I’m not a Warhammer 40,000 guy so I’ve always been stunned by how much that property entails. It’s been a very prolific license for developers and this time Rogue Factor are applying their tactical RPG experience to Necromunda: Underhive Wars. Boasting a lengthy, varied campaign with an emphasis on verticality, I’m hoping this can click for me.
The campaign will most likely be your first port of call. Over 15 missions, you’ll play with and against the game’s main factions. The story plays things firmly straight with the competing gangs all scrambling to acquire some Archeotech for their respective houses. It’s a fairly simple premise and does offer an explanation of why the gangs are all at odds. The story chops and changes between gangs as uneasy alliances are formed and betrayals transpire. This does offer you more units to get to grips with and gives you a chance of scenery.
Some become arena battles that test your ability to outlast or whittle down an opposing gang whilst others task you with ambushes and smoking out re-enforcements. It keeps things interesting and does give you the tools to think tactically and consider each move. It’s bolstered by level design that really values verticality. The high ground feels like a prized possession and can prove valuable when a retreat is needed. I opens a lot of potentially intriguing avenues, particularly if you have the players on the board to experiment.
Where the campaign does suffer is in the teaching. For a story that wants you to experience all the units, it doesn’t feel that accessible. There’s a lot of numbers on screen and it can leave newcomers well in the dust. The game offers tooltips on everything but it’s too easy to miss crucial information. I found myself being a little swamped by the number crunching, at times. There’s also a very obvious problem with pacing. All turns play out in real time. It can mount up and lead to missions that take well over an hour.
You can save and resume missions but the prospect of a failed attempt being so time consuming saps the energy right out from under me. I don’t find the AI especially brutal but you can find yourself ganged up on or a mission go south long into a mission’s duration. I would’ve loved an option to speed up the enemy turns, especially given how the AI tend to dawdle.
I feel like this plodding nature leads to some pretty exhausting online matches, too. You really need to have time to commit to it. Being locked into a 90-minute battle isn’t the kind of thing that appeals to me and, unfortunately, Necromunda: Underhive Wars doesn’t offer something swifter. It’s an investment I’m not sure everyone is willing to make. That said, fighting against actual people does offer something more challenging and the length of the scraps might heighten the stakes a fair bit.
The Underhive itself has a fairly decent look to it. It’s dank, industrial but it’s not without colour. The levels feel very makeshift in construction and ramshackle. There’s a lot of sheet metal, corrugated iron and treacherous walkways. It does start to feel familiar very quickly but the variation of the level sizes and circumstances does at least offer you something different to look at.
The cutscenes take the opportunity to show more polish. Some of them look genuinely impressive and take their chance to frame each mission. They do stutter as they try to mask loading times. As a result, some scenes reach their conclusion before you get the option to skip them. Voice performances are solid but the self-serious tone of the Warhammer 40,000 fiction starts to grind after a while. Everyone has their fighting faces on and it shows in the script. It would be nice to see a lighter approach but it does give gravitas to each mission.
On a technical level, I’ve found the Playstation 4 version more stable than the PC equivalent. Corpses will comically T-pose but the jittery control issues seen on PC haven’t reared their head. I can’t say I’m happy about the lack of manual save slots. You can save and leave a mission and resume where you left off. The game will autosave regularly as each turn plays out. Annoyingly, it seems to save after a fighter has been selected, removing your chance to select someone else. It feels clumsy and a more flexible system does wonders in a genre that can be very much about trial and error.
I’ve enjoyed some of Necromunda: Underhive Wars offering, although not without reservations. The pacing really suffers as you add more players to the board and the AI does feel ponderous at times. It lacks a swiftness and conversely makes for missions where losing is a frustration exercise in lost time. The variation of the campaign does do a good job of showing what each unit has to offer but the finer points of teaching players the basics can fall by the wayside. It results in something that requires a serious commitment to understand and I’m not sure everyone has the patience for it.
+ A varied and lengthy campaign.
+ Great level design that challenges you to consider attacks from all angles.
+ Well presented, if firmly self-serious.
- Contains a steep learning curve with very few effective training tools.
- AI can feel ponderous and occasionally daft.
- Saving feels restrictive and can leave you in poor positions.