Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus Switch Review22 Jul 2020 0
Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus Switch Review
Released 17 Jul 2020
Considering its table top roots, it’s no cosmic mystery that Games Workshop’s various Warhammer series translate well into the turn-based strategy space. Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus’ squad-based skirmishing is truly engaging and rewarding most of the time, and being able to take the action on the go with you is a clutch. But repetitiveness may make sticking with it past the first hours a bit of a chore, and if you aren’t already enthralled with the lore of the 41st Millennium, Mechanicus’ writing and characters won’t likely reel you in.
If you're interested in the original PC version, you can read our review here.
As Magos Dominus Faustinus, a commanding officer in the secretive knowledge cult Adeptus Mechanicus, you lead a cohort of subordinate Tech Priests on a mission to discover what is lying dormant under the surface of the planet Silva Tenebris. A short recon reveals that the entire planet is a tomb for an ancient robotic race of warriors called Necrons, who begin the process of reawakening after your intrusion trips their alarms. The rest of the game is a race against time, you and your Tech Priests studying these and destroying these brutal machines before the entire planet’s worth of T-800 terminators revive and bring terror to the galaxy.
Mechanicus’ story is relatively rudimentary, which is standard for lore in the 40k universe. As it turns out, you don’t need a whole lot of complicated reasons to get two different factions of people to start killing each other. It seems Mechanicus’ narrative is really for people who already have some knowledge of the overall universe, though. It throws a lot of very Latin sounding names at you, with characters who spend very little time on exposition, and presents a very bizarre vision to transhumanism without really explaining how any of this happened in the first place. This might not be a deal breaker for people new to the world of 40k, but you’d be forgiven for finding the intricacies of people who pray to machines on Mars to be impenetrable.
The dialogue doubles down on this idea. Characters are distinct in personality, but they serve almost just as pundits for the various sets of ideals that the whole of the Mechanicus tech cult represent. They clash constantly, some times humorously, over your decisions, which does create a strong sense of place. Your ship, Ark Mechanicus, clearly exists in a place that lived before your awareness of it. But rarely do these characters feel like they’re doing any real development. By the end of my dozen or so hours with it, none of these characters have changed and developed in significant ways. About midway through, I found myself skipping most of the chatter all together.
The Ark serves as a hub for mission selections and unit upgrading. Missions come from the aforementioned Tech Priest subordinates, each who have their own perspective on how the Necron threat should be dealt with. Videx almost always gives you missions that involve clearing tombs of particular sorts of baddies, while Scaevola usually sends you looking for some item or relic in particular. The actual missions tend to play out largely the same regardless of who gives them to you, though. It’s things like the difficulty of the enemies you’ll encounter and the potential rewards you can earn that really guide your decision making from launch to launch.
Missions play in two different phases, similar to games like Darkest Dungeon. You explore a rudimentary top map, moving from room to room and running into encounters. These range from finding dead Tech Priests to discovering Necron relics, but all require the same choose-your-own-adventure sort of decision making to navigate these. There’s often consequences or potential rewards to these actions, but there is no clear indication of whether things like your party makeup or item load out could have prevented or enabled particular outcomes. The only real guarantee is that when you arrive at the room that is marked as an objective, there will be a battle.
Battles are where Mechanicus feels the most like the XCOM-like game that it resembles. The comparison is a useful shorthand, but saying Mechanicus is like Firaxis’ instant classic tactical game really sells Mechanicus’s greatest strength short. Outside of basic movement and some lower level actions, everything you do in combat revolves around Cognition Points. You have to earn this “CP” by scanning the environment on a given map or reaping it from fallen enemies, or developing new ways to produce it or mitigate the cost of it through upgrades. Having a bunch of CP, or a reliable way to produce it, is key to staying in control of combat scenarios that can quickly find you being outgunned and overpowered.
