side. The armies themselves will be at war with each other. So it is a constant push and pull between these races for domination of the planetary resources. Dark Angels represent the first Space Marine chapter, but the team told us, we’d be crazy to only have one chapter, so expect more in the future.

The Iron Warriors may not be the most colorful Chaos chapter, but they are solid and again will get help in the future. Orks represent the Free-to-Play factions with hordes of Boyz running around for free.  Yes, you can upgrade to Nobs, which puts you on equal playing field with the Astartes. We really liked this mechanic as it represents 40K very well. Lastly, the Eldar being added is a bonus in and of itself. How they will be represented is yet to be seen. From launch, the game will play out like a true 40K tabletop. Let’s just hope updates come quickly with other chapters and factions like Tau and Space Wolves.

Russ will not tolerate the Dark Angels being in the game first! Put us in!

Combat is of the highest importance. When the team told us that you can play as a ten man squad we got excited, we’ll admit it.  Warhammer 40K has always had a strong mix of shooting and melee. Bolters fire and Thunder Hammers swing down on enemies. Ork Power Claws can crush metal just as easily as a Lascannon can destroy a host of sword-wielding daemons. 40K is medieval combat in space. Having that mix is critical to Eternal Crusade’s success. Mixing combat styles from games like Borderlands and Space Marine will tweak this balance among players. We remain optimistic about the combat, but they have to get this mix on the money.

The battlefields of the forty first millenium are vast and complex. Even on the table top with sixth edition you now have bastions, defense lines, and fortresses. Players can build their own fortresses according to the team building the MMO. This should make for some great objectives on the field. Also, vehicles have always been a major part of the game. Behaviour Interactive has assured us that vehicles will be in the game and usable all over the battles. You deploy your squad from your Rhino into the fighting zones to start with.

The last and largest portion of Eternal Crusade that we want to applaud the team for is the only small smattering of PvE being added to the game. 40K is a game about players fighting each other. You do not sit down on a Saturday tabletop game to role-play out a bunch of set encounters from a module. The game is about war, and the MMO will give players just that. Battlefields will shift faction depending on who is fighting the hardest. Factions can fight a common foe and then turn on each other. It will be chaos…but that is the point. Any MMO that has tried to make a Warhammer game fails when they launch with two factions. Eternal Crusade is launching with four and the game is driven by PvP. Now, there will be a bit of PvE in the game as players battle the eternal doom of the Tyranids. But having the driving force of gameplay be controlling the large battlefields in PvP battles? That is the core of 40K itself.

We remain very hopeful for Eternal Crusade. There is still a lot to be shown and even more to be delivered upon. When it is launched this could be a great MMO for all of us to enjoy. 40K fans might finally have a solid reason to log into a sandbox solar system and battle it out for their faction. Expect a lot more coverage on Eternal Crusade as we move forward. Let’s hope the folks who formed the massive branch of Behaviour are ready to deliver on their design goals.

Garrett Fuller is the Industry Relations Manager at MMORPG.com

Read more of our E3 and Warhammer 40k Online: Eternal Crusade coverage


Garrett Fuller

Garrett Fuller / Garrett Fuller has been playing MMOs since 1997 and writing about them since 2005. He joined MMORPG.com has a volunteer writer and now handles Industry Relations for the website. He has been gaming since 1979 when his cousin showed him a copy of Dungeons and Dragons. When not spending time with his family, Garrett also Larps and plays Airsoft in his spare time.