I’ve always been fascinated by the Warhammer 40,000 franchise. Games Workshop has created not only a brand and lore so expansive that it’s impressive by any means, but there’s numerous games, figures, toys, novels and more based on it as well, including dedicated retail stores. Unfortunately, I never really got into the tabletop game and collecting the figures, though I’ve dabbled into the games periodically, and the newest in the series is finally on console with Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus, where you get to control the most technologically advanced army within its universe: The Adeptus Mechanicus.
For the Warhammer lore buffs, Mechanicus’ cannon resides within the middle of the Dark Imperium storyline. For those that aren’t up to snuff on their Warhammer lore and knowledge, it won’t mean much, but those wanting an authentic storyline should be pleased to know that author Ben Counter, whom has written a handful of Warhammer novels in the past, has created a story about the faction, filled with interesting characters, even if it is long winded at times.
The Adeptus Mechanicus faction are cybernetically enhanced, so they detest anything organic, constantly trying to improve themselves and make every part about their beings perfect as can be. Knowledge is power, and any part of them that’s organic is viewed as a weakness. You’ll lead an excursion on a newly rediscovered planet, Silva Tenebris, which happens to be the dormant resting place of the Necrons, a race of robotic creatures that are aggressive when awoken to your infiltration. Every decision you make will change the outcome moving forward. Do you destroy everything in your path only to anger the Necron further, or try and tread lightly in hopes that you can gain more knowledge in different ways? Each decision matters and will set you on paths towards different endings.
Playing over the course of dozens of levels, including the Heretek DLC that was released on PC, the core gameplay is in the form of a top down turn based RTS of sorts. From the main hub you’ll get to choose which mission you want to take on, check your currently unlocked characters and more. Once you choose a mission, each with their own difficulty and rewards, you’ll see a layout of separate rooms.
From your beginning area you need to eventually make it to the room that’s labelled with an exclamation mark, noting an important room with your objective. Other rooms are either blank, has a glyph symbol that can give a bonus or detriment, or has enemies lying in wait. Now, the more rooms you explore, the more rewards you can find, but there’s a fine balance of doing so because the longer you linger and explore, the harder the challenge becomes, as more Necrons will awake. As the gauge fills up, the challenge becomes harder, as certain levels of the gauge mean you’ll have more enemies in battle with reinforcements or they will reanimate faster upon death.
Basic rooms will give you some text to read, usually describing the room while giving you three options to choose from. Glyph rooms are interesting, as they simply give you the options of choosing two symbols, some of which will give you great buffs, bonus currency, heal your troops, though it could backfire as well, hurting you or raise the Necron awakening meter, so it’s also a gamble of how you want to play things out.
When you do finally make your way to one of the objective rooms, you’ll be thrust into battle. Here’s where your Tech Priest and other units will attempt to survive and take out the enemy Necrons. Played in a top down view, this is where your traditional turn based gameplay comes into play. Not only will every friendly and enemy unit have a turn designated at the top of the screen to show their turn in sequence, you also have to manage Cognition Points (CP) to do virtually any moves, abilities or attacks.
You’re given a set amount of ‘free’ moves within a set amount of tiles around your unit that doesn’t cost CP, but if you want to venture further, that will cost a CP to do so. Attacking costs CP, as does your abilities, so it’s a constant balance of managing your CP and planning out your actions very deliberately and strategically well ahead of time. To help manage this, there are pillars and other objects strewn about the map that can be gathered to gain more CP, some of which can be done with a free use of your scanner probe, though that can also be used to scan an enemy to see their health and stats should you wish.
