When you think of Warhammer 40,000, the tabletop wargame from Games Workshop, most will think of hulking Space Marines gunning down Orks and other alien creatures. But Games Workshop, along with developing the huge living narrative for their game, have also released other games set within their Warhammer 40K setting and one of those is Necromunda.
Rather than taking place on open battlefields between huge forces, Necromunda is set in an over-urbanized city, where the buildings have grown up into huge spires, leaving the lower levels lawless and gang-infested. The Necromunda tabletop game has players controlling a small gang, where each member has their own unique skills and armament and the contest for loot is always more important than simply taking out enemy fighters.
Necromunda: Underhive Wars brings this tabletop game to the digital platform, in a turn-based strategy game, where players control their fighters through a third-person view. The studio behind it, Rogue Factor produced a similar game for Games Workshop’s fantasy Warhammer setting, Mordhiem, which is also based on the tabletop game of the same name. Players coming from Mordheim will know exactly what to expect with Necromunda: Underhive Wars, as the controls and general management are very similar.
Players are encouraged to start their games with the story campaign, which is simply an extended tutorial against the AI. It follows a central story, and players will control each of the 3 different gangs during the playthrough. There’s no carry-over between games, any fighters taken out will come back and any equipment found or lost will be reset to each mission's pre-sets. The idea of the story campaign is to take players through different game types, and allow them to see the different skills and weapons before embarking on a campaign of their own. This is because the later upgrade options for ganger’s aren’t immediately apparent when creating a gang, so taking a look at the various options is helpful when considering initial gang creation.
Once the story campaign is completed, or if you want to jump straight in without knowing the different options, players can embark on gang creation, where you can put the beginnings of your gang together. Players get a choice of 3 gangs, the tabletop game has quite a few gang options so expect more to be available through DLC. The all-female Escher, fast and accurate with a love of las-weapons, the hulking Goliath, tough, strong, and slow and the Orlocks, the middle of the road generalists.
Players can recruit gang members from different specialities depending on your playstyle. Most gangers are similar to begin with, the only noticeable difference is restricted armaments. Heavies for example get access to hard-hitting heavy weapons like the autocannon and lascannon. As your gangers gain experience, they can pick up unique abilities like the Lay-Mechanic who can repair zip-lines that aren’t in use, or have been sabotaged by the enemy and later on gain the Machine Strike skill to attack with a mechanical arm.
During creation, you get a small amount of stats customization options for your gangers, either picking an option that adds 1 to several skills, or 3 to a dedicated skill. You also get some vanity options during creation, but after creation, in gang management, there’s a huge amount of vanity personalization with color-schemes, clothing styles and accessories. Players coming from the tabletop background will have a great time customizing the look of their gang and Rogue Factor seems to know their audience with the level of detail in the options.
Once your gang is created, you get the option to start a campaign, which is a set number of missions with a loot target and sub-objective or play skirmish missions against the AI or PvP. During the first introductory campaign, players play against 2 AI gangs, trying to collect enough loot to satisfy their benefactors. Players get a choice of missions during each campaign round and will fight against other gangs who deploy to the same mission. You can also target other gang’s bases if your scouts find them, with the possibility of your own base becoming open for attack.
The missions themselves are played over multi-level sprawling maps, exactly the kind of maps that tabletop gamers try to recreate. Gangers can traverse the huge maps through zip-lines, lifts, jumping and ascension cables and players will spend some time finding the best route to locations before actually starting the action with their ganger.
Most missions have a round limit, and each round, players will take turns activating their gang members. You get to choose the order your gangers activate in, but after you select your ganger, their initiative score is compared to the ganger your opponents selects, with the highest score activating first. This creates an interesting dynamic with ganger selection, as your best fighter/shooter might not have the best initiative, or be best placed to take out an enemy who’s poised to take out one of your fighters.
During a fighter's activation, they’re controlled using a third-person view to move around the map and select actions. Each gang member has a certain amount of movement points (MP) and action points (AP) which are used to move, attack and use skills. You can move freely around the map up to your MP allowance until you complete an action, where any MP and AP are spent. This allows you to try out several positions, comparing options and hit percentages before completing an action.
Necromunda: Underhive Wars is designed as a PvP game and the scope of options for each fighter during a round is huge. As a result, if playing against the AI, you will experience some random actions like running past your fighters and setting off their own traps. You will also have to wait while the AI takes their actions, but anyone coming from a tabletop background, or other turn-based PvP games, especially online card games, won’t be surprised by this. The AI is much quicker than most human opponents who have a lot to consider while completing their actions.
Missions are rarely a straight-forward case of taking out enemy fighters, and usually require you to grab loot and escape the map before the last round. There are limited extraction points on the maps, and the areas around them can become a bitter battleground as gangs try to escape with as much of the map's loot as possible. Carrying loot also limits weapon use, as it takes up a hand to carry, as we experienced some comical scenarios with dual-crate weidling gangers running past each other on the way to the exit.
Lethality in Necromunda: Underhive Wars is the same as the tabletop incarnation. Players aren’t controlling trained soldiers, or superhuman warriors, but the dregs of humanity, especially so at the start of the campaign, where your gangers are very under-equipped and inexperienced. As a result, it can take several shots or hits to take out an enemy, but the same is true of your fighters, so unless you leave them very exposed, they won’t be taken out with a single hit. Players of the tabletop game will also find disparity in the power of weapons compared to the tabletop game, players without any prior knowledge won't have an issue with this, but those expecting an exact port from the tabletop will find it very noticeable.
There are some issues with crashing and save lost, on consoles as well as PC and I experienced on both PC and Xbox One. One particular crash was after finishing the first mission of a new campaign, during the post-mission load, I lost everything up to ending the last campaign, which included all the customization changes I’d made to my gang before starting the new campaign.
Campaigns and PvP are the most rewarding aspects of Necromunda: Underhive Wars. Seeing your gang grow, and molding their equipment and skills to suit a playstyle over the course of a campaign is awesome. PvP also offers the best challenge, even when the issues with the AI are resolved, as veteran Necromunda players will know all the dirty tricks and be able to plan against yours.
Necromunda: Underhive Wars | Final Thoughts
Necromunda: Underhive Wars won’t be for everyone and anyone expecting a fast-paced game will be disappointed. For tabletop gamers and turn-based fans, especially Necromunda fans, this release is very welcome. Games are slow, turn-based affairs, where careful consideration of your options is a huge part of the gameplay. The maps, vanity customization options, and how the different gangs feel when played are spot on. Once the save issues are resolved, and AI tweaked for anyone looking to run entirely single-player, Necromunda: Underhive Wars will be a solid addition to the digital tabletop library.
TechRaptor reviewed Necromunda: Underhive Wars on PC via Steam and Xbox One with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4.
- Great Port of the Tabletop Game
- Great Turn-Based Tactics
- Awesome Campaign System
- Hugely Flawed AI
- Serious Crashes and Save Losses