I’ll level with you now, I don’t have a damn clue what is happening throughout most of the Warhammer 40K universe… There’s a bunch of wars? Skull robots? And some weeaboo space communists? Whatever, It’s a table top game that has taken the world (or at least of section of it) by storm and has spawned books, comics, web series and games out the ass. If you love Warhammer, your passion always shines through, like the sun through the freshly punctured hole in an Orks skull.
When I was given Mechanicus to review, I had a panic. I had no idea who the characters were and what made them so special as to get their own title! Luckily, I could rely on Respawning’s own Lance to give me a quick rundown. In the simplest of terms, these red cloaked lads are Tech Priests. Going around preaching about how flesh is weak and machinery is pure, so much so they augment themselves over time to slowly Vader themselves until they are more machine than man, and in their eyes, pure. You play as *checks notes* Magos Dominus Faustinius. Though play as is a strong term since this is a tactical game in the vane of XCOM, really Magos just watches things go down with his helpful and creepy floating skull assistant who suggests tactics and hints at features. Really, it’s a confusing experience to an outsider. Like most Warhammer products, Mechanicus assumes you know the score going in, its not the sort of title a casual gamer will pick up and think “oh this could be worth a go” no you’ve got to be a hardcore fan of the 40K universe off the bat, and it would help if you had a half decent understanding of Latin too. I went through the entire opening sequence having terms and history thrown at my dumb face all while I mashed the X button looking to get started!
Like I say most of the game play will feel familiar to an XCOM player, though maybe without the same charm. The mechanics are polished sure and foes clever yet easily tricked. It wasn’t till I was a few hours in before I came across and enemy who couldn’t be dealt with simply using a bog-standard pincer movement. The foes in question are the aforementioned Skull Robots, the Necrons, basically budget Terminators. While they are machines, they don’t seem to be the kind of machines these Tech Priests like, so you must drop in on them and destroy them all. Most of these bots are apparently snoozing and your squad have a limited time to get through their tomb and explore before the alarm goes off and you are overwhelmed, this tension is escalated by a ticking clock in the overworld map screen! It’s worth mentioning here that the map screen…sucks. It’s not a fun way to segue into each battle, it’s just a holographic representation of a bunch of square rooms connected by hallways, you choose which rooms next and as far as I can tell there is absolutely no reason to try and find an interesting weaving path, it’s just a bloated loading screen cover between fights.
Most battles are fast paced and tense seeing as unlike the other tactical titles, cover isn’t a thing, and the Tech Priests take a surprising amount of damage. A lot of the fun comes from personalising each warrior, using upgrades found through the game you can cyber up your red robed heroes and make them stronger in different ways, I was keen on one team member with a large axe (surprise surprise) so I boosted his movement and physical strength till he could start each match sprinting across the battlefield to deliver an axe to the Nercon’s skull bits. Of course, the Tech Priests run the show but using the available bar of “cognition” you can summon some troops, or as I liked to call them, cannon fodder, you can send these guys into battle on your behalf and while they have the bare minimum of abilities and skills, they’re at least able to distract your foes. As time goes on the troopers become more powerful along with your Techs but still… the priests are the real champions here.
There are plenty of options here to keep the true fan of these metal loving clergy men happy for hours on end, but really with the sheer amount of customization on offer it might actually be a little bit daunting, when I saw the skill trees opening up more and more as I equipped upgrades, I actually started to get a little bit scared of the time investment this title was becoming. Couple that with some clunky controls and a boring hub world this is a title that was beloved by fans of the franchise and playing on PC, but on console? It feels like the whole experience falls flat, especially with games like XCOM out there. There’s potential here, but not a lot of perfection.
I give Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus 6/10