Deathwatch is XCOM with Space Marines: An Interview With Ben Murch

The Warhammer 40,000 setting is making its way into the tactical turn-based strategy genre on the PC with the upcoming release of Warhammer 40,000: DeathwatchEnhanced Edition

Developed and published by Rodeo Games, Deathwatch was originally released on mobile platforms, but has since been remastered and upgraded for release on the PC.

I got in touch with Rodeo Games' Ben Murch to talk all about Deathwatch, what the studio's plans are for the game after its release, XCOM 2, and more. 

There's a plethora of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 licensed games on the market in just about every genre—and many of its makers have pedigrees that afforded them the rights to creating titles specific to their niche. How'd Rodeo Games come by the license? Tell us a little about your studio. 

Well it all begins five years ago when we formed Rodeo Games. There were four of us to begin with, all hailing from the AAA games industry. We wanted to create turn based strategy games on iOS, mostly because we all had iPhones and no tbs games to play on them! So, we created our first two games. Hunters and Hunters 2. They both did pretty well and got us a little attention.

Then we had one of those weird co-incidences. I was on a plane going to LA for E3, and the guy next to me was playing Hunters on his iPad. We got chatting, and he turned out to be the Head of Licensing at Games Workshop! From there, we signed a deal to bring their very first IP to mobile (Warhammer Quest), and after that, Deathwatch. The studio has now grown to 9 full time members of staff, along with a few contractors.

With the delay of XCOM 2, fans of the turn-based strategy genre are no doubt aching to get their hands on a good strategy game this year. Tell us what makes Deathwatch special. 

I know!! It's such a shame! Everyone in the studio was looking forward to getting their hands on XCOM! I guess it does leave more time for Fallout 4 though! Anyway, back to Deathwatch! One of my favourite aspects of playing is the versatility in team creation and the resulting tactics. There are nearly 50 unique marines and 200 Wargear items to choose from. All with different play styles and abilities. So if you want to take a squad of assault marines into missions equipped with chainswords and grenades, you can! Similarly, if you want to hold back and hammer the enemy from afar, then take devastators armed with the heaviest weapons in the Imperium. Veterans, Apothecaries, Heroes, and many more make up the tactical ranks of the Deathwatch.

Another great feature of Deathwatch is the harder difficulty modes. Once you've played through the game, Veteran and Heroic difficulty modes unlock. Not only do they make the enemies more numerous and tougher, but they also have extra skills and abilities to further test your marines.

Players command a squad of Space Marines in Deathwatch. Are there any plans for Tau, Chaos, or Eldar campaigns—or perhaps different Space Marine chapters, like the Sisters of Battle? 

We do have plans for a trilogy of Deathwatch games, all with new enemies and campaigns. However, we're not talking details just yet. Sisters of Battle would be cool though, as would Imperial Assassins!

Why the Deathwatch? Tell us a bit about this particular Space Marines chapter and how they play into the game's campaign. 

Well, the Deathwatch are the best of the best. The greatest warriors across all Space Marine chapters are called into its service when the Imperium needs them the most. This particular part of the Deathwatch have been called into the Astolat Sector. Reports have come flooding in of an invading Tyranid force. A bio-mechanical horde of super predators. The Deathwatch are tasked with investigating, then undertaking covert op missions deep in enemy territory to nullify the threat. Over the 15 hour campaign, the Deathwatch destroy entire planets that have been flooded with Tyranids, assassinate key enemy figures and even board Hive Ships to battle the Tyranids on their own ground.

The game was originally created for the iOS. For veterans of the game, what changes and features can they expect to see in this new version for the PC? 

First off, we've totally overhauled the graphics. From the very start, we knew that we'd be releasing Deathwatch on PC, so we built all the assets to that quality, then optimised them for iOS. That meant modelling all the characters in ZBrush to get the high quality normal maps, creating Physically Based Rendering textures for environment elements you'd only see on PC. The Art team also went in and totally replaced all of the lighting in the game. Characters now cast dynamic shadows. There are brand new particle effects. There's so much more you can do on PC to create stunning environments and characters. It's been really fun seeing it all build up over the last few months.

As well as revamping all the controls to suit PC players, we've also added three new chapters of marines. Imperial Fists, Dark Angels and Black Templars. They all bring new tactics, skills and abilities to the missions.

To what extent can players customize their squads and individual units? 

The marines are all very specific looking, so there are no options to physically change them. However, you can customise their skills, abilities, stats and wargear. During missions, your marines will accrue experience points which are added to their individual xp banks. In between missions they can spend these points on skills, or choose to save them up for bigger and better skills. However, if your marine dies during a mission, he will lose all the experience points in his bank. It adds a really nice risk / reward process to levelling up your characters.

Wargear is a term that includes all weapons, armours, and equipment that the Deathwatch can use. Over the course of the game your squad will earn wargear by completing missions. This can range from extremely rare Plasma Guns which are capable of cutting through the most armoured enemies, to Photon Grenades that stun targets and buy you some time. All the wargear compliments your play style… or even help you create a new approach to missions.

Given that Deathwatch is being released on the PC, are there any plans to support modding or player creations on the Steam Workshop? 

We're just focusing on the PC launch right now. We're all big fans of the modding scene on Steam (Skyrim in particular). However, we haven't made any plans just yet.

Are there any expansion or DLC plans for the game? 

Once again, we're just focussing on getting the game out in October. We do have long term plans for more Deathwatch games. We also have plans for dlc missions and marines. How we proceed with those plans really comes down to fan reaction to the first game.

Do you have any plans to bring Deathwatch to consoles? 

Haha, I'm sure the warriors of the Deathwatch would love to crunch some Tyranids on Playstation and XBox. We'll have to see…