It would be an understatement to say that Warhammer 40,000 is having a moment.
Henry Cavill, everyone’s favorite celebrity nerd, moved away from his roles as Superman and Geralt of Rivia and toward a collaboration with Amazon on a series based in his beloved Warhammer 40K universe. Said universe is also undergoing a dramatic shift in the lore’s status quo, as the narrative turns sideways across books, video games, tabletop games, and general fandom. Games Workshop, Warhammer 40K’s creator, is also finally taking steps to change parts of the franchise’s lore that have attracted hate groups in its community.
So, now may be the best time ever to dip your toes (or dive headlong) into the vast, complex, intimidating sci-fi universe. It’s grim, there are no good guys, and there are these fellas called Space Marines who carry machine guns that shoot rockets, and people deify them like gods. It isn’t the happiest place. Demons, Orks, and aliens of all varieties abound. In many ways, humankind is among the worst of all the warring factions. From tabletop to screen, it is often a grim affair.
But it is a fun setting to play games in, because the world Games Workshop has created lends itself well to both tabletop and video games, from wars fought at inconceivable scales to in-your-face skirmishes. There’s an absolutely massive array of games from myriad nooks and crannies of the 40K universe, and if recent years are any proof, their proliferation shows no signs of slowing down. (Unless you count the sudden removals of Legacy of Dorn: Herald of Oblivion and Warhammer 40,000: Regicide from digital marketplaces. Both of those games ruled.) Here are the best of the bunch that you can play today.
Space Hulk: Deathwing Enhanced Edition
Image: Streum On Studio/Focus Entertainment
Space Hulk: Deathwing is a first-person survival shooter that was released in 2016. You and an AI (or live player) control a squad of Terminator Marines of the Dark Angels chapter as they explore not-so-abandoned Space Hulks (vast derelict space vessels often twisted by The Warp, a realm of unreality) looking for artifacts. From vast spaces to maze-like corridors, you’ll fight your way by bolter and blade through hordes of Tyranid Genestealers who have taken refuge in the Space Hulk that you and your team are tasked with exploring. It is by no means a perfect Warhammer 40,000 game, but it is a first-person shooter with wrist-mounted guns and chainswords, so it is still a rip-roaring (often literally) good time.
Space Hulk: Deathwing Enhanced Edition is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC.
Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr
Do you like Warhammer 40,000? Do you like Diablo? If your answer to both of these questions is yes, then Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr (it gets no points in the name department) is the game for you.
This 2018 game puts you in the role of an Imperial Inquisitor (kind of like an armed, galactic super priest) as you battle across the universe in a familiar action-RPG fashion. It is a Diablo-like through and through, with loot and in-depth character building. Admittedly, it is a bit messy — glitches, poor microtransactions, a forgettable story, and a boring endgame hold Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr back from being truly special. But it’s still a thrilling time nonetheless, and it tosses in a wrinkle that helps it stand out from other ARPGs: its cover system. With its focus on ranged combat, especially with certain classes, the cover system helps enable a more tactical ranged experience. It works better than you might think, and it will lead to some truly memorable ARPG encounters.
Warhammer 40,000: Inquistor – Martyr is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate
Image: Random Games/Strategic Simulations
Remember the 1990s? Surge, Sam Goody, and Warhammer 40,000 third edition. That was the world into which Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate was released in 1998. And luckily, it’s still available via GOG. What’s more, there is even a newly released quasi-sequel/kind-of remake of the game, and it’s fantastic (but similar enough in design that we didn’t want to include both.)
It’s a classic turn-based strategy game with some light RPG elements where you play as the ever venerable Ultramarines of Ultramar (they aren’t the most creative bunch) as they wage war against a daemonic Chaos lord. With multiple scenarios, a custom mission builder, a timeless art style, and the ability to let players command Space Marines and vehicles alike in a way that brings the classic tabletop warfare game to violent life, Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate is a classic for a reason. And thankfully it still holds up. While it may be a bit odd around the edges, this game is as fun today as it was when it launched. I also really cannot say enough about the art style, and how much it properly evokes that grandiose and hyper-gothic Warhammer 40,000 feel. There’s even a pre-Horus Heresy artifact to search for!
Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters review: Gothic XCOM strategy
Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate is available on Windows PC via GOG.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2
Image: Tindalos Interactive/Focus Entertainment
Tindalos Interactive’s Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is one of the best video game adaptations of a Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game. Battlefleet Gothic, the tabletop game, is focused on large ship battles in space that, in many ways, are just like those in a naval battle game. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 leans into this in every way.
