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Andy Serkis is your Space Marine boss in new Warhammer 40K game, Chaos Gate

Lord of the Rings actor will bring to life a Grey Knights Space Marine

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A Grey Knight Space Marine stands in the strategium overlooking the stellar battlespace. Image: Complex Games/Frontier Foundry
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters has a lot going for it. There is the provenance of the original game, of course, a decent little strategy title released in 1998 that brought X-COM-style, turn-based tactics to the grim darkness of the far future. Then there is the developer, Complex Games, a studio with plenty of experience with Games Workshop’s source material. Now the developer is bringing on some celebrity talent — BAFTA-award winning actor Andy Serkis, best known as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films and Ulysses Klaue in Marvel’s Black Panther.

Publisher Frontier Foundry announced Tuesday that Serkis will contribute voice-over work for the game, playing the role of Grey Knights Space Marine grand master, Vardan Kai. It also announced Daemonhunter’s release date of May 5, when it becomes available on both Steam and the Epic Games Store. Pre-orders begin Tuesday.

Polygon had the opportunity to speak with Serkis about his role. We also spent some time with Complex Games’ CEO and creative director Noah Decter-Jackson to learn more.

Advanced Grey Knights Space Marines, presumably sent into battle by grand master Kai. Image: Complex Games/Frontier Foundry

Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters stars the previously mentioned Grey Knights Space Marines, a unique chapter of bio-engineered super soldiers with powerful psionic abilities. They are capable of fielding a host of powerful warriors and war machines, but when the game begins players will find themselves on the back foot.

“You’ve just come off of a major campaign against a cult of Khorne,” Decter-Jackson told Polygon. “Your ship is damaged, severely lacking in resources, and really everyone on board should be heading towards home.”

But the ship, along with its small contingent of Grey Knights, is seconded by a member of the Imperial Inquisition and given a new mission. The new goal will be to bind their wounds as best they can and scan a given sector of space for an even more dangerous threat — an incursion by the forces of Nurgle.

What follows will be a war fought on multiple fronts. On one side of the Grey Knights will be the putrescent forces of a plague god, hellbent on turning a huge swath of inhabited space into a wasteland. On the other side is an even more fearsome foe: the bureaucracy of the Imperium of Mankind.

“Grand master Vardan Kai is basically an authority in the Grey Knights universe,” Decter-Jackson said. “He’s the steward of the armory. He’s the one responsible for giving you [...] access to a lot of the valuable weapons, armor, and equipment that the Grey Knights have. So you really have to kind of convince him that the outbreak that you’re dealing with is serious, and that he should really help you out.”

Decter-Jackson described the campaign as a constant struggle against attrition. Players will need to make difficult decisions about which missions they are willing to accept at any given time. Push your Space Marines too hard and you won’t have the strength to withstand an organized thrust by the forces of Chaos. Hold back for too long, and Kai himself will begin to lose faith in you.

“In a way he’s supporting you,” Decter-Jackson said. “You will be able to talk to him regularly throughout the course of the campaign. You have to report to him, and then as you talk to him you can make choices that can affect whether or not you have greater or worse access to the armory. [He] can also introduce new supports or advantages to your strategic level over the course of the campaign.”

Those boons can be upgrades for your flagship, the Baleful Edict, or they can be additional reinforcement — perhaps even powerful new Grey Knights veterans in terminator armor.

“He’s somewhat adversarial in some ways, because he’s managing a lot of different campaigns at the same time,” Decter-Jackson said. “You’re just one of many demanding his resources. So you have to find ways to show him that you’re capable of commanding a Grey Knights strike force and that the [incursion] that you’re dealing with is actually a serious threat to the galaxy.”

Serkis is said to be relishing the role of grand master, especially when he gets to chastise players for their poor performance on the battlefield.

“With Kai, I think one of the main reasons I took the job was I was going to have the opportunity of talking directly to a player,” said Serkis, “and that is something I have never done before.”

This isn’t Serkis’ first time participating in the development of a video game. In 2007, he provided performance capture for King Bohan in Heavenly Sword. He also served as dramatic director for that game, and helped to write its story. He’s appeared in Risen (alongside John Rhys-Davies and Lena Headey), Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and Volume, directed by indie developer Mike Bithell. His work will also be included in the Star Citizen project’s Squadron 42 single-player game, a product that has not had a release date since 2016.

“This character was such a great opportunity because he’s very hard to read,” Serkis said of Vardan Kai. “He’s kind of implacable. He’s emotionally like a kind of pressure cooker, but he keeps it all in for the most time. He’s stern and stony-faced. He does have a stoic kind of sense to him, and I imagined him to be like this block of granite that you never see crack. You see that there’s a tiny, tiny grain of humanity in there. He has the ability to be a master manipulator. He’s sarcastic and sardonic much of the time. He doesn’t suffer fools.”

We’ve included a clip from our extended interview with Serkis below.

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