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Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus Review

by forgottenlor, 2020-07-09

There is something that connects Games Workshop computer games and tactics games. There are a lot of them on the market at the moment and most of them are forgettable. Unlike Wizards of the Coast, which hands the D&D licence out rarely, and then mostly for games like MMORPGs or action games that have little to do with their pen and paper games, it seems anyone can apply for the Warhammer licence, and make almost any game they like. Mechanicus isn't a game with a big budget, epic proportions, or revolutionary ideas. But it does make the most of its Warhammer 40k license. For those who like tactics games with some RPG elements and are who willing to play a game without cinematic cut scenes or state of the art animations, Mechanicus has quite a bit to offer.

 

Atmosphere and Story

 The dialogues, like this one between Magos Faustinius and Subdomina Khepra can be bizzarely original and give Mechanicus a lot of its charm.                  

In Mechanicus you make decisions for a bunch of cyborgs called the Adaptus Mechanicus, but they are also known as tech priests or magi. In the world of Warhammer 40k this is an order of a decaying human empire. We are told as the game unfolds that tech priest realize that the human empire is in decline and surrounded on all sides by hostile aliens and so that they are on a desperate mission to find and recover lost technology. When they get a distress beacon from the Magos Rhesak, who believes to have found something interesting on a former lost colony, they send out a ship to investigate. It quickly becomes apparent the Rhesak has started the process of awakening the Necrons, a sort of robotically undead alien culture, who have preserved their minds in metal bodies resembling skeletons.

You get to follow the interactions of Magos Faustinius and his advisors as they find themselves on a hostile world with a damaged space ship, dangerous enemies who are ever more quickly awakening from their torpor, and the need to find the advanced technology they set out to recover in the first place. Faustinius must constantly deal with the requests of his advisors. The scripture spewing and alien hating, Lector Dogmatis Videx, is primarily worried about destroying any spiritual corruption coming from alien contact and ultimately wiping out the Necron precense from the face of the planet. Whereas Tech Acquisitor Scaevola,on the other hand, is greedy for any technology or data, regardless of its danger or the cost in resources or lives it would take to attain it. Quartermaster Rho is worried about long term problems like refueling the spaceship or attaining resources to improve the ammunition reserves. Subdomina Khepra is the motherly commander of the support troops and is worried about their morale and well-being. Prime Hermeticon Captrix is the ever-focused huntswoman seeking to track down and eliminate enemy leaders.


While Videx has a scripture quote ready for every situation, Scaevola's speech is almost like a programming language.

This diverse group competes for the services of Faustinius's tech priests. Each of the advisors presents Faustinius with competing missions, and each of them narrates their own missions should you select them. Also, they occasionally pop in to give their own thoughts on the missions of other advisors. Scaevola will appear if she sees the tech priests come across alien technology. Videx will comment on anything he perceives to be a spiritual threat. Sometimes the advisors will even form short term alliances. For example, when Videx demands you hunt down a group of Necron flayers, a type of Necron that wears the skins of slaughtered enemies (in this case those of your own troops), he has the full support of the Subdomina.   

While Mechanicus is not a story-oriented game, its cast of characters bring the game's world and background to life. Unlike a lot of games, which give you hundreds of lore books to read (something I almost always skip), the charming dialogues between Mechanicus's cyborgs gives the player insight into the Warhammer 40k world. They also give the game a lot of character so that the missions never seemed dry and generic to me, and even made me overlook to a great extent the reuse of battle maps, the similar visuals of many of the battlefields, or the seemingly modular nature of the game's dungeon maps.

 

The Command Center

When not engaged in missions, players will spend their time in the command center. The most important information that can be seen here is the strategic timer. This is also where the player can weigh what missions to take. They can also upgrade, equip, and review their tech priests, and examine all technology and troops they have unlocked.

The strategic timer tells you how much time you have till the Necrons fully awaken. Its your goal to find, hunt down, and eliminate their leaders before this happens. Each mission you engage can advance the timer. The least the timer moved in a mission for me was 0% and the most was 6%. Each room you explore during a mission normally advances the timer anywhere between 0.2 and 0.8% Every round spent in combat also advances the timer 0.2%. Some random events can reduce or increase the timer, and destroying necron data notes reduces the timer by 0,4%. I found the game's end boss with 66% of the time complete, so I was never actually in danger of losing the game because of the timer, and had plenty of time to strengthen my troops and weaken the end boss (by finding and eliminating the other bosses who would have accompanied him before trying to take him on.) That said the timer does give you pause about which missions you consider essential and which ones you might skip. So, while I did not find the timer to be stressful, it did influence how I played through the game. I finished Mechanicus with 80% of the timer full, and that took me 25 hours. At that point I felt my team was powerful enough to take on the final boss, and I managed to win that battle on the first attempt. I could have tried after having 66% of the timer full which was after about 20 hours of game time. I imagine I could have easily played another 10+ hours before the timer ran out, had I wanted to.


Here are two examples of missions. Both offer some blackstone and one upgraded troop type. Videx is also offering a new piece of technology, while Khepra is allowing us to recruit an additional techpriest.

