Review – Necromunda: Underhive Wars
I was starting to think we’d turned a corner with Warhammer game adaptations. It wasn’t so long ago we were drowning in generic entry after generic entry, with over half of them being a different brand of Space Hulk. Then, somewhere along the way, we started getting more variety of much higher quality. Battlefleet Gothic Armada II was amazing, Mechanicus was phenomenal, Vermintide II remains one of the best L4D clones out there, and then there’s the golden boys Total War Warhammer I and II. Even some of the more questionable entries such as Chaosbane were still a lot of fun. But every streak has to have an end, I suppose. And while Necromunda: Underhive Wars is by no means a return to the bad old days of Space Hulk: Deathwing, it is a departure from the level of quality we’ve been enjoying.
Some games are just bad. You play them and the gameplay just feels off, the story is terrible, graphics are ugly, the whole package is just one big flaw. For other games it’s one thing. One mechanic or flaw that takes down the whole ship, a ship that otherwise might be really good. Necromunda: Underhive Wars is a textbook example of the latter. Because make no mistake, this game could have been amazing. Hell, it still could with some dedicated patch support. As it is now though, I’m almost tempted to say it’s unplayable due to the sheer frustration it causes. This problem in question is turn time waits.
Normally I’m not the kind of guy to complain about turn times. Play enough turn-based games, and you get used to waiting. But Necromunda is at a whole new level, with the longest wait times I’ve ever experienced. You have to watch every single turn for every unit every time. And each one takes forever. There’s no option to skip, not even to speed up, not even if you don’t have a unit moving that turn. If you’re in the game, you’re watching everything. And the more gangs in the match, the longer you’re waiting with even less playing. I wrote a lot of this review during these wait times, because I had to do something.
Now, you’d think that at the very least you could use this time to formulate strategies to deal with the enemy. That however rolls into the second issue, which is only a problem because of these awful wait times. The enemy AI is a whole new level of terrible. Seriously, I have no idea what’s up with them. I can’t tell you how long I spent watching AI stare into walls, throw grenades at their own feet, run off in random directions, and so many other stupid things. I’ll admit at first it was amusing. Few matches in of having to continually watch this nonsense though, and I was done. The AI is unpredictable enough in its awfulness to still be a fun opponent, if not a valid one, but having to watch all of this idiocy on display with no respite? That’s going to be a no from me.
This especially sucks because the rest of the game is really good. The campaign is a fun race between three rival gangs for a piece of powerful tech. It adequately teaches you about the game, the setting, and the gangs you’ll be representing. Then there’s Gang mode where you build your own gang and compete to be the best. There’s a comprehensive customization and progression system. Multiple modes split across PvE and PvP with shared progression. Operations mode is especially exciting, where you compete with multiple gangs in a race to collect as many resources as possible from a specific sector. You split your time between completing missions and protecting your HQ, where the resources you’ve collected are stored. After a specific amount of time passes, the Shift changes and results are tallied up with the winner getting a bonus. It’s really fun, something I could see myself sucked into.
The gameplay is equally great. It’s your standard third-person strategy gameplay, with a strong focus on environmental interaction. Laying traps, sabotaging zip-lines and elevators, all while using various methods to traverse the extremely vertical levels. My favorite unit class was the Deadeye who came with a grapnel you could use to Batman your way around. Combat takes this all into account, with height being one of the biggest strategic modifiers to take advantage of. On your turn, everything flows smoothly and intuitively with a great use of contextual commands to keep you moving. It’s not one of those games that restrains you either, you are free to play your way. My favorite strategy was to climb to the top and just drop grenades on everyone below. It plays way more fun than it sounds.
I hate games like this. The actual concept is great, but playing it just sucks all the fun out. There’s so much potential here, so many things to do, and the presence of both PvE and PvP means that low player count isn’t an issue. But those wait times that also highlight the terrible AI just invalidate all of it. I’m really hoping this is something that can be fixed and soon. Because if not, this is one of the most promising games I’ve played in a long while killed over simple technical issues. Sadly though, the history of Warhammer games has more than a few titles that died despite some promising ideas. Here’s hoping that’s not a trend that picks back up here.
While it isn’t the prettiest game out there for sure, I do love the aesthetic and design of the Underhive.
The gameplay is great on its own. A variety of fun modes, gang customization is top notch, and plenty of strategic choices to be made every turn.
They nailed it with the soundtrack, and while the voice acting work can be questionable at times, it’s not inherently bad.
Fun Factor: 4.0
The turn times kill this game. The terrible AI is annoying on its own, but having to sit for minutes watching them do nothing every turn makes things even worse.
Final Verdict: 6.0
Necromunda: Underhive Wars is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Necromunda: Underhive Wars was provided by the publisher.