It’s a slow-paced game in which thinking three steps ahead is often necessary. The real-time strategy nature of the ship-to-ship combat, positioning, and overall warfare is endlessly rewarding, even when you lose. It never feels unfair, though — if you approach an enemy ship broadside and they open up on you before you can fire on them, then you’ll take damage. Which is all to say: Proper planning and tactics pay off. And Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2’s sound design and packaging is bombastic, horrifying, bleak, and over-the-top, in the way only a 40K game could be.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is available on PC.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide
Left 4 Dead-alikes are a dime a dozen these days, but few developers have made their mark on the subgenre quite like Fatshark has. The 2018 action-RPG Warhammer: Vermintide 2 transplanted Valve’s iconic cooperative action into the Warhammer fantasy setting, in which melee combat and character classes coalesced in an “easy to learn, difficult to master” kind of loop. The same goes for the studio’s foray into the world of Warhammer 40K.
Darktide drops players into the bowels of an industrial city, which they must fight their way out of, time and time again, with flamethrowers, shotguns, laser rifles, and grenade launchers, as well as trench tools, axes, chainswords, and thunder hammers. Fatshark is still fleshing out Darktide’s overarching progression systems, and the mission variety isn’t nearly as robust as Vermintide 2’s is in 2023. But the game is off to a hell of a start. —Mike Mahardy
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is available on Windows PC.
Space Hulk: Tactics
Image: Cyanide Studio/Focus Entertainment
Space Hulk is one of the most famous and beloved Warhammer 40,000 tabletop games. Sadly, the most recent edition — fourth edition — is more or less out of print, hard to find, and always overpriced.
Luckily, Space Hulk: Tactics exists. It is a shockingly faithful and lovingly detailed adaptation of the board game. It also adds its own flavor through a card system that allows for extra abilities to be used, lending even further depth to squad customization. The story, while barebones, can be played through the eyes of Blood Angels Terminator Space Marines or Genestealers, and each turn-based encounter is cramped, incredibly tense, and increasingly difficult in a way that never feels unfair to the player. At face value, it seems simple. But that simplicity belies depth, and a compelling strategy loop. If you’re like most of us out there and don’t have the Space Hulk board game, then Space Hulk: Tactics is the next-best thing.
Space Hulk: Tactics is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2
Image: Relic Entertainment/Sega
An absolute classic. Relic’s 2009 real-time strategy masterpiece, Dawn of War 2, takes a unique approach to classic RTS gameplay, especially in its core campaign, in which you control a small squad of Blood Angels Space Marines as opposed to a whole army. Dawn of War 2 also features a surprisingly compelling, if a bit rote, Warhammer 40,000 story.
It also features a Diablo-like loot system that gives players the ability to equip their Space Marine squads with various armors and items. And it is through that system that Dawn of War 2 feels most in line with the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game. One of the most compelling aspects of the source material is customizing, personalizing, outfitting, and painting the miniatures. Dawn of War 2’s loot system and squad customization offers a taste of that. Yet, the tabletop game it most resembles is Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team.
Small-to-medium-scale skirmishes that are intense, loud, and incredibly brutal make up both Kill Team and Dawn of War 2. Sight lines, cover, lines of fire, weapon types, and loadouts all add up to dictate victory or defeat. They also add up to endless, replayable fun. Whether you’re in single-player, the DLC campaigns, or running PvP multiplayer, Dawn of War 2 never gets old. There’s a reason it’s still popular, and that most Warhammer 40,000 fans have many memorable war stories from this game. I know that I do.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2 is available on Linux, Mac, and Windows PC.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
Image: Relic Entertainment/Sega
Ah, yes. The 2011 third-person shooter that gave us Captain Titus, and the game whose sequel we’ve been awaiting for over a decade. And we’re finally getting one! For my money, Relic’s Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is the best Warhammer 40,000 game.
A third-person shooter and brawler with no cover system, Space Marine is an exercise in grandiose violence. Space Marines are the Emperor’s angels of war, so they have no need for a cover system; the ceramite power armor is enough. Controlling Captain Titus of the Ultramarines (the blue boring guys, sorry Ultramarines players), players trek through a forge world in the grips of an Ork planetary siege. Combat is punchy and over-the-top, and Titus is a unique Space Marine in the sense that he holds onto some aspects of his former humanity. This gets tested as the game enters its third act, and new threats arise; it all ends on a hell of cliffhanger. And finally, it looks like we’ll see the rest of Captain Titus’ story in the recently announced Space Marine 2.
While the story mode in Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is incredibly memorable, the multiplayer was an absolute blast at its peak. The Space Marine customizer in the game’s multiplayer suite was incredibly detailed and robust, the gameplay loop paired well with PvP modes, and they even added an incredibly fun survival mode after launch. It plays best on PC because there is still a marginally active multiplayer community. In the end, it’s a game that lets you control a Space Marine at the peak of his power. You wield bolters, chainswords, bolt pistols, and Lightning Claws. What more could you want?
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is available on PlayStation 3, Windows PC, and Xbox 360.