Bulwark Studios’ Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus throws players into the great big metal shoes of Magos Dominus Faustinus, chief commanding Tech-Priest aboard the monolithic Ark Mechanicus, who’s just discovered a mysterious signal emanating from deep within the bowels of the planet Silva Tenebris. Upon sending a squad to scout the planet’s surface they discover an ancient Necron Tomb, promptly awakening its ghoulish mechanical inhabitants – think demented T-800s packing Gauss technology – and kicking off a conflict which sees you engage in a mixture of excellent turn-based combat and Choose Your Own Adventure-style tomb exploration elements. Pitted against a great big clock counting down towards the vast armies of Necrons fully awakening, it’s up to you to guide your forces through these ancient ruins and get out with their secrets before all manner of hell is unleashed.
So much of what makes Mechanicus one of the best Warhammer-based video game efforts to date is the top-notch world-building on display here. From the elaborately detailed character models and atmospherically crafted battlefields to the excellent soundtrack – which sends great big hammy organ notes echoing through the dusty ancient chambers of the long-slumbering Necrons – and a consistently strong script, it’s a game that immediately sinks its great big metal nails into you through its story and setting then pins you in place for its duration with some extremely satisfying strategy gameplay.
While it may share certain overriding genre traits with the likes of XCOM 2, the turn-based strategy here actually plays quite a bit differently. Action in Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus hinges almost entirely on CP (cognition points), which you’ll need to gather via combat and through scanning your surroundings. These give your Tech-Priests the power to move greater distances, fire more powerful weapons, use special skills and summon troops at the start of each round to take the brunt of the heat in battle. Getting a grip on CP acquirement early is essential to success here and unlocking the right skills from your Priest’s skill trees to ensure you have a constant and beefy supply of it is crucial in this regard. There’s a really nice ebb and flow to battle as a result of CP management; you’re constantly scanning monoliths or dead enemies to restock and then taking time to figure out whether to use it move out of harm’s way, pull out a devastating attack, heal a desperately injured unit or conserve some to enable the often crucial summoning of more support troops as the next round kicks in.
As you play through missions in Mechanicus you’ll unlock more Tech-Priests to take into battle – maxing out at a total of six if you play your cards right before the grand finale – and each one comes with an almost overwhelming number of customisation options. Between the numerous weapons, skills, and armour sets you can equip here the game gives you a delightful amount of freedom in how you wish to prepare and engage in its combat. You can outfit your Priests to fill traditional medic, melee and ranged roles, for example, or mix them up to create more bespoke and flexible units. There are also a ton of support options which give your Priests perks to use in battle, opening up the possibility of making several large positional movements across battlefields as well as seeing off multiple enemies in the space of just one turn.
On top of all of this you’ll also be awarded with Canticles as you complete missions, three of which can be equipped going into battle. These give you even more options, acting as power cards that you can pull out during the toughest of times, allowing you to immediately heal a unit for ten points, refill your CP, put all your weapons into overcharge mode, and so on. In short, the combat here is incredibly flexible and satisfying stuff that gives you a wealth of options as to you how you wish to engage the impressive range of Necron foes you’ll face off against in the terrifying subterranea of Silva Tenebris.
There’s also a really nice level of flexibility in how you get to choose which mission to run next, with a list of those currently available on the left hand side of your screen whilst back aboard the Ark Mechanicus, each showing details of difficulty and, more importantly, what prizes you’ll obtain for successfully completing them. In this regard, especially early doors, you may want to pounce on missions that reward you with more powerful support troop types, expanded CP containment or some hard-hitting new weapon to give you the edge in future battles and ensure you’re fully prepared for when the game’s clock hits zero and the endgame commences.
