When one thinks of the Warhammer 40K universe, your mind will likely drift to epic conflicts between Space Marines and Chaos, or Terminators being ripped apart by Genestealers on a derelict Space Hulk. Space Marines are the staple diet of a Warhammer 40K game, but as anyone who is a fan of the universe knows, there are a lot more armies, races, and lore to discover in this particular sci-fi universe.
It was one thing I loved about Mechanicus when I played it: it delivered two opposing forces that were really interesting - the Necrons and the Adeptus Mechanicus. And while I bemoan the lack of games focussing on the Orkz (please, can we have a quality Space Marine vs Orkz game soon?), I once again applaud Games Workshop for exploring another element of 40K lore in Necromunda: Underhive Wars.
If you're not familiar with the tabletop editions of this game, Necromunda is set in the dark and dingy underworld beneath a huge city where insane and incomprehensible numbers of people live and where vicious gangs fight it out for supremacy. If you're looking for a frame of reference, imagine the megacities from the Judge Dredd comics that were so well recreated in the film starring Keith Urban back in 2012. Anyway, I digress.
Hopefully, you now have a firm idea of the subject matter: it's set in the 40K universe, and it's underpinned by the story of a city and the gangs that fight beneath its belly. Looking beyond that, it's a turn-based tactical strategy game, with RPG-like customisation options. Interestingly the combat is all framed in the third-person, which is a break from the typical isometric viewpoints one normally associates with the genre.
I have to say the shift in viewing angle worked really well for me and made the combat and world feel somehow more visceral and engaging, as I was staring out onto the battlefields from a more personal perspective. I was intrigued to see how they would deal with the issue of not being able to see certain parts of the map, as you would in a top-down experience, but they've included a map you can flip to if you want to get a better idea of what's going on. However, I think the game would have worked without this feature as it would have added an element of suspense if you weren't fully aware of every part of the map.
For me, the highlight of the experience was the combat. There's a fair range of offensive and defensive options and on the whole, the combat worked. There are five members in each gang and they take it in turns to move or use their Action Points. When I first saw that there were only five per gang, I thought it may limit gameplay - it turns out that it doesn't do that. On other hand, Necromunda is rather slow, and my biggest criticism is the pacing. I think taking it in turns slowed things down too much, and watching the AI do their thing is an annoyance which you seemingly can't speed up. Still, on the whole, the combat is decent enough.
There's a story mode that introduces you to some of the gangs, teaches you the controls and helps you get to know the world. I recommend you play this first as it works as an extended and extensive tutorial.
Although the lore is strong, the story itself didn't really do anything innovative or amazing. While it did a decent job of getting you familiar with the world, it's not something you're going to be spending hours dwelling on. While there were some interesting plot points that I won't go into as it will ruin the narrative, I felt a little more time could have been spent building out the story. It was good, but not great - it's also intriguing that they did such a good job with the world-building, but the story wasn't as good, although I think this is down to the characterisation.
You effectively play as three gangs during the solo campaign - which means that for fans of the series there will be some gangs missing (will they be coming later via DLC perhaps?). You get the hulking brutes known as the Goliaths, the all-female house of Escher, and the Orlocks, and you flip between them during the campaign. The main benefit of playing the story is that you learn the ropes and get to work through a bunch of customisation options. The gangs do each have a distinct flavour, look and values - but I think what let it down was that I didn't really feel attached to any of the characters.
There's a multiplayer mode where you can take on three other people in online gang fights. Then there's the Operations mode, and this is where you can create or customise your own gang and go to town in what feel like mini-campaigns. This was by far the best part of the game for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed the customisation elements herein, and it feels like there is scope for creating unique gang strategies. It also feels very open and like there's potential for hours of play here - although at the moment it's all a bit empty and needs more gangs, new stories, and tweaks to the AI.
Necromunda: Underhive Wars looks good, although it's not jaw-dropping, however, the graphics certainly served their purpose. In fact, Rogue Factor has done a solid job overall, and the game will hopefully get more content soon. It looks and plays just fine, although at times it's annoyingly slow and the story isn't much to write home about. There are lots of customisation options, the Operations mode is fun and, when the AÍ bugs are fixed, this one should offer fans several hours of play-time.
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