In the Grim Darkness of the far future, there is only War!
Warhammer 40,000 first graced the tables of avid gamers back in 1987, as a Sci-Fi alternative to the fantasy heavy Warhammer. Over the decades this strategy game built on violence and lore has gone from strength to strength with a global player base of both casual and competitive players alike. Its influence has spread to all forms of media, not only is 40K now celebrating its ninth edition, set to release later this month, but the black library continues to grow with even more tales of this dark and unforgiving universe, a TV series is set to grace our screens in the near future and the video game market thrives with a range of titles from balls to the wall shooters to more strategic entries and everything in between.
After an initial release on Steam in November 2018, Kalypso Media Group have now ported Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus to home console, taking great care to ensure that the interface and controls have been fine-tuned to suit console gaming. Console owners will also have full access to the Heretek DLC, we also get extra missions, new characters and boss fights as well as the digital soundtrack, an art book and a short story, that’s a pretty tasty offering considering Mechanicus isn’t even asking a full retail price but is coming at you for a wholesome £34.99 or $39.99. So let’s get down to brass tacks, is Mechanicus worth playing? let’s take a look.
“There is no truth in flesh, only betrayal.”
In Mechanicus, you play as the Adeptus Mechanicus (Cult of the Machine), a race of Tech-Priests stationed on Mars, jealously protecting the most valuable secrets of the Imperium of Man’s technology. After enlightening themselves to the fact that flesh is weak they worship a Machine God and have replaced their organs and body parts with mechanical replacement thus becoming something new entirely. They are a curious bunch, feared and respected for both their knowledge and their ability to kill things with inventively brutal weapons. Pretty handy really as they are going up against the Necrons, an ancient race of sentient robots that are pretty much Terminators without the Austrian accent who slumber in tombs deep below ancient worlds, once awoken, they are considered a world-ending event and not to be taken lightly.
The core gameplay of Mechanicus is that of a turn-based strategy game that takes cues from classics like X-Com while still paying respect to its tabletop counterpart. After deploying your Tech-Priests at the start of a battle you enter the movement phase, unlike others in the genre, there are no specified movement points, you are granted a radius of movement for each character and you can move freely within that outline. Combat will take place with both ranged and melee weapons and to use these you will need cognition points (CP). These can be earnt by exploring tombs, collecting them from CP pillars within each level or by defeating enemies. Each weapon or item will have a set amount of CP it requires to be used so weighing up your current CP with the situation at hand becomes an ongoing gambit, do you fire your weapon and hope to take down an enemy or use an item that might absorb damage in the hope the next turn looks to be more in your favour once the enemy has moved around a bit. Objectives can range from defeating all enemies, surviving a set amount of rounds to achieving more specific tasks.
“There is no strength in flesh, only weakness.”
Though I knew I was gonna be getting a strategy experience I was pleased to find that there was also a very rich story attached with some deep role-playing elements that brought the whole experience to life. Each level will have you exploring tombs made up of several chambers, you can explore these chambers at will with each room providing you with an event, this could be discovering some relics where you will be given a chance to study them, destroy them or leave them alone. You might uncover the bodies of your allies and have a choice to pray for them or salvage them, the choices you make can have a positive or negative effect on your group, from loss or gain of health and CP or may even set off traps that alert the Necrons to your presence or enhance their abilities making the next encounter more challenging.
These sections not only push the fact that there are consequences to every action but help build a bigger picture of the Mechanicus as a race as well as giving plenty of insight into the individual characters who are all very well written and often quite amusing. It also kept me really engaged with what was going on and I found myself enjoying how the plot and battles unfolded based on my choices, though enjoy might be a strong word as the combat is very punishing especially in the early going.
The choices you make will affect how missions play out and could mean some are straight forward and some have multiple combat engagements and branching narratives that will unfold and lead to one of the three endings available. If you are struggling with a mission you can return to your ship which acts as a hub and take with you anything you have found along the way but will not earn the mission-specific rewards. This mission will then be classed as a failure meaning your next mission in that storyline may be different to someone who did manage to succeed. Juggling when to beat a hasty retreat in the name of the greater victory or battle on and hope for the best will be a choice you have to live or die with.
“There is no constancy in flesh, only decay.”
