Part of the Warhammer 40K universe, Necromunda: Underhive Wars is also a spinoff tabletop offering from Games Workshop. Think of how games like Dreadfleet or Mordheim take place in Warhammer Fantasy Battles’ setting. But, the question remains: are these gang battles worth your while, or will you just wish to “exterminatus” the entire experience? Let’s find out in our official review.
The three-way dance
Necromunda: Underhive Wars has a story campaign, one that lets you follow the journey of three rival gangs as they attempt to recover an “Archeotech.” For the uninitiated, think of these as artifacts from mankind’s Golden Age that have been lost through time.
The three gangs — the Banecats led by Tessera, the Rowdy Bois led by Blutvor, and the Black Ash led by Flynt — are all eager to find that Archeotech and get rich. To do so, they’ll need to navigate the planet’s “underhive,” the deep, dark recesses of the city itself, now overrun by other gangs and thugs.
The plot itself sounds interesting at first. After all, when you’re told that this Hive world has labyrinthian passageways and countless scum looking to make their mark, you’d think a bit of exploration is involved, right? Sadly, this is the first of Necromunda: Underhive Wars‘ many shortcomings — the campaign is extremely linear to a fault.
Chapter to chapter
When you think of other turn-based strategy games or turn-based RPGs, you’d often imagine something like XCOM. There’s that sandbox nature where you go from one mission to the next, but there are additional quirks you can do such as building your squad or upgrading your HQ. Others, such as the more recent Gears Tactics, might lead to a more linear affair, but there’s also that semblance of progression as your squadmates level-up.
In Necromunda: Underhive Wars, you’re simply thrust into one chapter after another, at times swapping to another gang to see their side of the story. For instance, Tessera and her Banecats might’ve reached a certain part of the city’s underbelly in one chapter. Then, the next mission might be about how Blutvor and the Rowdy Bois are hot on her heels and they’d need to hijack a train.
It does get a little bit better towards the end once everyone starts teaming up, but the entire progression to get there is almost forgettable. For instance, I chuckled when I kept seeing the same names of rival gang leaders or characters popping up — I thought I killed these guys, but they’re back. Character builds tend to be neglected too since you’re not making decisions in between missions. At most, a certain class might get a new skill, but I doubt you’d even get to use it. You’re limited to five units each mission and having more friendlies along will simply have them controlled by the AI as allies.
Necromunda: Underhive Wars‘ sluggish gameplay
The general gameplay of Necromunda: Underhive Wars is a departure from your standard affair in the turn-based strategy genre. You won’t see the top-down isometric viewpoint and the movement of characters to various hexes. Instead, it’s akin to a third-person action game where each character has movement points (MP) and action points (AP) to determine what they can do during their turn. It’s similar to Mordheim: City of the Damned, Rogue Factor’s previous offering.
While you have a character selected (and depending on that character’s class), you can use your AP to activate elevators, drop a few traps, sabotage machines, use ziplines, carry crates, and more. All of these sound good, at least on paper. Regrettably, Necromunda: Underhive Wars falls flat when you realize how the pacing seems off. It happens once you select a character and the AI selects its own (higher initiative means a character can take their turn before others). While it’s the AI character’s turn, you’ll simply watch it move around, cast a few buffs, go into overwatch, kneel down, and so on — sometimes it might even trigger its own traps. You’re always looking at the character’s back as they clumsily move around; you can neither control the camera nor speed up the action. Imagine having to watch a dozen AI troopers make decisions and roam around, and you can bet there were several instances when I started to fall asleep.
I also have to mention the ridiculously low AP that each squadmate has. As such, you’ll find yourself spending multiple turns just getting into position, taking a couple of potshots, popping overwatch, or bringing some items to reach the objective. The game continuously asks you to “select a fighter” even when you only have one unit remaining after everyone has already finished their turn or they’ve all escaped via the extraction points. Additionally, Necromunda: Underhive Wars’ animations and graphics leave a lot to be desired. It just doesn’t look flashy or visually appealing even when using the highest graphics preset and 4K resolution. So, when you’re just watching the AI move around, you get to see how clunky and outdated it becomes.
