Review – Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus
You’d be forgiven for seeing yet another Warhammer 40,000 strategy game and writing it off as another example why handing your IP out to anyone with the most basic coding ability is a bad idea.
Ever since Games Workshop relaxed their draconian policies in dealing with their Warhammer intellectual properties, we’ve been bombarded with mediocre game after mediocre game. The same thing, packaged slightly differently then released. There have been some exceptions however, especially in recent years. Total War Warhammer I and II took the PC gaming world by storm by revitalizing a franchise many feared was on it’s last leg. Vermintide, Space Hulk: Tactics, Gladius, games that rose above profiting off a license and made a game worth playing. I’m glad to say that not only is Mechanicus one of the latter, it’s also one of the best examples yet, though not without some issues of its own.
Warhammer 40,000 Mechanicus follows the Tech-Priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus, a branch of the Imperium devoted to the glory of their machine god, the Omnissiah. In their never-ending search for knowledge, they stumble across what was thought to be a failed colony, but what was actually a Tomb World, a hive of Necrons. Necrons are undying skeletal machines, an ancient culture who once ruled the galaxy before going into a deep hibernation. Unstoppable, immortal, and now disturbed from their eons long rest by your actions. The Apocalypse is on the horizon, and it’s your job to lead the Adeptus in defense of the Imperium.
Mechanicus’ story is written by the Black Library author, Ben Counter, and he does an amazing job. The story is definitely a highlight. Great characters, an interesting plot, twists and turns, all capped off with multiple endings to change up multiple playthroughs. Even rarer then a Warhammer game being a good game is one with a good story, and Mechanicus doesn’t disappoint.
At first sight of the main gameplay, you might immediately think this is an XCOM clone, and you’d be on the right track. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, of course. Many games have taken the XCOM formula and provided their own twist that made it their own. It’s a flexible system, and it’s much the same here. Though parts have been removed and streamlined, it’s been replaced by new systems and mechanics that more than make up the difference.
The game is split between three phases, so to speak. There’s your base on the Caestus Metalican, your ship in orbit above the planet. This is where you customize your tech-priests, manage your troops, choose mission paths, and guide your squad’s every move. Tech-Priest customization is very in-depth, more in-line with a full RPG then a strategy game. There’s multiple skill trees to specialize in, gear slots galore, and most importantly the ability to paint your army whatever colors you desire.
After you choose a mission from your ship, you move to the Noosphere, a holographic representation of your squad’s location on the planet below. You’ll guide them room by room through various Necron Tombs where you’ll encounter various events where you have to make decisions with a minor outcome on the current mission, all while trying to keep a low presence for fear of agitating Necrons.
The final phase is the battle phase, and is played like a classic turn-based strategy game. Some distinctions between this and XCOM are a removal of any sort of cover system as well as the elimination of random attack chances. All hits in range are guaranteed, though the amount of damage can vary. It takes the sting out of XCOM‘s ridiculously unfair percentages for sure, but some might not appreciate the absence of that whole level of the game. It undeniably makes for a cleaner game however, one where your strategy matters more than a random dice roll screwing you over constantly.
All of this probably sounds great and it really is. I haven’t even gotten into the incredible enemy variety, the Necron awareness level that reflects how much of a racket you make in the Tombs and increasing Necron numbers and strength accordingly, or the overarching meter representing Necron power and how close you are to the final battle, whether you’re ready or not. The issue is that the game is way too easy.
It might sound like a nitpick, but it’s a glaring error so large it brings down the whole game. While in the first few missions, where you are first figuring out how things work, you might struggle or even lose, you’ll quickly realize that your level of progression doesn’t just outpace the enemies: it makes them obsolete. The toughest boss won’t scratch a high level tech priest, while you can one shot them. A boss fight, over in a single round. Let that sink in.
All the work put into different enemy powers and designs wasted because nothing lasts long enough to do anything. Careful customization and specialization is unimportant when you just roll through everything. Not to mention that when enemies all feel the same, and your characters all act the same, battles quickly become repetitive and dull. Fortunately, the story is still interesting, and was enough for me to finish it, but the lack of challenge makes it feel cheap.
Mechanicus is that rarest of rare things. A Warhammer game that’s not only a good game in itself, with a great story, and well thought out and implemented mechanics. Sadly, as if to show this is still a 40,000 game, it’s hamstrung by the complete absence of challenge that renders everything pointless and repetitive. It’s not a problem that’s impossible to fix, or even that hard, but it will require a dedicated effort by Bulwark to re-tune basically everything. They’ve been very in touch with the community, and say they have plans for the game going forward for sure, but another thing most Warhammer games have in common is being dropped and ignored at the first sight of problems. I really hope this isn’t the case here, because right under the surface lies an amazing game.
While not the prettiest Warhammer 40,000 game, it’s a great looking game in it’s own right. Where most 40,000 games include the busiest designs possible, Mechanicus focuses on higher quality models and environments.
It’s as close to perfection as you can come in this genre without just being XCOM. There’s some streamlining that does reduce the level of strategy, room events can quickly start to feel repetitive in the exploration phase, and the lack of canonically reasonable permanent consequences take away from the gameplay. Customizing your Tech-Priests, the actual minute to minute combat, enemy variety, and the energy system, all mesh perfectly.
There’s music that plays, but it’s forgettable and easily tuned out. Most of the game’s dialogue is unvoiced, though what has voice acting is well done. Sound effects don’t impress either. There’s just enough here to keep you in the game, but nothing will stand out.
The game is too easy. Sadly, it’s not just a numbers issue either, a fix would require restructuring of the whole game’s encounter systems, unit abilities, and a hard look at character powers as well. Doable, but quite an undertaking to expect.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is available now on PC.
A copy of Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus was provided by the publisher.