Necromunda: Underhive Wars Review
Based on one of Games Workshops’ most beloved tabletop experiences, the new Necromunda: Underhive Wars looks to bring the thrill of combat and the depth of strategy from tabletop to digital. With GW properties often struggling to impress, how does this latest entry stack up?
Necromunda: Underhive Wars
Necromunda: Underhive Wars blends together third-person action with strategic turn-based combat, giving players third-person control as they move around the map, taking up positions for a perfect kill shot or ambush. This is all before transitioning into turn-based combat with tactical abilities, hit percentages, and more buffs and debuffs than you’ll ever care to read.
Booting up Necromunda: Underhive Wars, I was tempted to immediately launch into the multiplayer action. However, the game recommends you dive into the story first. Erring on the side of caution, I decided to take that advice and dive head first into the narrative campaign.
This was my first mistake.
The story follows the warring gangs of the Underhive as they fight for survival, dominance, and riches. There are three houses featured throughout the story: House Orlock, House Goliath, and House Escher, with a few other characters thrown into the mix. It’s difficult to find any positives from the single player experience. The story is dull and the voice over work is either fantastic or awful; there’s seldom an in-between. I can’t recall half of the characters names or any purpose to most of them. The action definitely improves towards the latter stages of the campaign, but it’s a complete bore to get that far.
Having very little experience with the Necromunda setting, I was excited to learn more about the lore of the universe and the warring gangs. Unfortunately, the game does very little to offer any serious immersion or depth to the world and characters, an issue compounded by a lack of substance in the story and a combat system that is bland, boring, and lacks any real execution.
The entire backbone of Necromunda: Underhive Wars is the combat system. Every campaign mission is the same at a foundation level. A decent cut-scene sets the tone, before 45-60 minutes of combat with dull and repetitive objectives. Multiplayer, while benefiting from more exciting mechanics, again relies entirely on the combat to sell the experience. This would make sense, if the combat was even remotely fun or engaging.
Nothing ever seemed to matter. Whether I was playing against the ridiculously buggy and stupid AI or venturing into combat with other players, the tactics and strategy involved felt mundane throughout. After you select the starting location for each of your gang members, the first turn begins. Each player on each team selects the character they want to use, and then an initiative stat determines which of those characters goes first.
This is one level of the strategy that works well. Can you afford to use one of your slower characters, saving a vital action for a faster character in future turns? Or perhaps you’ve got an ally on the brink of death and need to act fast? It works well, and forms a solid foundation for the actions that follow.
Each individual turn from each player then takes place. Each character has two pools of energy used during each turn: Action Points (AP) and Movement Points (MP). Movement does just that: it determines how far a character can move each turn and AP is used to fire weapons, traverse the environment, and interact with objects. The design of the turn-based system is fantastic, removing much of the frustration often felt in similar games.
Running a few steps forward to get line of sight on an enemy, only to find they are still blocked, is not punished in any way. You can simply run back to the original location to regain the same MP you initially spent. This ensures each turn can be planned to precision, not punishing players for moving a couple of inches too far in the wrong direction. It’s a well designed system for a game that boasts arguably the greatest level of verticality seen in a game in this genre.
The maps, while dull and repetitive in appearance, offer a glorious playground of opportunity as combat spans across multiple levels with elevators, grappling hooks, and abseiling. The potential on the movement options alone each turn is mouth watering for an eager strategist.
So, you’ve analyzed the wonderful 3D map. You’ve chosen the perfect point of attack, carefully moved your unit into place, and then you take your shot. And like a NERF bullet to the back of the head, the result is a mere inconvenience for your target.
Flanking an enemy, trying a risky headshot from afar, storming into a group and unleashing a flamethrower-type attack – everything lacks meaning. The sound effects, the environment, the character reactions, the damage…none of it creates any feeling of impact or consequence. Practically every enemy will require two to three turns to take down, even when they are completely left in the open and flanked from multiple sides. While I’m sure skilled players will take advantage of the myriad of buffs and debuffs, the face value level of strategy is disappointing.
While I struggled to find any redeeming features within the campaign, the multiplayer elements are easily the most standout and exciting features of the game. You can create your own custom gang from any of the three houses; a limited mix considering Necromunda’s impressive roster. You can recruit up to ten soldiers in each gang and each soldier has their own Career path, a class-like system, loadout, and gear options.
I really enjoyed the custom gang component of the game; infinitely more than the campaign. The progressive rewards for each character, gathering resources and materials for your HQ, is a great multiplayer component that offers endless hours of fun. If it wasn’t for the combat boring me to death after a few hours, I could have sunk weeks into this feature alone.
I’m sure there’s a level of strategic depth somewhere beneath the surface, especially when creating your own gang and exploring the multiplayer and co-op components of the game – clearly the way the game was intended to be played. But when the very basics of combat lack any emotion or conviction, the other pieces of the puzzle just don’t fit.
And that’s where Necromunda: Underhive Wars falls short: it’s core gameplay mechanic. The entire appeal to Necromunda is the combat. Ignoring the AI that will often bug out and run continuously into an obstacle for an entire turn or blow itself up with grenades. Ignoring campaign missions that bug out forcing a restart. Ignoring everything that could be improved in a future patch, Necromunda: Underhive Wars still fails to deliver an engaging combat system.
Die-hard Warhammer fans and those looking for a Necromunda fix are sure to enjoy some of what Necromunda: Underhive Wars has on offer. However, for anyone else looking for an exciting turn-based strategy experience, it may feel somewhat underwhelming.
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