At the beginning of each new turn you’ll also be able to send in your cannon fodder troops. These are essentially the grunts, each of which have their own strengths, weaknesses and purpose, and while they can attack and do some damage, they are generally better used for other purposes, like running interference or taking a shot to save your Tech Priests, as the mission will fail if all your Priests perish in battle. The cost to using these units though is that the majority of them cost Blackstone to deploy, the currency you’ll need to upgrade your Priests. So again, do you forgo spending a little extra Blackstone in hopes that it’ll help you win the match and earn a bigger reward after all, risk it and try to do with just your Priests or cut your losses and avoid spending any unnecessary costs knowing you’re going to lose the battle? Again, it’s a fine balance that will take some time to figure out and learn what the right move at the moment will be.
Most enemies aren’t too challenging on their own, but I guarantee you’re going to die quite often, almost every mission for the first dozen or so until you figure out all the mechanics and upgrades. Necrons are synthetic remember, so even when you bring their life to zero, they have a chance to reanimate in one to three turns, based on how high your awakening meter is from when you were exploring the dungeon previously. To destroy a Necron you’ll need to attack it one more time once it’s down, or if you’re lucky, a critical hit on the final attack will vanquish it outright, though you can’t always rely on that.
What’s not explained all too well is the upgrade system. From here, you can spend your hard earned Blackstone to upgrade your Priests abilities, unlocking new slots and gear. There are a handful of different trees to spec into, allowing you to create different types of classes, from extra ranged damage, to healers, tanks and more. I first thought that specializing into one tree would be the way to go, but after losing basically every match, I decided to cave and research online what others were doing. I basically chose the worst possible thing to do, as you want rounded Priests overall that are better in certain aspects. Obviously you can upgrade them however you wish, but once I spread out the upgrades to other trees a bit more, allowing me to gain free CP and health per turn for example, I was faring much better and actually started winning matches.
There’s a ton of upgrades and abilities that you can unlock, including powerful passives and access to certain gear. Once I started to specialize one Priest into melee and another with ranged, things started to go much better in battle. As you win certain missions, you’ll gain access to new troops and eventually more Priests as well. There’s honestly a ton of stuff to go through in the skill trees that I’m still figuring out what works best for my playstyle and trying new combinations with my Priests to find what works best in tandem. Do you spend upgrades on getting more health, or would you rather have more dodge chance and the ability to heal? There’s near endless combinations you could come up with, it’s just a shame that I had to figure this out the hard way through trial and error.
As for the visuals, they are serviceable at best, as you can zoom in close to units, but you’ll need to be zoomed out the majority of the time to play strategically anyways. There’s little detail on the characters outside of your Priests, though I did enjoy that whatever gear and weapons they are equipped with are shown on the characters themselves. You can change the color pallet of your Priests, but that’s about it and it's very basic. The environment is dark and gloomy, to be expected when scavenging and exploring Necron artifacts and tombs. The audio on the other hand was quite impressive. Even though there’s no voice over work for most of the experience, which would have been welcomed given the amount of lore and text involved, the sound design of the soundtrack and background audio is fantastic. As I’m also testing out a new headset, the bass and music thumped in my ears as did the roboticness of the weaponry and movements of characters throughout.
I have to admit, if I wasn’t reviewing Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus, I probably would have given up on it early on. Thankfully because of my review commitment, I stuck with it, and once I wrapped my head around all of its intricacies and strategies, it went from a seriously frustrating experience of constant losing, to wanting to do one more match to see what I can earn and upgrade. Even playing on the Casual setting, I was losing quite often early on, but wasn’t offered help on how to avoid doing so. It will simply take trial and error and a lot of time and perseverance to figure this out for yourself, but once you do the struggle will have been worth it. There are even more options you can set to make things harder or easier, but diverging from the default difficulties will disable achievements, so beware if you care about those points.
There’s a ton of lore and backstory that Warhammer fans should truly enjoy, finally getting to play as The Adeptus Mechanicus faction. While non or casual Warhammer fans won’t be as impressed or enthralled with the attention to detail and amount of lore within, Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is an entertaining turn based strategy game that can offer a ton of challenge for those wanting it as long as you can get over the initial frustrations and learning curve like the pathetic organic lifeform the Mechanicus believe us to be.
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