Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus
I have read descriptions of Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus (Mechanicus) as being a cross between Warhammer 40K and XCOM. The short version? Sure, close enough. The long version? Not at all.
At the base level, Mechanicus is a unit-turn-based RPG set in the Warhammer 40K universe following the Adeptus Mechanicus branch of the Imperium of Mankind. This already sets it apart from the dozens of its licensed peers, who typically follow the overdone Space Marines. I am a general fan of the Warhammer 40K setting, so the implicit lore taking place (and overwrought dialog) were pure bonuses. If you are not similarly inclined, or find the glorification of Imperium problematic, then you may want to sit this one out.
The reason I say this is because the gameplay is rather simplistic. When I think XCOM, I think about cover and missing 95% accuracy shots seven times in a row. In Mechanicus, there is no cover and no accuracy – if you are within range and have Line of Sight, you hit your target. The combat wrinkle is Cognition (Cog): a persistent, spendable team-wide resource needed to fire larger guns and utilize abilities. In the beginning, your primary source of Cog is from the expendable Servitor redshirts you bring along with you to soak up enemy fire. Deploying Servitors costs 1 Cog, but they grant 1 Cog each time they take damage. Enemies that are downed also grant 1 Cog if a Tech-Priest is nearby to extract it. Aside from that, there are usually several structures around the battlefield that grant 1-3 Cog per turn if a Tech-Priest walks nearby, or if they send their Servo-Skulls (drones on a cooldown) to go collect it.
There are technically other tactical considerations. Ranged weapons cannot be used when in melee range, and there is an Attack of Opportunity when you move out of a threatened square. Units can block each others’ Line of Sight. Necron units will come back to life after a few turns unless you spend time attacking their downed forms. There is an Armor system of sorts that reduces the damage from either Physical or Energy attacks by a flat amount. Necron unit HP/Armor is unknown unless they are scanned by Servo-Skulls or attacked with specific weapons that indicate that said info is captured. Spending time to Scan computer consoles will award you more “Blackstone,” which is an upgrade currency for your Tech-Priests.
But honestly? Heading into the mid-game none of that really matters. Once you have figured out a combination of abilities to keep your team loaded with Cog, you can just blast every enemy out of existence with relative impunity. Indeed, it gets amusing once a character or two unlocks the “Immune to Attacks of Opportunity” skill, as it allows you to freely traverse the map. See, your units can move X spaces normally, but they can spend 1 Cog to extend that range another X spaces. And another, and another, as long as you have Cog to spare. Which means one Tech-Priest can run around the map collecting all the Cog from structures as he goes, scanning all the consoles, and then end up where he started with a full Cog gauge, depending on abilities.
One such ability? Fill your entire Cognition gauge, on a 5-turn cooldown.
Outside of combat, you are basically playing a Visual Novel with a series of frustratingly Blind Choices. Decide which icon room to enter next, decide which of three choices to pick, and then act surprised when they are terrible outcomes. Within each mission there is an Awakening Meter that increases for each room you enter, increases per turn of combat, and also depending on the Blind Choices you make. As the meter fills, more Necrons join the fight and otherwise things go more badly for you. Once you successfully complete a mission, the Awakening Meter gets added to your overall Awakening Meter (e.g. 3 Awakening = +3%), which leads to a Game Over at 100% if you haven’t unlocked the final boss yet. There are usually a few ways to reduce the Awakening Meter within a mission, but it’s otherwise a race against time and actively discourages you from exploration. Which is necessary, because your units get god-like pretty quickly if left to their own devices.
Overall, I did have a good time to the tune of 20 hours. Then I played another 8 hours in order to finish the game, which was pure slog. If you picked up Mechanicus as part of a bundle and you can tolerate the Warhammer 40K setting even a little bit, it is worth installing and giving it a whirl. But if your interest starts to wane, go ahead and drop it within guilt. The game stays exactly the same the whole way through, and nothing about the final battle or ending moves the needle.
Impression: Necromunda: Hired Gun
In a word: jank. But the good kind. Mostly.
Necromunda: Hired Gun (N:HC) is a run-n-gun, arena-based looter-shooter set in the Warhammer 40k universe. You play as a cybernetically-enhanced mercenary taking contract-killing jobs deep in the bowels of the eponymous Imperium hive world. And you also have a dog. And that dog can be cybernetically-enhanced.
