A Call To (Add) Arms
HIGH Clever systems, great customization, excellent use of the license.
LOW The first few missions before upgrades are brutal.
WTF The distasteful and incongruous “female port” joke.
As someone who’s not into miniatures yet keen on the style and concepts of Warhammer 40,000, I’m always curious when a new adaptation is announced. However, Games Workshop isn’t too picky about who they license to — I usually end up disappointed, but once in a while we get a humdinger. The next addition to the ‘winner’ list? Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus.
This entry focuses on the Tech-Priests of the Imperium – a group that worships technology and fuses mechanical enhancements to their bodies, appearing more machine than human. They receive a message to investigate a world holding an extensive network of tombs filled with valuable technology and hibernating Necrons – robotic, regenerating skeletons who’ll wage war on the universe once they revive. After the Tech-Priests land, they trigger the planet’s alarms and a countdown starts ticking down toward the Necron awakening…
Mechanicus is a turn-based tactics title seen from a mostly-overhead perspective. The player begins with a small squad made of two kinds of characters – Tech-Priests and their minions. Priests are the heavy hitters, able to equip various types of weaponry and augments ranging from damage shielding, self-repair, and more. The minions can’t equip gear, they’re only capable of a few functions and act as meat shields when things get hot. On top of this foundation, the devs add an incredibly clever system that regulates the attacks players can use — nearly every Priests ability needs a resource called “Cognition”, and it doesn’t automatically replenish.
For example, a turn might start with four points of Cognition. A Priest fires an energy rifle costing three points, and the team is left with one. When the next round begins, the rifle is unable to fire since there isn’t enough Cognition left in the pool. The player is then limited to using an ability that costs one point unless they figure out a way to get more Cognition – certain skills award them and there are single-use abilities that generate some, but the most common method is positioning.
Almost every map has specific areas offering a limited number of replenishing Cognition points that can be collected remotely (doing so has a cooldown) or by placing a Priest next to one (no cooldown). Since Priests can generally only perform as many actions as a map has Cognition, this requires the player to think ahead before committing to moves.
Much of the enjoyment in Mechanicus comes from figuring out the best play with limited choices — is it more advantageous to fire a rifle and heal once, or to summon an aggro-drawing minion and build a stronger response next turn? Better to push all Priests forward and collect Cognition with a cooldown, knowing that they’ll run dry the next turn, or should they leave a member behind to manually collect points while leaving the main force with reduced manpower? Managing Cognition adds a rare layer of strategy not often seen since fully refreshing characters each turn is the norm.
This is already an exemplary turn-based formula, but Mechanicus goes further by keeping gameplay fresh in a few different ways. One area where it stands out is by blending the tactics with what are essentially Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style text segments.
Each mission is broken up into a series of rooms and at least one battle. The player decides which route to take, and many rooms offer a story-based choice via still pictures and text. For example, the squad might find a suspicious artifact. They’ll get three options – take the artifact, break it, or study it. A good choice might award resources or healing, but a bad call gets characters injured or gives the Necrons an advantage in the next skirmish. It’s a great way to break up the combat and perfectly in tune with the WH40K source material.
I’m also a huge fan of the finer details in Mechanicus. Each upgrade tree changes the cosmetic appearance of the Tech-Priests with varying pieces of clothing, armor, and their trademarked augments – a buffed Priest is a mechanical monstrosity covered in flashing lights and metal tentacles. It’s super cool.
More concretely, the meta-ability to fine-tune the difficulty of play is hugely appreciated. The devs make clear what the ‘standard’ settings are, and players who don’t care about earning trophies can make things easier or harder in many ways including the number of battles per level, the cost of movement, the number of times a special ability can be used, the speed at which Necrons revitalize during a mission, and more. Being able to tweak things exactly to my preference is fantastic, and it’s a testament to the strength of the content that no matter what I modified, it remained an engaging experience.
There’s little to complain about Mechanicus in terms of gameplay or game design – it even includes all of the DLC available on PC, including a subplot and related quests about mutiny on the Tech-Priest ship. However, there are a few places the package could be tightened up.
Primarily, the hand-drawn art for portraits is too busy and hard to parse, and the 3D graphics during missions are on the small side. Related, the camera needs too much babysitting. It’s not terrible, but I prefer the viewpoint to stay where I leave it, and not to constantly auto-adjust back to where it thinks it should be. The game could also run faster… there were a few times when it paused so long that I thought it froze, and the speed of play feels like the processor is chugging, especially on maps with larger populations. Also, why can I not change each Priest’s colors individually? The whole team sporting the same hue can make it hard to tell who’s who at times.
…These are all just minor nitpicks, though. Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is a clear win for fans of tactics and 40K alike. The gameplay is rich, detailed and nuanced, and the concept, aesthetics and style are some of the best uses of the Warhammer license to date. No matter which way it’s sliced by a sharp, articulated tentacle, this one’s a winner.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Bulwark Studios and published by Kasedo Games. It is currently available on PC, PS4, XBO and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 40 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed (I’m on the final mission!) There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Violence. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is a strategy game in which players explore tombs to collect data and kill enemies by using squads of religious cyborgs. Missions and battles are turn-based, with players moving characters around grid-like environments and selecting attack moves from a menu. Characters use weapons such as rifles, lasers, axes, and flamethrowers to kill enemies; some attack moves result in brief, zoomed-in slow-motion sequences. Cyborgs emit splatters of blood when injured; some game environments depict large pools of blood.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Info is relayed via text. Text cannot be resized or altered. I played the entire game on mute and had no problems at all – no audio is needed for play, all info is relayed onscreen, and since it’s turn-based, there are no timing cues nor any important info relayed via sound. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. A screenshot of the control diagram was not available at the time of review, but the left stick moves a cursor on screen and selects items, the right stick handles the camera, X confirms selections, O cancels selections, R1 moves between areas on the level map, Triangle activates “glyph” choices on the level map.