Warhammer 40k Space Marine 2 is a third-person shooter first, and a Warhammer 40k game second. That’s not to say longtime fans of the universe won’t be rewarded with a follow-up to the story of former Firstborn Captain of the Ultramarines Space Marine Chapter Titus, but if like me that means little to you, Space Marine 2 won’t lose you in the weeds of its lore.
After playing an hour of Space Marine 2’s second level and having a chat with Saber Interactive creative director Oliver Hollis-Leick at Gamescom 2023, it became very clear to me that the team is aiming to strike a balance between doing right by longtime fans and people like me when the Space Marine 2 release date rolls around later this year.
Hollis-Leick played Dawn of War 2 when it came out and has read so many Warhammer 40k books and novels that I imagine he has whole shelves dedicated to the series, but that doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about new fans.
“How do we make it feel accessible to someone who’s got no familiarity with [Warhammer 40k] whatsoever?” Hollis-Leick ponders. “We worked with Games Workshop to relax some of the terminology where possible, to use more common terms to make this a little bit easier to understand. Also, I wanted to avoid massive exposition dumps at the start of the game about what Aterian is, what a Rubicon Primaris is, and all that stuff. So it was a combination of simplification and drip-feeding as much visual storytelling as possible.”
That visual storytelling is immediately evident too, with a massive mud-drenched battlefield opening up the second level while soldiers bark orders at one another and fight the Tyranids – Warhammer 40k’s aliens that are reminiscent of the bugs in Starship Troopers – as they come running at you in droves.
There’s so much in the character design and world itself that isn’t outright explained, and yet Space Marine 2 absolutely feels part of a larger universe that easily welcomes you into its mechanics. Warhammer 40k fans will not be left wanting, I’m sure of it, even if the presentation isn’t immediately lore-heavy.
While Space Marine 2 is not a cover shooter, instead opting for a blend of ranged and melee combat against hordes of enemies that you can tackle in up to three-player co-op, it will definitely appeal to fans of that genre. If you thought the jacked dudes, screaming, and gore of Gears of War was intense, Space Marine 2 dials that up to 11 while offering you a smooth blend of ranged and melee combat.
Because Saber Interactive is leveraging its tech from 2019’s World War Z, Space Marine 2 will see you fending off hordes of enemies as they scramble over each other to reach your position, and when they do you’ll need to dodge roll, melee attack, and parry your way around the battlefield. Space Marine 2 is a delicate dance of off-the-cuff judgments, where your choice comes down to point-blank executions or chainsaws through the chest.
“We felt that the story of a Space Marine cannot be told without that epic scale,” Hollis-Leick adds. “So there is a lot of sort of programming wizardry that goes into it, we have to be very efficient with graphics.”
You’ll see swarms of Tyranids from hundreds of meters away bearing down on you like a flock of birds, only for them to push right up to your position and charge you without a second thought.
Space Marine 2 is a successful exercise in over-the-top game design. You’re controlling an eight-foot-tall immortal man who likely weighs over 1,000kgs in armor, and you’re somehow gliding around the battlefield like an Olympic figure skater.
While that might sound like it shouldn’t work on screen, it really does. The movement and gunplay are top-tier, and this is what makes it appeal to anyone who doesn’t know their Space Marines. The core experience of Space Marine 2 is so good that newbies won’t feel lost, but while big fans will definitely still get what they want.