The gameplay is… well, jank. Cool jank, but jank nonetheless. After about the first mission, your character unlocks a bevy of amazing movement capabilities. These abilities include double-jumps, wall running, power slides, and even a grappling hook. However, these maneuvers become downright required mechanically – several of the player upgrades include 50%+ dodge chance while wall running, for example, or even that your guns become more accurate and have aim-assist… while wall running. That said, the movement is not as tight as, say, Titanfall: when you power slide off a catwalk, your character instantly drops to the lower level in a sudden abandonment of physics.
Despite this focus on movement, the maps are not all that set up for you to take much advantage of these maneuvers, up to and including many instant-death zones for you to fall into. Sure, that makes the environments feel more real and dangerous. On the other hand… jank.
The gunplay is also not really that tight. There are several classic Warhammer 40k weapons available, but several of them are downright awful. Enemies have near-perfect aim and you will be taking constant damage, so the entire gunplay element requires you to be in close range to take advantage of DOOM-esque self-healing by rapid enemy takedowns. This makes longer-ranged engagements (and the corresponding guns) functionally impossible. So you end up being laser-focused on close-quarter weapons like shotguns and the like.
As mentioned previously, this is also a looter-shooter. You will acquire a lot of incrementally more powerful guns that you can customize with various mods and relics. You can also farm cash with side missions to assist with upgrading your cybernetics and special powers. For as many powers you have available, I did find it quite odd how limited you end up being with accessing them via hotkeys (there is 1 total). You can pause time to select from the full menu but that breaks the game flow a bit.
To be honest, the weird feeling of the world and overall game design snapped into place once I read the the developers of this game were the same as EyE: Divine Cybermancy from a decade ago. I don’t expect anyone to have ever played that but it was basically a radiant-quest Deus Ex meets Warhammer 40k meets… developer dreams exceeding their grasp. It wasn’t a great game, but it had a lot of ideas and they did their best to execute on them. Same thing here.
Ultimately, I do find Necromunda: Hired Gun serviceable in the “shoot people in the face” department. Boot it up, play a mission or two, and put it down. My copy came from a recent Humble Bundle that got discounted down to $6 instead of $12. If yours didn’t, well… maybe it’ll come to Game Pass.
Since I “saved” the $50 from not buying the 50-pack deal in Hearthstone, I turned around and pre-purchased Overwatch. In fact, I just got off a four-hour semi-open Beta session with some ex-WoW buddies as I write this. All the maps are open this time around, so things are pretty interesting.
Even more interesting though, was the trailer for Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 3:
I can’t even really begin to elucidate why the 40k setting grips me so. All I know is that spent 200+ hours playing Dark Crusade, and I’ve been missing that feeling since… well, Dark Crusade. Dawn of War 2 took the series away from RTS and more into a tactical direction, which is not something that it really needed. Now? It’s going back. It’s going home.
Exciting times, my friends.
Plus, you know, there will be information about the next Battlefield game this Friday. Battlefield Hardline was such an epic failure, that only a proper BF5 (or even BF 2142 sequel) could wipe away. If we see something like that and all this grimdark 40k business? I won’t know what to do with myself. Other than actually look forward to game releases again.
Review: Warhammer 40k: Space Marine
Game: Warhammer 40k: Space Marine
Recommended price: bundle/$0
Metacritic Score: 74
Completion Time: ~5 hours
Buy If You Like: Warhammer 40k, mindless 3rd-person action
Let me start out by saying that I am a huge fan of the Warhammer 40k universe. The setting gets a lot of flak for being grimdark and violent and possibly even juvenile, but whenever I start hearing phrases like “Adeptus Mechanicus” and the “God-Emperor of Man” I put on my game-face and settle down for some fun. Up to this point, I have almost religiously played the Dawn of War games and all the expansions up to Space Marine and generally loved them all (Dark Crusade being my 200+ hour ultimate favorite).
After the ending credits to Space Marine, I came away… well, curiously disappointed.
You take on the role of Captain Titus, one of three Ultramarines sent as vanguard to the fleet coming to the rescue of a besieged Forge World. The basic game structure is 3rd-person mayhem in the styling of Devil May Cry/God of War without the fighting depth, or Darksiders without the exploration/puzzles. Part of the promotional campaign involved making fun of other 3rd-person cover-based shooters (“Cover is for the weak”), but around the 30% mark it becomes quite clear that the health regeneration from executing stunned enemies won’t, ahem, cover the increasing volume and severity of ranged fire. In fact, in the late stages of the game, you will be reduced to peaking your head around crates to take pot-shots at uber-laser troops while actively running away from anyone trying to melee you.