Away from the turn based action, when you initially drop into missions from the safety of the Ark Mechanicus you’ll move around an overhead map configuration of the current tomb with the ability to choose which of several paths you want to take towards the mission’s final combat showdown. Moving through tombs presents you with little story elements which detail the innards of the room you’re currently in and ask you to take actions to resolve whatever trap or ancient artefact you may have stumbled across. Your decisions here will either result in positive effects – extra CP or a wad of currency, for example – or see your troops taking damage or some other negative that you’ll then have to carry into battle. For us, although these parts of the game are completely random in nature and are certainly the game at its mechanically weakest, they do manage to mix things up and feel central to fleshing out the world and giving the game a chance to show a little more of its brilliantly written characters.
When Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus originally released back in 2018 one of the main criticisms levied against it was the fact that in the latter half of the campaign your Tech-Priests would become massively overpowered, rendering combat against even the most brutal Necron foes all too easy and the final boss battle a complete washout. However, Bulwark Studios has since been hard at work implementing tweaks and balances and introducing a host of difficulty levels and options in order to solve this problem. In this regard, here you get four difficulty settings ranging from Casual to Very Hard, as well as an Ironman mode and the option to turn on Permadeath, which is something we highly recommend in order to inject the combat with some real tension.
Alongside all of this there are also lots of little detailed granular changes you can make to gameplay, enabling you to affect enemy HP modifiers, the manner in which your skill tree unlocks, CP movement costs, how many times skills can be used per battle, and so on. It all adds up to an experience that’s vastly superior to how the game was originally released and one that certainly provides a ton more challenge. It is perhaps a shame that difficulty has had to be crowbarred into the game in this manner – it certainly would play better and feel more organic if the combat had been more finely tuned from the outset – but it works in ensuring that the latter stages of the game don’t become the cakewalk they once were.
In terms of this Switch version of the game, this is also a surprisingly impressive port of a deep and graphically detailed title that runs perfectly in both docked and handheld modes and looks almost as good as every other version of the game we’ve played thus far. There may well be some detail missing from character models or fancy lighting or texture effects gone AWOL here and there, but it’s genuinely not something you’re really going to notice unless you conduct a side-by-side comparison. We didn’t experience any stuttering or framerate problems over the course of our campaign and the onscreen action translates beautifully to the Switch’s portable screen, with every aspect of the action and text perfectly readable in handheld mode.
However, one problem that we did run into during our time Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus was a couple of instances of our game saves refusing to load, seemingly corrupted, which certainly would have proven to be massively annoying had we not been creating so many saves before and during most missions (no, we are not save-scummers). Honestly, we’re not sure at this point if this issue is down to the game itself or the fact we were constantly transferring our saves between an OG and Lite Switch console during our review, but we’d be remiss not to mention it here lest it turns out to be a bigger problem down the road.
Overall then, Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is one of the most polished Warhammer video game efforts we’ve played thus far. It does away with a lot of the inherent downtime prevalent in the likes of XCOM 2 – there are no world maps with escalating problems to mitigate or deep resource management headaches here – and in many respects it reminds us of the more action-oriented flow of Gears Tactics, where fights come thick and fast and your units can cause maximum carnage in the space of a single turn. The writing is excellent, CP management imbues combat with a really nice level of strategy and the difficulty changes Bulwark has made in the years since the game originally released have put paid to many of its biggest problems whilst still ensuring plenty of accessibility to genre newcomers. This is, in short, another excellent addition to the Switch’s turn-based strategy library, and is a seriously impressive port that manages to retain all the bells, whistles and content of other versions of the game.
Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus successfully fuses deep and rewarding turn-based strategy with impressively flexible customisation and some truly excellent world-building. Changes and updates made to the game’s difficulty have put paid to most of the main criticisms of the original release’s combat balance issues and this Switch port also performs impressively in both docked and handheld modes. Whether you’re a huge Warhammer fan who’s a long-time player of turn-based strategy games or a complete newbie to the genre as well as the world of the Adeptus Mechanicus, there’s plenty to enjoy in what Bulwark Studios has come up with here.
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