No cover here
As far as the action goes, Necromunda: Underhive Wars has no shortage of enemies to kill with your armaments. True enough, you’ve got weapons like chainswords, bolt pistols, lasguns, flamethrowers, melta bombs, krak grenades, and many others.
Sadly, you’d be uncertain if the human dwellers of Necromunda: Underhive Wars have secretly turned into gene-hanced Space Marines. That’s because you could coat an enemy in acid or flames, and they’d only take a fraction of damage. You might fire an “Aimed Shot” to the head via a lasgun, but the target will still have health remaining. Oh, and I’ve blasted a couple of people who were out in the open using a Melta Bomb — they just said, “Ouch!” and I had to use two additional units to finish them off.
The combat in Necromunda: Underhive Wars doesn’t make sense and it’s a huge immersion-breaker when you think about it. An opponent is expected to take three to four well-placed shots before they’re downed. Headshots aren’t guaranteed kills or crits, and your weapon will probably jam in between which lengthens the firefight. Heck, direct hits with an autocannon would sometimes graze or completely miss a foe for no reason. I personally haven’t played the tabletop product, but I’m very familiar with the turn-based strategy genre and Warhammer in general. There should be an emphasis on lethality. Instead, it’s like everyone’s just blind-firing with a BB gun.
Gang customization and the sandbox
Necromunda: Underhive Wars does have its sandbox/operations mode, although the game does suggest that you finish the campaign first. This mode lets you create your own gang, customize their colors and other cosmetic effects, all while letting you level-up characters. You’re allowed to recruit more backup gang members, though, similar to the campaign, you could only bring up to five units each run.
Anyway, after creating your gang and characters, you’ll then partake in several operations in the titular underhive to amass more resources. There’s also a “looting round” so you can pick up all the stuff from downed hostiles scattered all over the map, but your AP and MP remain limited. Back in your HQ menu, you’ll then purchase additional skills and equipment to bolster your capabilities. It’s also possible to fight your Steam buddies or randoms — unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try out the online multiplayer feature during the course of this review.
Necromunda: Underhive Wars‘ operations mode should be considered the meat-and-potatoes of this title as it presents a more traditional approach to the turn-based RPG systems. Truth be told, its gameplay loop can be quite engaging, and you’ll grow fond of your custom characters too. My main gripe, however, is that this could’ve been included as part of the campaign (or at least the means of importing your created gangs/characters). If you do away with the bland narrative of three gangs looking for an Archeotech, you might have a campaign that has these customization and progression options. As such, without any sort of story to look forward to, all you’ll have here are mere skirmishes.
Necromunda: Underhive Wars lacks a lot of polish and it could use tweaks in other areas. I also have to mention how I’ve experienced a few crashes while reviewing the game. Likewise, there were various bugs including enemies spawning from doorways that should’ve been locked, AI units running into obstacles, some overwatch abilities not working, and characters getting stuck in textures after activating traps (which is only fixed by restarting the entire mission).
As for another thing that doesn’t make sense, you’ve got the sprawling levels. Yes, that should be a net positive for Necromunda: Underhive Wars. Unfortunately, the layouts themselves aren’t fully utilized. There are so many areas, sections, and platforms that could’ve been used for flanking or repositioning. But, until the last couple of missions, your squad always starts at the same location and you’d be out of AP or MP by the time you try to get creative. These nooks and crannies only get utilized once the enemy tries to run away from you and you need to chase them down (which turns into a comical whack-a-mole session). The tactical map isn’t all too helpful either.
The gang customization and sandbox mode/operations will be a treat if you’re into that content. However, since it doesn’t tie into the story and knowing that the campaign itself is forgettable, you’re looking at two disconnected modes that could’ve been combined to make the progression and narrative more entertaining. Let’s not forget that the aforementioned downsides during battles such as clunky animations, painfully slow pacing, and those “bullet sponge” units or weak-as-hell guns still apply no matter the content you’re playing. In the end, Necromunda: Underhive Wars might be enjoyable for only the most die-hard of Mordheim followers.