There are a few cool moments for 40k fans, and the levels where you get access to Jetpacks really cements the feeling that I’d love an MMO or more free-ranging game in this universe. In between these moments of fun, however, are about 60+ thinly-veiled elevator loading screens, repetitive battles, large empty spaces devoid of any reason to explore, and a vague sense of hollowness. Darksiders gets away with long stretches of nothing happening because you’re solving a puzzle, but here you’re frequently just stomping around for 5+ minutes inbetween the small pockets of button-mashing. Watching my hero units in Dawn of War felt more exciting than playing as one in Space Marine.
Bottom line, if you were primarily interested in Space Marine because you like the Warhammer 40k setting, you can safely skip this entry into the franchise and have missed nothing of note. If you don’t care about the 40k setting, well, you aren’t missing anything either.
Reviews: Sequence, DE:HR – Missing Link DLC, Dawn of War II – Retribution
Recommended price: $2.50
Metacritic Score: 70
Completion Time: ~11 hours
Buy If You Like: Playing DDR on your keyboard… with RPG elements
Sequence is definitely one of those “out there” indie games in which the initial concept sounds unappealing, and yet the game is mostly redeemable fun. The premise is that the main character is abducted into the bottom level of a tower, and he must fight his way to the top by crafting keys from the dropped loot of monsters killed by three-panel DDR rhythm battles. The three panels correspond to Spells which you cast to heal/buff yourself, or damage/debuff the monster; a Mana panel which just constantly flows with arrows, with each successful arrow refunding 2 MP for use with Spells; and an Attack panel which represents arrows you need to match, or suffer damage. You lose the battle by either running out of HP before killing your opponent, or if you run out of time. Successful battles gives you XP and item drops, the latter of which can either be equipped right away or combined via “Synthing” into usable items, new spells, or the keys to unlock new floors.
I had a healthy level of skepticism coming in as to how a rhythm game would feel being played on a keyboard, but I can tell you now that Sequence handles itself rather well. I used WASD for the arrows, Q/E to rotate the three different panels, and 1-6 as the Spell buttons. Just like any good rhythm game, there is a decent variety of songs with differing tempos and general arrow densities. The RPG elements of the game also do a decent enough job at making sure you aren’t bored out of your mind in fighting the same enemies over and over again (only 3 different monster types per floor). There is definitely some possible frustration though, insofar as the item drops you need might have a 20% chance and then you end up grinding the same monster 11 times in a row. Also, learning some of the later Spells requires you to achieve a 95% accuracy in a 5 minute song or get 120-note combos (e.g. no mistakes), with failure resulting in losing a ton of XP (since you spend XP to get a chance to learn a new Spell).
Overall though, I had a decent enough time with a fairly unique indie game. I have heard some other reviewers complain about the irreverent storyline filled with pop-culture references, but I enjoyed it. And while my recommended price is $2.50 (which I bought it at during a sale), the default Steam price is just $5. Sequence isn’t necessarily a must-play game at $5, but it definitely will add value to whatever indie bundle it ends up getting attached to in the future.
Game: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Missing Link (DLC)
Recommended price: <$5
Metacritic Score: 73
Completion Time: ~4 hours
Buy If You Like: Four extra hours of DE:HR
To be honest, the Missing Link DLC to Deus Ex: Human Revolution was one of the first DLCs I have ever played which felt like a legitimate “deleted scene” from the main game. This is both a good and bad thing. Good in that it feels like a relatively seamless addition despite being on its own 2gb installer and featuring the vastly overused (gaming) trope of the hero losing all of his/her powers. Bad in that, well, most deleted scenes are deleted for a reason.
Taking place in the midst of a fade-to-black scene change in the middle of the original game, Missing Link does not add anything of plot value to the game proper aside from, well, around four more hours of gameplay. While you end up getting access to most of the weapons/augments from the main game, I definitely experienced a mental disconnect between the choices I was making, knowing that none of it mattered since no data was going to be transferred. Want to explore every nook and cranny? Okay… but why? No data, no XP, no weapons, no credits, nothing will endure past the final encounter.
Which, incidentally, takes the form of how all the boss battles in Human Revolution should have played out. I was actually kind of surprised when I discovered that I had inadvertently killed the last boss, thinking it was just another dude shooting at me.
