By Chris Matel

We're all nerds for something whether we like to admit it or not. Just like how highly desirable and unique displays of product might be called the “porn” of their respective categories, “nerd,” over the years, has grown into a mainstream descriptor, identifying those who exhibit a specialized manifestation of enthusiasm. People can live, work and abide by their nerdism, and its those people to which we look when particular, detailed knowledge is sought—or, other times, gained, even without solicitation.

One of the greatest enemies of the nerd, unfortunately, is time. With so much knowledge to be unearthed and internalized, it's hard to be a nerd of multiple disciplines. Tabletop and role-playing games exist in that same realm of comic books and videogames, but not everyone has the time to be a Dungeon Master or dice-roller in addition to being a bookworm or controller fiend. Between fastidious clipping and filing, precise gluing and painting, as well as a wealth of lore and rules to learn, the indelible Warhammer is a nerd's enterprise that demands more than a subtle association in order to be wholly engaged in its miniature-scaled wars. 

To a certain extent, it might take the 40K nerd to fully appreciate what will be Relic's first departure from their popular RTS games, using their license for Space Marine. Games Workshop's property has been in circulation for more than two decades, and with its influence felt throughout the videogame industry, when Space Marine is called “Gears of Warhammer,” it's a full-circle observation. From the press's first hands-on with the multiplayer side of the upcoming game, it's realistic to say Relic's work is neither a rip-off of Epic's, nor does it appear to be a halfhearted attempt. Instead, going bolter to lascannon comes off as more experiment than expedited fluff.

Though not as robust or filled out as other established and multiplayer-focused franchises, Space Marine's competitive options play surprisingly well. There aren't any profound additions to action gaming here and what's available is fairly common nowadays, but with three distinct armor classes, there are variable strategies to employ. With a progression system based on experience earned from combat, the early stages of Imperium-versus-Chaos firefights are based around Tactical marine skirmishes. As the standard assault class, Tactical players can sprint quicker and dodge-roll with balanced weaponry. Assault rifles and scoped equipment accompany the class, making it an easily adaptable choice.

According to Otto Ottosson, associate producer at Relic, it'll take around 14 hours to max out your profile, unlocking the most powerful equipment and perks to use with the other two variants: Devastator and Assault armors. He pointed out they chose to front-load most of the weaponry in the early levels to open up gameplay since they're class-dependent. The decision couldn't be more apparent. While the Devastator lumbers around as a heavy tank, withstanding more direct fire from a defensive stance and with big guns at his disposal, the Assault class boosts about by a jump pack strapped to his back and melee weapons in hand.

In both 8-on-8 modes of play, the deathmatch “Annhilation” and control-point “Seize Ground,” the Assault class was almost unilaterally the favorite. Maps in Space Marine are thankfully multi-floored, but almost too symmetrical. The Assault's ranged abilities might be inadequate, but its quickly recharged jump pack allows the marine to jet in and out of frays, slamming around powered axes, swords and hammers in the process. It's pack proved the most effective in a game of Seize Ground on “Waste Management,” where a centrally contested, elevated control point could be defended and abandoned easily with darting vertical movement.

Death might come easily at the hands of veteran marines, but the game's “Customizer” affords players not only the chance to outfit various loadouts with specific warbands and armament, but also assume the build of an assailant's inventory as well. As I learned first-hand just before the event, building an army for the tabletop game is a dedicated process. Choosing weaponry and aligning them with different factions is a major component to being a 40K nerd, and fortunately that experience finds its way into Relic's shooter. Each side of the field is capable of being completely garbed in identifiable colors and armor, or mixed and matched with total customization using Game Workshop's color palate. (Even my half-finished Chaos marine was mostly mirrored in-game.)

In battle, the Customizer helps you explore different combinations you might not normally think to equip. Whether you're killed capturing a control point or you're continually annihilated, a post-mortem option allows you to switch to your rival's inventory (assuming you've reached the requisite level and unlocked the items). Finding a rut in multiplayer games usually means having to navigate a set of menus before spawning, but if your enemy has an effective combination, switching to it on-the-fly isn't an obtrusive feature.

Over the course of a few hours, I had the chance to take up arms in the five maps, two game modes, and various weapons that make up the Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine's multiplayer. Though the game won't be in contention for “Best Multiplayer” this year, it certainly shows off how Relic is able to do something other than a PC-based RTS. What will be playable for nerds of both the 40K universe and shooters alike later this year, is looking to be an entertaining competitive option. The gametypes are limited, restricting it to a bareboned online element, but as a new IP and way to experience 40K, it would appear Relic are on the right track.   

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