Necromunda: Underhive Wars Review (Xbox One) - (2022)

STAFF REVIEW of Necromunda: Underhive Wars (Xbox One)

Monday, November 2, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

While Warhammer 40,000 has had numerous games release under its banner, the Hive World, Necromunda, is finally getting its time in the limelight with the latest release, Necromunda: Underhive Wars. Being the first adaptation of the popular tabletop game, there were some high expectations, and while I wasn’t quite sure what to expect given I’ve not played the tabletop version before or into the Warhammer lore, but came away intrigued with its design choices, as I was expecting another typical turn based tactical RPG, but got something a little different.

Far below the surface of the hive cities of Necromunda is what’s called the Underhive. This is the deep and brooding underground where gangs run rampant and are in constant battle against one another for survival. 'Dog eat dog' is a great way to put the constant power struggle in the Underhive, as only the strongest will survive.

Numerous gangs flood belly of the Underhive, each acting under a certain House/Banner. Underhive Wars focuses on three of the Houses: Escher, Goliath and Orlok, each with their own personalities, unique leaders and motivations. Necromunda’s narrative begins with you controlling the Escher’s, comprised of an all-female gang that is the definition of badass that tends to rely on stealth and strategy rather than brute strength. Orlock are the ones you’ll enjoy playing if you want a team full of meathead brutes that would rather bust through the front door guns blazing. Lastly, the Orlock House is somewhat of a middle ground, calculating their actions. Each faction has their own leader which by the end of the campaign, I really started to understand them and like them as time went on.

DeVos, a scavenger that doesn’t affiliate himself with any faction, has found information pertaining to a new power source located in the bowels of the Underhive, the Archeotech. This power source is obviously what every House is going to start to fight over once the word gets out, so it’s up to you to recover it for yourself while fending off all of your rival gangs. The campaign is actually quite lengthy and will have you controlling all three of the different houses, seeing their side of an event or reasoning behind their actions. While typical tropes are used, such as each leader fighting for power and will do anything to stop the others, near the end when they need to start working together it becomes much more entertaining from a narrative standpoint. You don’t own something if someone else can take it away from you.

Given that Necromunda is a tactical based RPG, I was expecting an experience much like X-COM. While it does utilize some of the elements and mechanics the genre is known for, it also does a few things different that helps differentiate itself as well. There’s a tutorial in the beginning that will teach you the basics of using your movement points, action points and tactics, but after the brief walkthrough you’ll be on your own to figure out strategy and the rest for yourself. If you’re a veteran in the genre you’ll feel right at home, but even then, the unique movement system in Necromunda will take a little getting used to.

Normally games like these are played on a gridded system where you can see how many squares you’re able to move and act within. Necromunda changes this up and I’m still unsure how to feel about it. Here you’re able to freely move around with the Left Stick as you would in any other third person game, but you constantly drain your movement points as you do so. So this means you’re able to maneuver and place your units exactly where you want. This is great in theory, but I ended up getting stuck a couple times in odd places or corners when I ran out of movement points. There’s a few issues with this movement system though, as you don’t see a barrier of how far you could potentially move to, so you might run out of movement points, unable to reach the spot you wanted because you wasted some of your points by running back or forth for whatever reason. The same goes for setting up ambushes and overwatch, as you’re unable to see how far an enemy is going to be able to reach on their turn as well. I’m also unsure if enemy AI has the same movement constraints, as I’ve had them move nearly across the whole map on certain turns, much further than I could ever traverse in one move.

Each mission is unique in the sense of its goals. While many will have you defeating the opposing team(s), you’re also going to be given a handful of secondary objectives as well, some of which will be optional. This is where some frustration starts to seep in. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve failed a mission because of a secondary objective fail or simply got overwhelmed and defeated, but unsure as of why. Some characters can spend all of their action points and defeat you in a single round, others seem incredibly weak if not utilized properly. Problem is, none of the abilities are really taught to you, you simply got to read each one and figure it out with trial and error, though usually more error than naught.

