Necromunda: Underhive Wars E3 Impression
Focus Home Interactive may be the lower-key MVP of E3. The company brought a solid lineup of interesting looking games and, for my purposes, many of these are RPGs or at least adjacent. Rogue Factor’s Necromunda: Underhive Wars may fall into that “adjacent” label, but shares enough similarities with tactical RPGs that it would be hard to argue against it. I had the opportunity to watch a match played in an alpha state and while the game is clearly early there is a potentially enticing strategy game underneath.
Necromunda is set in the world of Warhammer 40,000, where the eponymous planet is home to several layers of sociopolitical livelihoods. The rich live high above the pollution, the middle class mines the material, and everyone else fights for the Underhive, a network of grimy systems that comprise the surface of the planet. Gang warfare rules supreme and it’s these gangs players take control of to wage urban warfare. The two factions participating in the match I viewed were the House Goliath, a gang of brute enforcers, and House Escher, an all-female gang known for its psychotic flair.
The two teams participated in a standard skirmish mode with the aim being to simply defeat the other side. There will be other, objective-based modes as well. The final game will also include a Conquest mode, a endless series of skirmishes players fight against each other for control of the Underhive, along with a traditional campaign mode. The match begins by deploying units in order of highest initiative, which is determined by numerous variables during the construction of a team. House Escher went first and the match, which took place on the game’s smallest map Abandoned Railway, began.
While normally a turn-based game, each player played simultaneously at the beginning of the match. Rogue Factor did this based off of feedback of its previous game Mordheim, where players spent many turns at the beginning of matches just moving the teams closer together. Once the teams begin to close in on each other, the traditional gameplay takes over and the game’s structure becomes much more apparent. Each unit on the team is granted 100 Action Points each turn. Most actions, including movement, cost AP, so units have hard limitations on what they can do. To gain a better idea of what each unit should do, players have access to the Strategy View, a 3D model of the map that contains all units and points of interest. But while the player knows this, units must still have line of sight and be in range to engage with enemies, so position becomes of utmost importance. The importance of positioning became even more apparent when I realized how vertical the levels could be.
The Abandoned Railway had four different floors with varying coverage of the ground below. Many of the characters had grappling hooks equipped that allowed for quick access to higher floors. This is a key part of the Deadeye class’ strategy as it deals additional damage when attacking from an elevated position. The Deadeye is one of four careers, the others being Saboteur, Brawler, and Heavy, that units can have. Careers affect what equipment units can use as well as the special abilities available to them. Other abilities are tied to a unit’s ranking, which increases the more battles a unit survives. On top of that, there is a personality system in place that are given to characters that provide negative and positive benefits. Finally, in certain modes, units can be permanently injured or even killed. Each gang is also given one leader, who also gets bonus stats and abilities. This gives the opportunity for a wide variety of squad combinations to tailor to any play style.
As the match itself progressed, it inevitably became more violent. Players only retained control of one unit at a time and if another player came in contact with a computer-controlled unit, the game could continue uninterrupted. But if two units both controlled by players came into contact, the game temporarily shifted to a turn-based battle between the two called Phased Turns. Each Phased Turn, the game checks to see the remaining AP of each unit involved and give them one of three options: execute one Offensive action, execute one Tactical action, or move up to 15 AP worth of movement. Play continues with the two units taking turns until one dies or one of the units runs out of AP and must end the unit’s turn. The mix of real-time gameplay and situational turn-based combat was difficult to follow without getting to play it directly, but Rogue Factor says many of the aspects related to the rules are still being tweaked.
When the match ended, I was intrigued with what I had seen but had trouble keeping up with the rules-heavy nature of the game. Necromunda is a difficult game to demo as in my forty minutes there I was only able to grasp the basic fundamentals of the game and most of the nuanced was lost. The fact that the game is still mid-development and many of my queries were met with assurances that the final rules set was still being worked on did little to help. Still, the board gamer in me loved the AP system and the map design that is difficult to replicate in a physical space. If Rogue Factor can nail the minutia required for as intensive of a game Necromunda as is, then there is a very in-depth and rewarding tactics game to be had.