As a Warhammer 40K fan for about a decade now, and we’re talking classic tabletop stuff as well as many hours playing several of the seemingly countless Warhammer games out there - Mechanicus presents another turn-based tactics game in the massive Warhammer 40K universe. And so, before diving into the experience I made sure I brushed up on my Warhammer lore (hint: there’s a lot of lore
) before diving in.
That said, you don’t need to be a 40K superfan to play it. Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus beings with a short cutscene giving a small intro to the Adeptus Mechanicus in the 40k universe. From what I could tell, it presents a story that takes place after the great Warp Storm
that divided the galaxy. Starting a new game, which gives the options of Ironman Mode and permadeath, you are then introduced to the combat and setting via a handy tutorial.
You are part of an Ad Mech team that has gone to a world to investigate some alien ruins after losing contact with the Tech Priest that was sent.
Combat plays out on a grid-based map, in turn-based fashion, but overall the initial impression I got was that it was a bit lacking. With no cover system it's mostly just a straightforward slugfest, with the game not holding back as it almost always throws two to four enemy units at your forces during a battle. The relentless pace meant that by the second mission the main enemy unit annihilated my forces by killing most of them in one or two shots.
But as with some tactical games like this, learning what does and doesn't work and what straight up gets you killed becomes a case of trial and error.
Tech Priests, which are your main units can be upgraded with a game resource called Blackstone Fragments - earned from in-game events and completing missions. There are several skill trees ranging from close combat specs to support roles, and I choose the healing role for one, melee and tech support roles for the other. Unlocking skill perks also unlocks more equipment capacity for the unit and can unlock equipables that provide buffs for the Tech Priest. At the start you control two Tech Priests and can choose to deploy three extra minions until you unlock more presets.
“With no cover system it's mostly just a straightforward slugfest, with the game not holding back as it almost always throws two to four enemy units at your forces during a battle.”
Minions are mostly cannon fodder such as the Servitor which is free to equip to your squad when deploying, others pack more of a punch such as the Skitarii. The one I used had an AoE melee weapon which was quite handy. While the minions can die without consequence, if your Tech Priests die you fail the mission but you dont lose them unless you are playing with permadeath. Paired with the straight-up action focus of Mechanicus this gives the game a different feel to many other turn-based tactics games out there - including the other Warhammer ones we’ve seen.
Even so, there’s a lot of depth to the mechanics of, well, Mechanicus. The Tech Priests under your command use an in-game resource called Cognition Points that allow them to make attacks with their weapons or use gadgets. They’re also equipped with a Server Skull that has a two turn cooldown which can be used to provide info on enemy units such as their damage dealing capacity, health, and armour. This means planning ahead is key, and how many points you end up using in battle helps prevent embarrassing defeats or unnecessary unit loses. Minions do not use these points but units such as the Servitor have a bonus perk where once they are damaged they can provide one point to the overall pool. It’s an interesting system that once gotten used to begins to serve as one of the key elements of each battle.
Things get decidedly more complex and involved from there with weapons, gear, new Tech Priests, black stone fragments, buffs and new minions unlocking the further you progress. New weapons can sometimes be found in the multiple choice events on the Zone Map as well. There’s a non-linear bent that works well too with five mission givers that provide different rewards. The Skitarii commander usually provides unlocks and upgrades for the Skitarii units.
As mentioned earlier the story takes place on an alien world, where a Tech Priest was sent to check out some ruins. But that was years ago, and contact has since been lost. And so an Adeptus Mechanicus battleship is sent to the alien world where it’s discovered that a Necron Tomb World is waking up. And yeah, this is bad news. But also good news as the Mechanicus see this as a chance to gain information on the Necrons and how to deal with them as a significant threat to Humanity.
“The straight-up action focus of Mechanicus gives the game a different feel to many other turn-based tactics games out there - including the other Warhammer ones we’ve seen.”
Visually, Mechanicus is impressive and zooming in close to see the detail on your Tech Priests and the enemy units showcases some great art. The zone areas in the tombs are suitably dark, and the sickly green light that is characteristic of the Necrons provides a nice alien feel to each mission. As a Warhammer fan the game provides a great look into how the Ad Mech operates, with dialogue between the various commanders on the ship and the sometimes conflicting beliefs between the need for knowledge and the beliefs of the Tech Priests serving up some fine 40K drama.
The voice acting is interesting too, with the Tech Priests communicating in binary bursts, as they do in the lore. A nice touch that adds to the overall atmosphere of the game.
In the end Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is enjoyable, but it’s also a bit of a let down when it comes to the actual combat. Truth be told I was expecting more of an XCOM-style experience with unit management and perhaps even some base management. The simplicity of individual encounters means that Mechanicus can be frustrating, where simple mistakes can cost you the entire mission. Again, these painful lessons in failure help you learn what works and doesn't. Like, say, bottlenecking your units when the enemy has a powerful AoE weapon.