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Tactical Observations: A Look at Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine's Exterminatus Mode

by: Kyle Palantine ; edited by: Aaron R. ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

The recent deployment of the Exterminatus co-op mode DLC for Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine has taken the game in new and exciting directions, but just what does it add to the game that is so special, and by how much has it extended Space Marine's multiplayer life?

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    The Exterminatus mode DLC has finally arrived, and just in time too. It has rejuvenated the Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine multiplayer. Like Dawn of War 2’s: The Last Stand, it seems that Warhammer 40,000 games work best when they’re in co-op mode, with the focus on facing off against the innumerable horrors of the galaxy.

    Initially, Exterminatus mode was supposed to arrive 30 days after Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine’s release. It ended up coming out significantly longer than that, nearly double the time quoted. At the time of writing it still hasn’t come out for Xbox.

    A popular opinion is that Exterminatus mode should’ve been in the game from the start, and that it’s superior to the Versus mode in every way. But what’s the basis of this opinion?

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    Mariners of Space

    This is literally you when you play Exterminatus.   It’s simple really. Exterminatus introduces the single player experience of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine into the multiplayer side of the game. The design aesthetic and gameplay experience of being a power armoured warrior monk is much more pronounced when it’s set against lesser but much more numerous foes. Compare this to the Versus mode where it’s supersoldier vs. supersoldier. The Versus mode is greatly enjoyable, but it definitely gets away from some of Space Marine’s appeal, even if it does nail the concept of Space Marines against Space Marines effectively and accurately.

    Exterminatus is a success in that it allows the multiplayer mode to reconnect with both the lore and tabletop game of Warhammer 40,000 in that it concerns a squad of Space Marines, facing off against an entirely different species in objective based gameplay where the marines are elite, but small in number, and they must defeat their foe using tactical skills, battlefield prowess, superior arms and armor.

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    Object of Concern

    Admittedly, the objectives are somewhat flimsy and extend to "kill" and "take and hold ground," but the challenges that pop up for extra experience points like “perform 5 headshots in 20 seconds" are… also flimsy. They can be entertaining diversions, but they only work on the basis of their urgency.

    The core gameplay experience of Exterminatus is extremely well realised, in that teamwork and actual use of tactics are necessary, and coupled with the sheer number of varied foes mixed with the variety of areas (four per mission, of which there are two), really make the game feel like a worthy and hard-fought struggle that a Space Marine might engage in. Not to mention the consistent challenge of it. By the end of it you will feel like an actual war veteran. That’s how I explain how I ended up with so many Purple Heart medals on my person, anyway.

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    Titus of Rivia

    One of the really great things about Exterminatus is that it echoes the game Space Marine was initially supposed to be, a squad based, tactical-action-RPG. I’ve depressed myself by mentioning it.

    It has its flaws though. Some would argue that it’s too hard. I think it’s important that it be challenging, but there should be some options for toughening up your character if you want to try it solo. “It’s a multiplayer co-op mode!" I hear you cry. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some sort of skirmish mission option for Space Marine? Or a single player challenge arena like The Witcher 2 recently added?That Ultramarine's calf seems to be on full alert.  

    Probably Exterminatus’ biggest flaw is that you are required to unlock equipment in the Versus multiplayer. It seems counter productive that you must play a different type of multiplayer to unlock equipment you only wish to use in a separate mode. Allowing players to earn equipment while playing Exterminatus would increase the game’s longevity because it would encourage new (or old) players to play for tangible rewards, rather than give them an ultimatum to play another game mode to get the advanced equipment they need to survive.

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    There Are No Winners in the Waiting Game

    This is how you will feel while waiting for a match that never starts. Big and blue.   The matching system definitely needs improving too. Sometimes it’s seemingly impossible to join games, or players will be stuck in the lobby waiting for the game to start. I have observed, that if this happens, then the game has started already. Ever been playing a game and seen someone join your game, yet they never, actually enter the game? They’re stuck in the lobby. The best thing to do if this happens to you, is simply exit and search for another game.

    If you do join a game midway, what will happen is that you’ll enter in as if you had died. So, you’ll have to use one of the lives from the team pool to join the game. It’s an interesting concept in the sense that it provides a penalty for reinforcement and a strategic cost to the team, in exchange for an increase in manpower. Assuming you can get it to work in the first place, that is.

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    Distracting Logical Complaints

    As great as Exterminatus is, it could definitely benefit from more depth, much like the singleplayer experience of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. On the same note, what is there is compelling to a level that you won’t care until you aren’t actually playing it. The final, bonus wave of Chaos forces is especially great and sits in stark contrast to the numerous, but squashable Orks.Stairs are the most valuable of commodities in the 41st millennium.  

    Relic have also confirmed that there’s more DLC on the way. This will almost certainly include the Legion of the Damned skin you can see in this video (the hot-rod skellington marine), as well as other custom skins and models, no doubt for sky high prices. However, if the game content they’re coming up with is consistent with the quality of Exterminatus mode, then the future looks promising for Space Marine.

    With that said, there’s still plenty of life in Exterminatus mode, which is not even a week old at this point and its 20 waves still hold much challenge. Getting past the 20th wave is no easy feat, so you might like to take advantage of some tactical observations, which will be covered in the 2nd part of this article; Tactical Observations: A Guide to Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Exterminatus Mode.


  • Images are all from Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
  • All information based on the author's experience with Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.

Tactical Observations - A Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Exterminatus Guide

A detailed look at the Exterminatus mode co-op DLC for Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. From design aesthetic, to lore to analysis to tactics, to wargear. Tactical Observations examines what it adds to the game and how best to take it on.
  1. Tactical Observations: A Look at Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine's Exterminatus Mode
  2. A Guide to Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Exterminatus Mode