The first time I entered the command center, I was confronted with the choice of two missions, one for the Lector Dogmatis Videx, and one for the Tech Acquisitor Scaveola. After completing a few missions, the other advisors also began to offer their missions. There was a number of things I considered before taking a mission. First, I did consider whether a mission made sense from a "role playing" sense. For example, when Videx first wanted to set up speakers in the Necron tombs to transmit prayers, I was sceptical, but I didn't find Scaevola's mission any more sensible. But when the Necrons began trying to drown out the prayers with a competing signal, and when this signal seemed to negatively influence my cyborgs, there was no question for me about whether to take the follow up mission from Videx to destroy the competing signal. However, there were times I didn't think there was a clear choice about which mission was best. At this point, I considered what rewards were being offered. Each advisor rewards you with access to new technology, new troops, more blackstone, or by expanding your cognition gauge, or increasing the number of troops you can deploy in a mission. So, the best reward in some cases also determined what mission I chose. Also, I got information about possible enemies, mission difficulty, and the sector of the planet where the mission would take place, which also sometimes influenced my choice of mission.

Here is one of my priests, near the game's end. Here you can upgrade skills are manage equipment.

Upgrading priests is accomplished using a currency called blackstone.  In a way blackstone works like experience points do in most RPGs. There are six linear upgrade trees (sort of like skill trees), each representing something resembling a class. However, the player can choose to mix and match upgrades as they like, though most of the end upgrades in each tree are very powerful. Each consecutive upgrade is more expensive then the last. Blackstone can be spent any way one wants. So, one could theoretically pay for one tech priest to have 20 upgrades, and not upgrade another at all, though in practice this is extremely inefficient. Each tree has nine upgrades with 5 skills, and 4 armor upgrades. The skills are always useful, but once a priest has a full set of armor, getting more armor can at best give a negligible bonus. Also, each upgrade increases the amount of augments a priest can have. Initial equipment only costs one slot, but more powerful equipment often takes two or three slots. Also, each piece of armor costs a slot. These slots can be pretty important as each priest can theoretically equip a melee weapon, 2 ranged weapons, 4 pieces of armor, 2 hand held support items and 2 attached support items, and can theoretically use them all in battle, and since most support items have cooldowns, having multiple support items can be pretty useful.

The Kastellan Robot is an extremely powerful troop that can aid your priests in battle. As the game advances, you unlock more and more troops who can assist your priests. More priests + more troops results in longer playing time, and while missions start off at around 10-15 minutes a pop, by the end game they stretch out to around an hour.

 

Missions

Missions in Mechanics means delving into a Necron tomb. Then a floorplan of the tomb from above is visible, and the floorplans of most missions are randomly generated. The player can see roughly what will be in each room. These include rooms with puzzle like runes, rooms with a visual novel like text event where the player get to  select a solution, rooms with an optional combat, and those with mandatory battles which need to be fought in order to complete a mission. Runes present two to four Necron runes. Initially pushing these is trial and error, but if you push a rune enough in a given sector (multiple missions run in each sector) you will remember if the rune had a positive or negative effect. Text events are somewhat similar gameplay wise, but not presentation wise. Text events detail a situation that the tech priests run across in a room. Many of these are very specific to the mission in question. The player is given multiple strategies on how to solve the situation. While its impossible to predict whether a choice will lead to a positive or negative effect, the effects of the choice usually seems like a possible logical outcome of the choice (for example looting a corpse can result in recovering a new piece of technology or taking damage from a booby trap, while examining data can lead to an increase in the strategic timer due to wasted time or an increase in the cognition gauge as a result of new insights.) In general, the longer it takes to finish a mission, the more powerful the Necrons become and the faster the timer runs, so I tried to plan the shortest route from mandatory battle to mandatory battle.

Here we have a dungeon floorplan. Green squares are rooms with runes. The exclamation points are text events, and the glowing white diamond a mandatory mission battle.

Battles take place on a game map, which could be considered relatively small and simple compared to something like X-Com. On the other hand battles play out relatively quickly in most cases (5-15 minutes) . A mission contains anywhere between 1 and 3 mandatory battles. Battle maps can have obstacles, turrets, Necron shields, data nodes, and cognition nodes, as well as stairways and moving platforms. They don't have vertical levels, or fog of battle. There are, however, enemy reinforcements that enter during the battle on many maps. Also, each map has a goal. The simplest is to destroy all enemies, since it's the only goal a map will have. Another possible goals is to scan (which rewards you with extra blackstone) or destroy (which reduces the strategic timer) data nodes (the player can also do both, though it requires a bit more effort.) The last goal is to survive x rounds. Survival or data node scanning almost always have a second stage which is either to destroy all enemies or to escape (which means moving all tech priests to a specific point on the map.)



This is an example of a text event. What to do?