As mentioned, the Necrons are badasses and will stop at nothing to eradicate anything that isn’t them and will fall on you in great numbers. The longer you spend exploring tombs and dragging out battles, the Necrons awareness level will rise which can provide them with greater numbers, make them more resilient and generally come looking for more than your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle. This can be offset by spending less time exploring, getting lucky with choice-making and by destroying certain items during combat, but getting the hang of this is another fine balancing act and I did find myself feeling completely overwhelmed and outgunned for the first couple of hours play which took some of the early enjoyment away. Though the game does provide a tutorial it wastes no time dropping you in the thick of things and you will just have to use trial and error methods to find your footing.
Once I did get into a rhythm though I found myself really enjoying each encounter, especially if I had a good run of exploration leading up to it. Taking the time to assess the battlefield and form a solid strategy of cutting off the Necrons ability to reinforce became a priority above any other objective I had for the mission, in order to fight my way, I had to shape my Tech-Priests into a more suitable combat machine to suit my style, luckily, that is exactly what Mechanicus wants every player to be able to do, tailor the experience and your characters to your own standards and make the game completely your own.
Each Tech-Priest can be augmented with a wide range of enhancements and weapons which will be awarded by completing missions and exploring tombs. Though you start off just controlling two Priests and a handful of fodder reinforcements you soon start to build up a larger force to take with you with a range of disciplines to master, each with a deep upgrade tree. These disciplines can be changed to suit your needs before each mission and gave a strong sense of the tabletop experience of understanding the strength and weaknesses of your units and customising them accordingly, and yes, you can change their colours too!
The overall difficulty can also be tinkered with by accessing the options menu, though I did persevere with the default setting I took a gander at some of the options available and they were pretty robust, from changing the core difficulty as a whole to tailoring certain mechanics such as being able to spend CP to grant additional movement options. This was great to see as it benefits gamers of all skill levels, from those who want to enjoy the story but need a bit of hand-holding for the combat or those who want to be hardcore and go in with the deck stacked firmly against them for reasons I don’t understand but each to their own.
“There is no certainty in flesh but death.”
All together this makes up a very engaging and challenging Campaign, whether you are an existing fan of WH40K or if you are just a fan of Sci-Fi and Strategy, Mechanicus will keep you entertained for hours. But with such a great level design, story and characters, how does all this translate from mouse and keyboard to console controllers? The answer is simple, pretty dam well! At no point during gameplay did I feel like I was missing out by not playing on PC. The button mapping on the Xbox controller was well laid out and responsive and I can only imagine it would be the same for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch version.
Graphically I loved what was on offer, I have always been drawn to the 40K art style of Gothic meets Industrial Sci-Fi with big chunky designs for characters and architecture. Each level oozes with detail and foreboding, like everything in the Grim Dark future, you wouldn’t want to visit but you can’t help but be drawn to it. The eagle-eyed among you may notice some of the textures can be a bit weak in places but I never felt like this ruined the experience as the character models and animations were all so good, mixed with great lighting and the use of environmental effects every level felt like the scenery from the tabletop brought lovingly to life.
If the art design wasn’t enough to make me drool then the sound design and soundtrack certainly were. The core soundtrack, which is available with the console version, is an absolute delight, full of a fine mix of dark synth and gothic organs that complimented each environment with a sense of wonder and dread. Sound effects are right on the money, from the sound of energy weapons being fired, gigantic axes being swung at mechanical monstrosities to the voices of the Adeptus Mechanicus, which to my delighted surprise did not go down the route of regular voices but instead are comprised of a deep computerised code that can only be described as Darth Vaders voice box on Dial-Up. Though local language text is of course on hand so you can follow what is being said. The Necron’s however, do speak, at least in the English version that I played and have a very menacing voice that just radiates malice and hatred.
Overall performance was to a high standard, the only issues I came across was the loading times could be a bit lengthy at times which was a shame and during some battles it took a few moments for the end of a units turn to be registered before allowing the next unit to play, this was a very minor gripe and probably mainly down to me being impatient.
After a rough start I really got into the swing of Warhammer: Mechanicus, for me it hit all the right notes, great story, amazing music, engaging characters, challenging combat but with scope to customise the experience and of course, feeling like a true Warhammer experience on a home console. For fans of Warhammer 40K and strategy games in general, there is no doubt, this is a well-packaged experience overflowing with extras for a handsome price, to not purchase this game would be pure heresy!
Review code provided
Format: PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo
Genre: Strategy, Action
Developer: Bulwark Studios
Publisher: Kalypso Media Group
Download link: Microsoft Store