I love a bit of Warhammer, especially in the 40K universe. I spent many an hour of my youth glueing, painting and then playing with a Space Wolf army. In fact, this is one of the reasons I loved Space Hulk: Tactics so much, because I could play as the Space Wolves.
In Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus, you don't take control of the Space Marines, however. No, this game is all about the Adeptus Mechanicus. I'm not going to go into too much detail about the story, but I must admit that a bit of previous knowledge about what Warhammer 40K is all about really helped. You can play it without knowing too much, but you'll need to suspend your disbelief somewhat, and possibly do a little reading around the subject.
Basically, the story starts when the Adeptus Mechanicus send out Tech-priests (religious and heavily armed cyborgs) to investigate a strange signal that they have received from parties unknown. Upon tracking down the aforementioned signal, they discover the Necrons. Thus the action begins.
The Necrons are effectively metallic skeletons holding green plasma rifles and Egyptian mythology-inspired monsters who don't really enjoy staying dead. I've simplified things in that statement somewhat, but there really is a great range of resurrected enemies to take on. In fact, their inability to rest in peace is pretty much the focus of the entire game, which becomes a race against time before 'the Awakening', in which all Necrons will come back and wipe out life in the universe. No pressure then.
Mechanicus effectively has three main components; your ship, the pre-combat map, and then the combat encounters themselves. First is the ship, which is your preparation area. Here you can upgrade your Tech-priests with various skills that can improve the number of action points (known here as 'cognition points' or 'CP'), health, and damage output etc using a currency that you collect during missions. You can also equip your units with new weapons such as huge axes or pistols, and supporting tech that can do things such as heal you, for example. There is a huge amount of customisation, and you can build your squad the way you want. This is an aspect that I loved, and it harked back to the idea of building an army in the table-top original.
Another cool feature is the mission select, and I liked this for two reasons. First, because there's always more than one available mission. This gives you an element of openness and you can essentially plan your route through the game. Second, you can see the rewards from the mission selected, which are usually troops or new tech. Why is this good? Well, you're in a race against time before the so-called Awakening, and when the timer reaches its end, you face an epic final battle. Before this battle, you need to build up your troops and equipment as much as you can, and the time limit made the game seem much more dynamic - I liked it.
I also liked the Tech-priests' ship, which has that gothic style mixed with steampunk and future tech that Games Workshop does so well. The character models were also pretty interesting and the dialogue was entertaining, although a little too lore heavy at times, even for me. On the other hand, the combat is undoubtedly the best part of the game, as it should be in a tactical turn-based experience such as this. However, before we get onto the combat...
The game doesn't just throw straight you into turn-based battles with Necrons. Instead, there's a holographic style map filled with rooms. It looks a bit like a board game and reminded me of the original Space Hulk. Therein you effectively choose your route through the battle. Most of the rooms you choose to move to have some kind of 'choose your own adventure' element where you're presented with a bit of story and then given choices in terms of how to deal with it. For example, you might discover some resource or decide to pray. Doing so can reward you with certain bonuses, but all too often my troops just got injured or the Necrons got an advantage during combat because of my choices.
This was undoubtedly the weakest point of the experience. It felt redundant and all too often I found myself trying to find the quickest route to the battle, just to avoid loads of extra story and a potential penalty. The graphics here weren't much to shout about - they weren't bad, but they weren't that interesting either - as the map looks like a holographic projection and the story bits are static images. In fact, when it comes to presentation, the game's biggest saving grace was the atmospheric music - don't mute that, you'll regret it if you do.
When you finally get to the battles, that's when the fun begins. First of all, graphically, the top-down turn-based action looks great. The developer has captured the feel of the tabletop game perfectly. Using your action points, your Tech-priests can make a simple move and use light weapons for free, however, a bigger move or using a heavy/support weapon requires CP, which you refill by standing next to an obelisk or a fallen enemy (that you need to shoot again or they get back up).
When you first get started, you don't have many weapons or much CP. The first few missions were therefore pretty gruelling; not only were my troops not great yet but I also struggled a bit with the interface, especially when advancing through rooms on the map. Combined with lots of hard-to-read text and... put it this way, you could tell that the game landed first on PC, and it took me some time to get used to it on console. The other issue, which resolved itself, was the difficulty.
If you customise your troops just right, you can end up with loads of CP and heavy weapon slots. The AI was good, but as I got stronger, I could effectively neutralise any threat pretty quickly. Now, I'm not complaining too loudly as it was still a challenge at times, but while I enjoyed the game, the difficulty curve seemed a little off - it was too hard at the start and got too easy as time went on.
So, summing up, Mechanicus is a good game although it comes with a few bugbears. The map screen did nothing for me and I felt like I was wasting time with the choose-your-own-adventure moments when I wanted to get to the combat missions (which are much, much better). I'm sure some will love it, but it just didn't work for me. I also thought that the learning curve was a bit too steep. Finally, the story was a bit intense at times and that might alienate anyone not invested in 40K. On the bright side, this console edition comes complete with the Heretek DLC and some new content, including new enemies and characters.
Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is a solid entry in the 40K video game universe. It has its issues, but my biggest takeaway is that the combat is tactical and fun. On top of that, the game runs fine on PS4, although some sections such as the customisation and navigating the map will no doubt be better with a mouse and keyboard. All in all, though, I had fun, and while it's heavy on lore and therefore may not have broad appeal, turn-based tactics fans might still find enough to like here that makes it worth pushing through.