Placing you in control of an Imperial Knight, Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade lets you stomp around a war-torn future with guns the size of a car and chainsaws the size of a truck, to destroy the hordes of evil. While mechanically it may be little more than a gallery shooter with some quick time events, the hard-hitting action, gritty presentation, and customization make Freeblade worth a look.
If you are unfamiliar with Warhammer 40,000, a quick introduction. 38,000 years into the future, everything is war, with humanity is at odds with Orcs, Elder, Genestealers, the armies of Chaos, and probably some other factions I am forgetting. In Freeblade you play as a member of a noble house of the Empire who has been bound with an Imperial Knight – a forty foot suit of armor. With your planet and house destroyed, and you join forces with the Dark Angle chapter of Space Marines to claim your revenge and bring honor to your name.
At its core, Freeblade is little more than a gallery shooter, with your massive Imperial Knight walking down a preset path towards its goal with enemies uniformly running out at preset moments. But, the predictability rarely matters because it looks fantastic - going beyond just looking detailed and suitably grimy, it also uses visual and audio effects to add impact to everyone of your actions.
Tracing your finger around the screen causes your standard weapon to rip through most enemies like butter, as your cannon rings out with satisfying thuds. To offer some variety, double taps and holds allow you to decimate larger foes with a range of missiles, lasers, and more obscure fantasy weapons like melta cannons and stub guns – depending on what you have equipped.
Occasionally you have to use your melee skills when facing the larger, heavily armored bosses. Here you enter into quick time events that demand you stop a slider at the perfect moment to grind through the opponent's shielding with your huge chain fist. What follows is the painful sound of metal on metal – and depending on the damage you cause another slash.
The true war machine
Mounted to your huge warframe, each of these weapons is vast. This means that – baring the times you are reloading – there is little most enemies can do to slow your advance. When do run out of ammo, your ion shield can continue to keep you safe, simply by tapping on any indicated threats. The more powered up your shield, the more chances you get to block before you recharge. The result is a balance between choosing what to defend against, and when, to limit the damage you take.
The charge on your shield and it power can be increased, like every other element of your Knight, at the forge. Here you can upgrade, replace, and paint armor and weapons by smelting together other items, spending currency earned in app, or – of course – buying in-app purchases. Luckily, timed rewards, completing objectives, grinding levels, and taking part in daily challenges give you the change to earn regular upgrades without ever having to pay.
That said, the free-to-play hooks do have some adverse effects on Freeblade. To progress without paying you have to grind, and the levels are always the same. True, increased damage and enemy deployment do mix things up, but eventually the two minute levels do start to wear thin – particularly when they are so hard you struggle to progress with your current armor.
The art of war
Being a fan of the Warhammer 40,000 fiction, Freeblade felt like the perfect power fantasy. In an Imperial Knight you truly feel like you can take on armies alone, while its sheer size means that it makes sense for you to have little control of the cumbersome machine's direction. Yes, it gets repetitive, but played in small doses stepping into this armored goliath is great fun – and it looks sensational.