I loved the rhythm combat had, as I revolved my turns around big CP heavy powerplaysm spending my off turns setting up new shooting positions and letting cooldowns restore as I prepared for the next big bang. As your weapons become more powerful, they demand more CP to function, so you never truly feel like your resource management can be put completely on auto pilot. Being able to spend CP on fodder level units called Troops helps even the odds as turns progress. They are weaker, less frills combat units, but can really serve as valuable counter strikers or meat shields when enemies start populating the maps at alarming rates.
Outside of gathering CP and dropping troops tactically in between rounds, there isn’t much else to do in any given fight outside killing everything on the map, scanning a computer hub, or getting to an exit point. In many cases, you’ll be doing some combination of these all in one fight. There’s no real strategic interaction with the map itself to be had - there is no cover, weapons are 100% accurate by default, and the environment rarely changes in a meaningful way outside of the odd moving platform. The maps themselves get recycled fairly often, too. Once you’ve had a fight or two on a particular layout, you’ve probably seen all there is to see in it.
That your main fighting units - the Tech Priest - is so customizable really saves Mechanicus from feeling stale too early. The amount of upgrading and adding on to a tech priest, through collecting and spending a resource called 'blackstone', is significant. As you progress them down the several tech trees, they gain active and passive abilities, as well as slots to add more equipment. Fully upgraded Tech Priests resemble Marvel’s Doctor Octopus, with several metal arms arching from their backs, brandishing all manner of pointy, shooty, and slashy implements.
Well equipped Tech Priests have a myriad of weapons and support items, all of which are usable so long as your cooldowns are gone, and you have the CP to spend. A singular Tech Priest can have the offensive output of two or three Necrons on their own. Multiply that with the potential to have up to six of them at once, and you can see how the Adeptus Mechanicus is so formidable.
Though there are six tech trees to explore, all with many different upgrades to purchase, it becomes pretty difficult to truly multispec any one unit effectively. Every upgrade costs more than the last, no matter where you spend our blackstone previously, meaning spreading your points around becomes largely inefficient over time. I found that there were a small handful of skills all of my units needed to have, but after that, each had their own particular specializations. Unfortunately, not all of these trees are equal, and it's hard to know what was a good or bad investment until you’ve spent hundreds of non-refundable blackstone.
The Switch port includes the Heretek expansion, though it's not clearly identified what is considered 'original' and 'DLC' during the course of play. Some things, like a weapon just sitting in my inventory at the start of the game that seemed oddly powerful, seems clearly like post-release content. Others, like missions that pit you against rebelling cloisters of Tech Priests, blend in so seamlessly that you wouldn’t suspect that the game didn’t launch with that arc.
Being able to start and stop the bite size missions at will is very handy. The missions are short enough that you can get one in on a bus ride or on a lunch break, and the Switch is the perfect system for that kind of usage. But the performance is inconsistent at best. The frame rate wobbles constantly. Zoomed out, the often super detailed units look ugly. When zoomed in, all the intricacies are well rendered, but for maybe one unit at a time. Map textures are often muddy and hard to parse, both because they are rendered poorly on the Switch and their designs isn't great in the first place. Also, this is one of the few games I’ve played that seems to run worse when docked.
The controller mapping for Mechanicus leaves a bit to be desired, as well. Navigating most menus is left to the joystick, which lacks the precision to really do the job consistently. You’ll find that you’ll need to attempt to highlight potential targets or walking destinations multiple times to ensure that they are properly registering. Mechanicus would really have benefited from incorporating the Switch’s native touch screen in some way, to ease the burden on the already cluttered interface.
Whether Warhammer 40000: Mechanicus is the game that reels you into the greater 40k universe is a toss up, but any curious turn-based tactical gamer should at least give Mechanicus a few hours of their time. Combat and customization is truly a unique experience, and something you won't be able to find in modern contemporaries done quite this way. The rest of it - the setting,the story, the repetitive encounters, the sketchy performance issues - may not be enough to hold you through an entire run.