Aside from that, and a frustrating amount of pointless backtracking past a 20-30 second in-game “loading screen,” Missing Link is a good enough dessert to the main course that was the original game. Provided, of course, you can snag it for less than the outrageous $15 retail price. Less than $5 or included in a Game of the Year edition would be ideal.
Game: Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War II – Retribution
Recommended price: $0/bundle
Metacritic Score: 80
Completion Time: ~11 hours+
Buy If You Like: Dawn of War II, RTS games minus the resources/base management
In the interest of fairness, I absolutely despise the direction the Dawn of War series took when it dropped the base-building and resource management arms of the RTS genre into Dawn of War II. The original Dawn of War was a groundbreaking work of beauty – to this day, almost all other RTS games feature infantry units as little squads, so they can be shown to be killed individually by vehicle units. I played DoW: Dark Crusade for something ridiculous like 200+ hours. Dawn of War II was fine on its own, and DoWII: Chaos Rising was alright. But as I headed into this particular installment, I began to tire of the 4-5 squad “tactical” gameplay that ends up feeling like a WoWVille iPhone app.
As I understand it, there are six “campaigns” in Retribution, but after completing the Space Marines, it appeared as though every other race uses the exact same scripted maps in the same exact order with perhaps a slight difference in the faction you are fighting. For example, at the end of the first map as Imperial Guard you fight a Tyranid hero; at the end of the map as Tyranid, you fight an Imperial Guard hero. While each race has access to different units and general fighting styles, the heavy emphasis on terrain “tricks” (shoot these barrels, take cover here, approach the turrets from behind, etc) means each map plays out identically no matter what you play as. Technically the same could be said about, say, Dark Crusade, but the difference is that a resource/base-focused RTS at least can play out much differently each time.
While many people dismiss the importance of story in Warhammer 40k’s grimdark setting, I genuinely enjoy that sort of thing. And here again, unfortunately, Retribution fails to deliver. While it wraps up the Blood Raven arc (hopefully for good), it lacks any of the subtlety of even Chaos Rising, let alone Dawn of War II. I can only imagine it was so truncated specifically because they felt it necessary to shoehorn all six races into the same story on the same maps in the same order. Even if there are redeeming plot points in the final chapters of the other races’ stories (which I doubt), I am thoroughly unable to bring myself to slog through the game again to reach them.
I just hope against hope that Dawn of War 3 is more like 1 and not 2.
- Beat Deus Ex: Human Revolution a few days ago; the more formal review will be forthcoming. Short version is: game was goo… *crash to desktop*
- Steam holiday sales annoy me to an extent. You see, what is the point of having entire catalogs on sale from 33-50% off, when they routinely turn around and toss up seemingly random selections from those same catalogs for 75% off? The only purpose I can ascertain is to piss people off.
- For example, Space Marine was 33% off for the pass week, now is 50%. Torchlight was 50% off for the past week, now is 75%. I learned my lesson when I was burned in this way a year ago, but it still boggles my mind they pull the same shit year after year. All it encourages me to do is to wait until the very last moment to buy anything lest it go on sale a day later, and thereby potentially miss the deadline entirely and not buy anything.
- I generally avoid the stupid Steam contests that involve you having to (re-)download multiple 10 gb games you already purchased but haven’t played yet in order to unlock achievements that result in lumps of coal. I did however do so on a whim with the Orcs Must Die! one. I have been playing the game every since.
- Sometimes I hate buying shit off the internet. There are two monitors on Amazon, both Viewsonic 24″ widescreen LEDs: the VX2450WM (originally $368, now $179.99) and the VX2453MH (originally $270, now $189.99). For the life of me, I can’t seem to understand the difference. The latter has 30 million: 1 contrast as opposed to 20 million:1, is “ultra thin,” can be turned into a picture-frame looking thing for god knows what reason, and weighs 0.9 lbs less. The former can be mounted on a stand or something, and has roughly three times as many reviews (both are 4.5/5 stars).
- My first instinct, I shit you not, was the former simply because “You Save: $188.01 (51%)” vs “You Save: $80.24 (30%).” With logic like that, I’m surprised I haven’t already ruined the Monster cables hooked up to my Alienware by spilling Grey Poupon all over them. Good thing I’m still covered under my Black Tie GeekSquad 5-year Best Buy warranty, ya?
- Grey Poupon. Poupon. Poupon.
- You now have an angry French guy in your head. You’re welcome.
Have a happy whatever you celebrate or not celebrate, as the case may be.