Battle Sister is the first Warhammer 40,000 game built for VR

“Did they get the bolters right?” That’s the first question we ask about any Warhammer 40,000 game. They’re one of the setting’s iconic weapons, described in loving detail in every one of the many 40K novels. Battle Sister is the first 40K game developed from the ground up for virtual reality (Betrayal at Calth has VR support but that was an added feature, and it’s a turn-based hexgrid strategy game), so this is our first opportunity to hold a bolter in our gauntleted virtual hands.

In Battle Sister, the bolters look right. They’re chunky boys, even the pistol versions, first designed to be easily readable when molded onto a figurine made of 1980s lead. They sound right too, coughing out a throaty hack. But having to land multiple body shots to drop a weeny cultist with one just feels wrong. Sure, you can flick that cultist’s gas-masked face clean off with a single headshot, but the same is true with Battle Sister’s lasrifle. The bolter doesn’t feel like much of an upgrade over a standard infantry gun, and it should. Bolters shoot mass-reactive rounds designed to detonate inside their targets. They should make people explode. A bolt isn’t a bullet, it’s what you get nine months after a bullet fucks a grenade.

Battle Sister does get other stuff right. I’m playing it on an Oculus Quest 2 (the headset it was released for in 2020, with a Rift version following this year), which means I don’t have to worry about cables and can walk around really rubbing my face on the 41st millennium. There’s plenty of ornate stuff to get close to. It casts you as one of the adepta sororitas, the Sisters of Battle who protect the Imperium from Chaos, and an early level has you walk through a temple-fortress past armored warriors praying and gigantic candles burning. The security handscanner has a skull and needles on it, which is extremely 40K. 

(Image credit: Pixel Toys)

So are the times I crane my neck to look up at an imposing space marine, or watch a thunderhawk gunship come in to land. Feeling present in moments like this, scenes right out of the books, is undeniably powerful. Which is why it’s crushing that other parts of Battle Sister are a letdown.