When not writing for Checkpoint, Hailey enjoys dungeon delving, stagecoach robbery, and hunting monsters with her friends. She also spends a little too much time reading comics.
Xbox One, PS4, PC
September 8, 2020
Focus Home Interactive
The world of Warhammer 40K is vast. Set in our galaxy during the 41st millennium, it sees gigantic armies battle it out across the stars in a universe where there is only war. It’s a vast setting full of alien races and nefarious powers. Unfortunately, Rogue Factor’s Necromunda: Underhive Wars, which is set in the 40K universe, ignores all of that vastness to focus on a gang war on some polluted mudball.
Necromunda: Underhive Wars takes place on Necromunda, A “Hive World” in the Imperium of Man. Littering the planet’s surface is a series of massive urban industrial structures known as hive cities. Imagine 20 New Yorks stacked on top of each other and you come close to the depressing hellscape that is an Imperial hive city. On Necromunda, the hives are ruled over by six grand houses, each of whom work hand in hand to ensure the planet’s success. But beneath the surface, the houses use street gangs to wage war with each other in the lower levels.
The gameplay is inspired by Necromunda’s tabletop counterpart, but it’s not a perfect copy. Each gang can go on a series of missions, which range from scavenging items to warring for territory. At the start each gang picks their preferred job. Whilst you will be facing off against rival gangs, sometimes you can go a while not facing anyone as the gangs become more preoccupied with fighting themselves than you. It’s never really made clear if you’re going up against other real players or AI, with the AI frequently acting stupid enough to convince you it may be a real person.
From there, each match consists of two to three teams of 5 units facing off to complete an objective. When scavenging for example, you need to obtain cargo crates before your opponent does. Each character has two point pools to draw from: movement points which are spent on mobility and action points which are spent on actions. A typical turn will be movement > action/combat > movement. Points regenerate each round, so you’re encouraged to use them all up each turn.
The major problem with Necromunda: Underhive Wars is that the game feels so empty and barren. Ash greys and dirty browns make up the colour pallete for levels. This colour scheme may work in the tabletop game, where brightly painted plastic gangs and natural lighting provide much needed illumination, but in a video game it all looks so drab. Add in the muted colour schemes for the gangs, and it’s like a mid 2000’s shooter vomited in a wargaming store.
The emptiness extends to the gameplay. While it attempts to mimic the tabletop mechanics, it falls flat. There’s a charm to the physical version that just feels lacking here. Every match felt drawn out and boring. Attacks ring hollow, and most turns end with nothing happening. Weapons lack a weight to them and even melee attacks feel floaty. Couple this with the glacial pace at which you earn rewards and unlock extras, and progression becomes an unfun chore.
Objectives for matches are also overly strict. Forget to pick up cargo but wiped out the enemy? You’d assume that would be a win, right? Nope. There are no alternate win conditions. Follow the objective precisely or face defeat, which is honestly ridiculous. This encourages the player to ignore combat completely unless it’s a mission parameter. Which, in a squad skirmish game, kind of defeats the purpose.
There’s also the fact that with only three gangs, the content on display feels lacklustre. The original wargame had six gangs you could use from the get go. Recent expansions have added Ogre slave gangs, the local law enforcement, and a ravenous crew of chaos worshiping cannibals. That’s 9 gangs. That’s 2 /3rds of the source materials content not seeing any form of representation in the video game adaption. It’s like making Spaghetti Bolognese but forgetting the cheese and sauce. Sure, its edible, but why would you want to?
Speaking of bland, the story mode lacks flavour. In fact, it’s the narrative equivalent of cardboard. It’s meant to act as a tutorial for the game, with some content being cut off until after completion. The problem? The story mode is fifteen chapters long. Fifteen chapters of slow, plodding, uninteresting narrative and hand holding on top of an already slow game. It’s at times like watching paint dry.
The characters in the story are also so bland. Nothing memorable about them. From the basic Escher gang you start out as, to the Goliath and Orlock gangs you play as further on. None of them stand out. I played through all fifteen chapters of the story and not a single moment was memorable. I sit here and actively try and recall even a single moment. And I draw blanks on any of their names. And while yes, the game features a very faithful recreation of the Warhammer universe, you would hardly be able to tell if not for the logo in the opening credits. Devoid of any of the more recognisable 40K aspect, Necromunda looks like just another post-apocalyptic game.
It’s so hard to even get invested in Necromunda: Underhive Wars, and not just in the story but in the game overall. Part of what drives the Necromunda table-top game is the creation of your gang. You construct, glue, base, and paint these little plastic dudes, give them custom loadouts, and little flourishes. You embellish them until they eventually they aren’t just any dude, they’re your dudes. And as you play through a campaign with your friends, stories and personalities start to take shape. Suddenly your mechanic isn’t just your mechanic, he’s Dave Olufsen and his deft hands and quick thinking were what helped you snatch victory.
But with the video game, there’s none of that. Maybe it’s the fact online feels so cookie cutter. Maybe it’s because customisation involves clicking some button and choosing from a grid. Maybe it’s because interaction between players is practically non-existent. But the magic is missing. There’s no connection. It’s unfun.
Overall, Necromunda: Underhive Wars misses the mark when it comes to being enjoyable. If you’re a fan of the 40K universe and can’t play the physical game, then this game may scratch an itch. But it’s a game for fans, and only the fans. And even then it’s not a very good one. If you’re new to the franchise then perhaps this may not be the best entry point. The more I sat with this game, the more I thought on it, the more sour I became. There’s a major missed opportunity here. It really could have been something amazing but instead it’s just infuriating.