While the maps aren’t huge per-se, they are usually very vertical and intricate, with many walkways and pathways to flank or setup ambushes and traps to set. Some characters can do some serious damage if you use a Death From Above skill, seemingly dive bombing an enemy below if you’re on higher ground, while others are more area based on their attacks. You’re able to check the map in 3D view and move it around to figure out where enemies and objectives are, and you’ll actually have to do this quite often, as the regular HUD in-game doesn’t give much assistance in that area.

With each mission taking at least a half hour, though usually bordering on over an hour, a fail can become quite frustrating as you have to restart the whole thing from the beginning. The difficulty spikes randomly out of nowhere too, as I was a handful of missions in, holding my own, then got absolutely decimated and lost an hour of progress and had to redo the mission all over again. The AI also seemed inconsistent at times, as one mission they were near impossible to defeat, but on others seemed completely useless by not really doing much other then moving around a bit then kneeling and waiting for their next turn. What I did enjoy though was that each mission and map almost felt like a puzzle I had to solve, as you always have to be cognitive of your mission objectives other than killing the enemies.

Once you figure out the nuances to combat, it can be fun if you learn how to use your team properly. Attacks and actions cost AP (action points) to use, so you need to be mindful of what you want to do and plan accordingly. Want to call and elevator so you can go up a floor and flank? That’ll cost AP. Want to jump down from a ledge? That’ll be AP as well. Want to use a zip line to quickly get to the other side of a gap? You got it, more AP to spend. Sometimes you’ll get to where you want but barely have any AP left to actually attack your enemies, especially when some of your abilities can be quite costly to use. Once you figure out how to properly use your team and their abilities, you can create some interesting tactics but it will take some time to get to that point. Even after a dozen hours or so I was still struggling to figure out how to best use some of my abilities strategically.

Combat can be interesting, but man, is it boring at the same time. Everything is so slow, and given that it’s all turn based, you’re going to be spending a lot of time just waiting for the enemies to finish their turns or figuring out where you should go. A single round can take quite some time, and I’ve had matches that took well over an hour to complete, so don’t expect to get a quick match in here and there. Once you start getting two teams of two facing each other, the wait only becomes even more excruciating. This means you can easily lose track of where everyone is at one time, meaning you’ll need to reference the map once again which adds even more time. Games like X-COM are turn based, but has a constant flow, whereas Necromunda felt like it had much more stop-and-go downtime.

Combat is also in the same bag, meaning at times it can be cool to see your flamethrower damage a group of enemies standing together, but others only hitting for small damage numbers without any ‘ommph’ to them feels weak. You’ll need to learn how to best use your weapons too, as having a melee character with two chainsaw swords can deal some serious damage, or a sniper giving cover with overwatch up above can turn the tide of a match. At the same time, taking the time to flank an enemy and whiffing on an attack which in turn then gets you killed is completely deflating.

When you’ve either completed or had your fill with the lengthy campaign, you have Operations to partake in. Here you actually get to customize and build your gang from scratch, completely customizing their looks and with the loot you get from completing missions. You can also level up and fully customize each crew member here, so for those that want to prove they have the baddest House in all of the Underhive, take your gang online and challenge others to see who reigns supreme. In my time reviewing Necromunda though, I was unable to find a single match, so sadly I’m unable to comment on how the progression here works, if any.

Warhammer 40K fans will feel at home with the dark and brooding aesthetic, and I’m sure Necromunda fans specifically will be ecstatic to see familiar faces and places. The atmosphere is very fitting of the Underhive setting and gritty gang wars constantly taking place. Cutscenes are quite decently presented, as is the voice acting across the board, but the audio for in-game is simply ‘okay’, with nothing really standing out.

Put in the time to learn its nuances and you’ll come away with a game that rewards you for the time you put into it, it just takes a very long time to get to that point. There’s a lot of potential to be had, but I found missions to be much too lengthy and tedious to keep my attention with its excruciating slow pacing, especially when losing an hour’s worth of gameplay and having to redo it all over again. Necromunda: Underhive Wars is going to mainly appeal to diehard Warhammer 40K fans and those that want to play anything similar to X-COM with its tactical gameplay, but it’s a hard sell for the casual fan that will mostly likely feel it’s a little too clunky.

Overall: 6.6 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10

Necromunda: Underhive Wars Review (Xbox One) - (8)

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