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Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Kasedo Games
Developer: Bulwark Studios
Release Date: July 17, 2020

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus'

by Joseph Doyle on Aug. 18, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is a turn-based tactical game where you take control of one of the most technologically advanced armies in the Imperium - The Adeptus Mechanicus.

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We're all unhappy with our bodies sometimes, whether it's our height, weight, hair type, etc. Our brain finds something to nitpick about ourselves and zeroes in on it. However, for the Tech-Priests of Mars, it wasn't about aspects of their bodies so much as having a body at all — biologically, at least. In Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus, you get to explore the world of Warhammer through their eyes, navigating what it means to be somewhat human by mixing strategy and interactive drama. The game provides the player a window into the fascinating world to which it belongs, bolstered through some great visuals, but it largely falls flat in terms of gameplay and the characters used to convey the story.

The world built in Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is up there with the best of sci-fi and fantasy. You play as Tech-Priests, a sect of the population of Mars who have dedicated themselves to the spiritual study of mechanics. They dedicate themselves through synthesis: transforming into biological-mechanical hybrids and living up to the name of their religion, "Adeptus Mechanicus."

Mechanicus opens with an outfit of these spiritual warriors responding to a distress signal on a foreign planet that houses the tombs of the Necrons — zombie-like skeletal warriors who are servants to C'tan, a celestial god. These warriors are in direct opposition to Omnissiah, or the Machine God, which the Tech-Priests worship. Thus begins your mission: purge the world of heretics.

Pretty cool, right?


What is not cool is how this information is conveyed to the player. While it's a fascinating concept that the characters you're playing as are half-biological and half-robotic, the interactions and execution of the story are awkward and confusing. During dialogue sequences, characters will utter phrases like "++intrigue" or "++understanding" in an unwieldy portmanteau of programming and human language with only a smidge more poise than "1337." At other times, they'll discuss how they are compartmentalizing their human emotions to make more logical choices in an embarrassingly brazen way.

The game setup makes these characters the primary mode of storytelling, causing the player to be stuck with poorly written dialogue that attempts to toe the line between robotic and palatable, but it fails. At times, it supports the world-building (quoting Mechanicus scripture is enthralling), but by and large, it's frustrating to be exposed to a world that's so fascinating through the lens of narrators who are such a headache to understand.

Gameplay is split between being a visual novel and an XCOM-like strategy, and it does neither particularly well. Much of the game is taken up by the aforementioned Tech-Priest characters (higher-ups in their army) discussing how to go about destroying the Necron threat in a series of dialogue boxes. Choosing a mission is essentially choosing which character you want to listen to, at which point you are brought to a vague map with rooms that you'll enter with your Tech-Priests.

Entering a room increases the difficulty of the battle at the end, but you may gain blackstone to upgrade your characters, lose blackstone, decrease the number of Necrons in the final battles, or incur damage to your characters. When you choose to explore, you're given a brief description of the room (as if told by a good GM in a tabletop game), a picture, and three choices of what to do.

The choices are bare-bones, and they give you little understanding of how your actions will affect gameplay. They provide flavor, but at the end of navigating the event in the room, it doesn't feel like anything other than chance. As you use some sort of logic to go through these rooms, the counter keeps ticking until you reach the objective room, where you fight the Necrons on a tiled board. You can move, collect cognition points (pun intended, as they are represented by literal cogs) for special attacks, and activate special one-use items. This aspect of the game feels very flat and devoid of strategy beyond positioning your characters and collecting cognition points. The enemy AI can get goofy sometimes; I watched as one took 10 turns moving between two different squares, and it didn't attack once for the entire battle.

While the upgrade systems for your troops allow for more specialization, the battles aren't incredibly engaging. They try to make the experience fun by including different weapons and one-use abilities, but there just isn't enough to interest one into playing more. The synthesis of these two genres falls flat by not offering anything appealing, challenging or distinct.

Art and style are undoubtedly the high point of Mechanicus. The color palette is equal parts grungy and techy, with a host of neon greens mixing with low-humming blues, electric yellows, and fluorescent reds. Everything pops in a way that screams new-age technology — to an exaggerated extent at times — which lines up perfectly with the tone of the game but comes off as campy rather than intense. The in-game characters and enemies, however, are somewhat flat and lifeless and feel like pawns on a game board. I understand that this is the origin of Warhammer, but this is a completely different game style and furthermore, if you have the ability to make it more real, why not capitalize?

The best part of the game in terms of art comes in the form of the character portraits and the room art. In true visual novel style, each character has dialogue accompanied by a picture. Rooms have their own art piece accompanying flavor text that draws in the player with its use of the aforementioned colors and new views of the crypts and its decrepit inhabitants. The characters are helped out of their sameness with their portraits, which craft some personality, but they still fall prey to it by all wearing red and having half-mechanical, half-biological faces.

I'll take this moment to mention the audio, but there isn't much to say. There isn't music throughout the levels so much as there is atmosphere. Low growls and hollow bells ring out as your Tech-Priests explore and fight, with pipe organ melodies coming in and out on a loop, like a slowed-down version of "The Exorcist" theme. Through use of heavy reverb and echoing, this adds up to an intriguing and haunting experience as you explore the burial chambers of the unknown. Through its art and sound, the world of Mechanicus is easily enhanced, for better and for worse.

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is incredibly intriguing and draws in the player with its world-building and tone. The art and music provide just enough to pique one's interest, but as a game, Mechanicus leaves a lot to be desired. I makes itself into such a cookie-cutter experience that progression doesn't feel rewarding, and it reduces the battles to pauses in narrative progression. Top that off with insufferably written narrators, and you get an experience that's tough to sell. The concept and world of Mechanicus are interesting, but the follow-through, laced with lethargic gameplay and sometimes indecipherable characters, is lacking.

Score: 6.0/10

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