Battles are fueled by something called cognition. This can be attained by the use of certain skills, prayers (called canticles), technology, through certain random events, by destroying enemies, or by tapping cognition nodes. Cognition is required to use certain powerful weapons, to deploy additional troops, and to give tech priests extra movement. In short it is a very important resource that is the key to success in battle. The maximum cognition (the cognition gauge) increases as the tech priests complete missions. This is important, because as the player gains access to better weapons and more advanced troops, they will need more cognition to use these. It also adds an important consideration almost every round. For example, is it worth spending 2 cognition to bring in an extra trooper, or is it better to have priests use those points to fuel their more powerful weapons or to take an extra movement to get in range to attack or finish a mission goal more quickly?

There is a lot of information on the battle screen. All enemies with red pistol symbols are in range of my priest's ranged attacks. The data nodes are also visible, which can be scanned or destroyed. The orange cogs are points where cognition can be harvested.

In addition to cognition, the priests are allowed to bring 3 canticles into battle in addition to all their skills and equipment. Canticles are powerful group prayers that can each be used once per mission. These are very powerful.  For example, they can make the next 4 attacks pierce all armor, do +8 damage on the next attack (standard troops have anywhere between 5 and 25 life) or refill the cognition gauge, or completely heal a tech priest. Especially on the longer missions the optimal use of the canticles gives the player another important tactical tool.

There are a wide range of Necron opponents in the game. You have various melee oriented and ranged troops, and support units. These also just don't seem like more powerful upgrades of weaker units, as elite units have a unique ability, like a counter-attack, switching place with other units, an overwatch, generating a shield, or healing. There are enough units that one can feel the Necrons advancing in power and to keep combats feeling fresh, though I've played games with more opponents that still bored me. This isn't the case in Mechanicus, because the combat and mission structure both work well.

This is one of the many different types of Necron we run into.

 

Presentation

Its clear from playing Mechanicus that the developers were working on a limited budget, but made good decisions on how to present their game on the budget they had. The game is in the Unity engine, and most isometric games in that engine don't have very attractive models (in my opinion) and Mechanicus is no exception.  The character portraits are well done, though, and this is where the story plays out. The artwork for mission events, which are also in the form of illustrations are very attractive as well. Faustinius and his advisors have their own distinct voices, but don't say anything intelligible, instead sounding like electronic devices. We get a translation of what they are saying in text, but their voices have their own style nevertheless. I found this a clever use of sound. Only in a few cut scenes does Faustinius speak in a clear, if heavily distorted English voice. In game only the alien Necron bosses are actually voice acted, and they threaten us over the universal translator in English. They only have a few lines each, and the entirety gives the feel of a voice acted game, when in fact, the voice acting is kept to a minimum. And the limited use of sound and actors is well done, which in my opinion is much better than having amateur voice actors reading a lot of lines .

Surprisingly its the Necrons leaders who get voice acted. They threaten and insult us over the universal translator.

 

 Stability

My two year old computer has relatively little problem with most games. Mechanicus ran smoothly for the first 15 hours or so until I entered the Ubjao section of the planet. Then on multiple missions when a Necron flayer moved the game froze up (I could safely get back to the desktop). This occurred only in the Ubjao section of the game and I could still complete the mission by either reloading the last autosave (which did not always fix the problem) or restarting the mission. This proved a minor frustration to me, though not enough to quit the game or skip a particular mission. I checked the Steam forum and a few others have also had freezes, though not under the specific circumstances I did.

 

Conclusion

I really enjoyed Mechanicus. The combat worked well. The mechanical progression of upgrading my priests and technology also felt right. I was getting enough new toys to try out without getting overwhelmed with meaningless upgrades or losing the big picture of which equipment did what and how it could be helpful. The choose your own adventure style events and the rune like puzzles give a short and pleasing diversion between battles, even though the resolution of these events is heavily dependent on luck rather than good decision making. Added to the fact that the game works well mechanically, the presentation with its unusual but interesting characters, cleverly implemented sound and attractive artwork (at least for the character portraits and events) kept me coming back to the game. The fact that all these features seem to work and fit together seamlessly covers up some of the game's weaknesses. For example, a number of the combat maps are reused again and again. There are also really only 3 types of missions (outside of boss battles). In addition, at some point the missions grow longer and longer (at the end most non-boss missions have 3 battles and can last almost an hour), but the tech priests become so powerful that a player who understands the mechanics will rarely feel challenged by standard enemies. Mechanicus isn't a revolutionary game by any means, but the developers understood their handywork and how to mine the most out of their Warhammer 40k license on a limited budget. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who likes tabletop style tactical games with some RPG elements.  

The Necron sniper has got me in his sights. So I can either move, soak up his shot and try to heal, or delay and let another tech priest bite the bullet.

Box Art

Information about

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus

Developer: Bulwark Studios

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: 40-60 hours
Voice-acting: Full

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2018-11-15
· Publisher: Kasedo Games

More information

Summary

Pros

  • Excellent Warhammer 40k atmosphere
  • Unique and colorful cast
  • Well done mission design
  • Combat simple, but with meaningful choices
  • Clever use of sound

Cons

  • Combat and missions can drag out near game end.
  • Standard missions can become too easy near game end.
  • Reuse of maps.
  • Limited types of standard mission.

Rating: Very Good

A very good game that is just short of being excellent, because of one or more minor issues that reduce the level of enjoyment a little bit.

Review version

Steam