The people behind Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus gave me the chance to see the first bits of available alpha gameplay for the tactical RPG. While the game is deep with Warhammer lore, fear not, for it is designed to be played without prior knowledge of the series.
The developer started off the small presentation by showing off the character customization. Much like XCOM, players have units that they can control, but only some of the characters can be customized. There are minor units that can perform small, but very specific, abilities, but the most important units are the ones that can be customized. It was shown that these units can choose any six classes, and each class has a simple skill tree that will unlock gear, weapons, skills, and so on. There are the typical damage dealers, tanks, and healers, but there are also classes that can buff party members and more. What was interesting, though, was the fact that there was no class limit. Theoretically, you could spec into every single class for a single character, but as a result, you would only have basic skills and items in each class. It is possible to have a healing damage dealing tank, or a damage dealer that can buff their comrades, and more.
Next, it was shown that you could equip your important units with certain gear (which is partially linked to their class). Much like XCOM, you need to be able to have multiple of the same item in order to give multiple characters that item. In addition, there are chances to fund rare loot, so if you find an amazing weapon early on, only one character will be able to use it. In addition, in order to create more gear and weapons for characters, players will need to find blueprints for these items, which is supposed to be harder than it sounds.
Even with the small amount of armaments shown in the game at the moment, there were tons of possibilities and customization that I could already see. Also, the coolest part about adding on gear to your character is that each item has a unique model, and these additions to your character reflect their appearance. For the game preview, my character was given a bunch of late game items to show off. Normally, you would only be able to equip two items, but it seemed like the maximum at the moment is 11 items. It was explained that as you progress, you will unlock the ability to add more gear to a character, and that in the beginning, characters are supposed to feel slightly limited by their options, but can quickly ramp themselves up into whatever kind of archetype they want to be. Also, there were a number of prayer-like abilities that I will get in to later.
As we entered into the game, the characters chosen (two major characters and a few minor ones) were displayed in a simple, holographic projector. The dungeon overview is stylized as such because the player actually takes control of a god, and they are actually issuing commands to these characters while observing them on a hologram projector, and I thought was a nice touch. There was a single room with multiple paths to take. It was at this point reveled that each dungeon had randomized room layouts, so we never knew what kind of dungeon layout we would get. Despite the room layout being randomized, the actual rooms themselves are not randomized. There are over 200, carefully crafted rooms. This amount of detail is astounding, and the pseudo-randomness seems to not only ensure that there is a lot of replayability right off the bat, but that there were also care put into the rooms to ensure that there would be no cheapness.
As we traveled through the dungeon, there were small events that would give the player three choices. Each choice did something different, and could result in something either good or bad happening. The first option prompted was that the room we had stumbled in to had human remains. We had the option of burying the remains, performing a ritual with the remains, or performing a fire ritual with the remains. We ended up performing a normal ritual, and we got some resources as a result. However, it also made a bar fill up a the top left of the screen.
At the top left was a circle with the number “0”, and surrounding it was about 5 or 6 bars. I was informed that going through the dungeon would make these bars fill up, and that random events could make the bars go up faster. Once all the bars filled up, the 0 would change to a 1, and if that number goes up, then the difficulty of the dungeon goes up. Every time that number went up, all enemies would receive a random buff for the rest of the dungeon. This added a sense of urgency to the dungeon, for staying too long in the dungeon meant that enemies would only grow stronger.
A lot of the design so far for the game was super intriguing, and it is a little reminiscent of Betrayal at House on the Hill. In that board game, there are randomized dungeon layouts, but each room is pre-made, and each time an event happens, the game gets harder. This concept has always been awesome to me, so seeing a Warhammer game adopt and execute these designs well was such a treat.
As the dungeon continued on, we were introduced to cognition, a resource picked up from slaying enemies and/or from collecting it from designated areas. Each point of cognition did a multitude of things. The resource is important for using higher-tiered weapons, and it can also be used to move additional spaces. This is especially good for harder areas because of one specific reason: you can move even after attacking. To balance this out, however, you are only allowed to use one attack per turn. You could shoot an enemy, but then you would have to use a melee attack next if you wanted to deal more damage. Also, there is a 100% hit chance, random critical hits, and no worry of cover or backside damage.
In addition, cognition can be saved up from encounter to encounter, and it lasts until the end of a dungeon. It might be wise to save cognition early on to save it for a hard room or a boss. Also, one of the more passive things that will help later on are the use of those prayer-like abilities. Players can select up to three passive abilities than can be used at the beginning of combat. These can range from increased damage to enemies standing next to you, more range for your attacks, more cognition, and more. It was noted, however, that this system was subject to change. In the new system, instead of choosing just one of these abilities at the beginning of combat, the player will be asked to use one prayer, and they will have to choose a new ability the following turn while being locked out of the previously used one. Players are expected to unlock these abilities by completing various in-game tasks and achievements, such as running away from a fight 5 times, killed 50 enemies, and so on.
Traveling onward, our characters were getting injured due to the dungeon’s difficulty ramping up. As they healed, I was told that healing is extremely limited while in a dungeon. You can only heal a certain amount of times with certain items, and those do not recharge until a dungeon is completed. This was done because having healing recharge in a dungeon at all would be considered overpowered.
We approached the end of the dungeon, and before us laid the boss. The visuals, while stated to be incomplete. looks amazing and cool as hell in the moment. The entire room has glowing green lines travel around and about. After utilizing some high-tiered weapons (which looked awesome in use), the boss was defeated, and the dungeon was complete. We were taken back to the main hub of the game, and we collected our reward. As the alpha demo finished up, it was revealed that the alpha would soon be moving into its beta phase.
Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus, while still not quite in beta yet, is expected to release sometime later this year.