Warhammer 40,000 Mechanicus will be familiar to die-hard Games Workshop and PC fans, the average console gamer, perhaps not so much. Drawing on the very deep and very wide canon of Warhammer 40k, this game adds to a varied pedigree of stablemates. Considering the complexity the Warhammer family its a shame that the digital versions of these tabletop adventures often fall flat.
I went into Warhammer 40,000 Mechanicus expecting a 40k XCOM or similar. What I got was a Board Game, Card Game, Turn Based Strategy hybrid. Considering we’ve been on a roll with recent releases, the game was something of a wrench.
It’s fair to say, that first couple of hours of doubt were soon demolished as I understood the systems on offer and gripped the gameplay.
Not cybernetics, Mechanicus
The Adeptus Mechanicus are the darlings of the game, obviously. In the Warhammer universe they are a creed of warrior that has embraced machinery and enhancement. Their goal is to become more metal than human and fair play to them. The Tech Priests are the business end of the brotherhood, customisable warriors sent on dangerous missions for eta good of mankind.
Quite removed from the armour wearing Space Marines we know and love then, the Mechanicus feel dirty. They are the dark side of the moon, spouting their religious canter and bolting another blaster to their shoulder. In any run of the mill game, you’d expect to come up against creatures like this as the bad guys.
I’m lost and its only the start
Part of the problem is the devout love that developers Bulwark Studios and Kasedo Games bring to a game like this. They obviously know the source material inside out. It might be too much to expect someone off the street to engage in the same way.
As a novice with 35 years absence from a Games Workshop store I struggled to follow the characters. There’s no way I can recognise my team members by name, just ‘bloke with 2 guns’ will do. In the script classic 40k terminology is thrown about wildly, any form of character text is heavily accentuated. Veering suitably between system code and the olde english used by Chaucer. Once again, I find myself rapidly smashing the X button to get past the text as quick as I can. As we know, that’s something not limited to this game, so sorry on my part.
How about the mechanics of Warhammer 40,000 Mechanicus?
This is where it gets interesting. You follow a story of sorts through a fixed length campaign, how you progress is up to you. Missions are dealt out by some odd caricature (High?) Priests, not my favourite element. These characters do not stick in my head, they spout drivel and serve only to improve my button-mash.
The missions however are graded and give a glimpse of what’s on offer loot wise. Once you have assembled your Tech Priests, tweaked their setup and selected some cannon fodder to accompany you it’s go time. The game then swings to a holographic representation of the wider map for the level (a Noonisphere?). Early stages start exploring Tombs, the map is a sequence of tunnels and rooms, you can tell each room has something in it and the main objective will be flashing.
Movement around this map is room to room, most rooms trigger an event. What is a cool idea is that you often get a multiple choice problem to solve. Sometimes there is a reward, often a penalty. The longer you poke around and dally in a Tomb for example, the residents will build up a stronger resistance. This risk vs reward system is great, do I explore another room for loot or do I go ahead to the final skirmish?
So that’s the Boardgame bit?
Kind of boardgame, but not really, then you enter the actual combat level and here we go. The game will switch to a deployment mode and if your exploring as generated some Cognition Points (Action Points, but here CPs). Then you will be able to deploy some assistance for the first round.
Once players are on the board, the classical isometric map is on offer. Its full of standard mechanics, line of sight etc, and of course Cognition Points. As I’m struggling to explain them, they are a renewable source of Action Points. Some of your skills and weapons require them to be activated. They also get used if you make an extra long movement phase, a canny player can keep moving as long as they keep gathering CPs.
Who goes first, shoots first?
The game plays in turns, each turn is populated at the top of the screen with a running order. That running order is by character, so you might find yourself having to wait for the enemies to move first. This adds a nice layer to the strategy, it makes you think a bit further than just swamping an enemy, there is the potential failure on every turn.
Once the characters have played out, the turn ends and another starts, along with a chance to deploy new teammates (cannon fodder). Some levels only require a limited amount of survival, other require a full wipe of the enemy. Thankfully death isn’t permanent in the standard settings, so when a Tech Priest falls in combat his Servo Skull, a floating thingamabob is left behind. I have to assume the 6 Million Dollar Tech Priests get rebuilt back on board the mother ship.
Life is a journey, so is this campaign.
You can fail missions, no doubt. You can’t replay them and I like that.
The campaign progress bar shows missions you failed and I expect the dialogue I keep hammering past will drive these successes and failures into a particular story outcome. For now though, let’s just enjoy that if you fail a mission, its gone. Speaking of campaigns, this console version is fully loaded with the Heretek DLC, which adds an extra dimension fo enemies and weaponry.
The post mission wrap up confirms your kills and pays out some currency based on performance. It’s called Black Dust or something, whatever its called it means I can buy more enhancements and plugins. Embracing your machine side is key and there is a sprawling skill tree to spend it on. The options give you the ability to tailor a squad of Tech Priests each with a specific set of skills, which is nice.
Is Warhammer 40,000 Mechanicus a Terminator or Tyranid?
Like my other favourite 40k game (Inquisitor) you have to warm up to it, but once you do there is a great strategy game here. As I connected the dots of the different sections it made more sense, I love the risk vs reward aspect of poking around a tomb. Even if it is in a birds-eye boardgame mode.
As usual I can ignore overwrought dialogue and heavy story elements, thats just me I’m afraid. The glue that holds it all together is the RPG development of your characters and the quick and easy skirmishes. There is no XCOM room to room combat, its more toe to toe. The extra layers of running order and maintaining Cognition Points make you think another layer deeper.
Safe to say, after a doubtful start Warhammer 40,000 Mechanicus has got its biomechanical claws into me. While it may have a cold hard carapace of steel, deep down it still has a warm soul of humanity that I’m fighting for.
“Warhammer 40,000 Mechanicus, it’s not just for Games Workshop nerds.”