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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Warhammer 40,000: Dakka Squadron is the orkiest 40K game

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It’s tempting to slip into Warhammer ork-talk when writing about dogfighting game Dakka Squadron, subjecting you to several hundred words of, “Oi, lissen! Dis ‘ere game iz da most orkiest fing evva because, wot it is, when you just zoggin’ fink about it for a minute, is a fing wot ‘as bin built from scrap an’ probably only holds togevva because some git believed in it real ‘ard like.”

I’ll spare you any more, but imagine a game that talks to you like that in every mission briefing, every upgrade menu, and every bit of audio chatter congratulating you on blowing up another turret. Now you understand the agony and the ecstasy of Warhammer 40,000: Dakka Squadron. The voice actors do creditable ork and gretchin voices, for sure. Your radio operator is supposed to sound like a squeaky little jumped-up Cockney, but he shouts one of his handful of barks every time you shoot down anything, and 90 percent of what you do in Dakka Squadron is shoot things down.

Dakka Squadron is arcade flight combat of the aggressively straightforward kind. It’s not a game that expects you to own a joystick—it doesn’t even play real well on gamepad, thanks to barrel rolls and boost all being mapped to directions on the right-stick so sensitively that I often StarFox off to the side and slam into a cliff-face when I want to speed up. I’ve been playing with mouse and keyboard instead, which works fine.

You begin by choosing which ork clan your pilot comes from, each with their own bonuses—the Bad Moons, for instance, get more money per mission because orks use teeth as currency and Bad Moons’ teeth grow back the fastest. Then you paint and apply decals to your jet, a scrapyard lump of metal held together by the orks’ subconscious psychic belief, which is why if you paint yours red it genuinely will go faster. (Mine’s black for bonus hull points, with blue trim for a chance to ignore damage.)

Each mission is set in a relatively small area. The early levels are in a canyon, while later you hurtle around a snowy mountain or a floating airbase, though I’ve only seen that one in multiplayer because I haven’t unlocked all the planets in campaign mode. The enemies are mostly rival orks, though I have fought some high-tech Adeptus Mechanicus craft that shoot beam lasers and seem surprised at being rammed by an ork jet with a nose-mounted spike.

The central act of flying around shooting stuff is pretty good. The guns chatter away, and being able to sacrifice some health to ram other planes to bits is a very ork way of shortening a dogfight. You can of course do a barrel roll, and pull a 180 with an engine-chugging sound like you’re revving a motorbike. The AI orks collide with things frequently, but then of course they do—they’re orks. They seem to just bounce off whatever they hit. 

Dogfighting in multiplayer is much more challenging, and I spent a fun evening chasing some friends through warpstorms and Necron caves. There’s not much to it, though. You can only fly ork jets and the bots are always orks too. Dakka Squadron is maybe a bit too committed to its theme. The soundtrack is another example of this, a wail of deedly-deedly guitar so constant we all lowered its volume. I dropped the volume of the dialogue as well after hearing “dakka dakka dakka!” a dozen times too many.

That stuff is forgivable. It’s a game about orks that’s a bit too orky for its own good, because it’s not aimed at 40K dilettantes like me who never committed to an army and ended up with a couple thousand points of Blood Angels and a bunch of tyranids, and now mostly just read the novels. It’s for people who collect ork armies in every 40K game, and have gone through more green paint than Picasso.

The big frustration I have with Dakka Squadron is how long some of the levels are, with multiple waves of planes and additional objectives popping up when you think you’re done. Every time I’ve been blown up, then had to restart an entire mission from scratch while a London radio goblin screeches the objectives, I’ve wanted to quit instead. 

Fortunately, mid-mission checkpoints are on the way (I asked the devs and they said the feature is on the “priority list to implement in live ops”), and with that one change I’ll come back to Dakka Squadron. Right now though, the thought of retrying this mission I’m stuck on one more time has made me zog right off instead.

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