Review: Warring States14 Feb 2018 0
Review: Warring States
Released 29 Jan 2018
For all the affinity the PC has with the strategy genre, it is a rare game that is purely about tactics. We have everything from simple RTS to galaxy-spanning 4X’s, but few games that focus 100% on the tactical side with little worry about the structure around it. Warring States: Tactics, as the name might imply, is one of those few games.
A turn-based strategy game set during the eponymous ‘warring states’ period of Ancient China, Warring States: Tactics is all about manoeuvring and positioning. After an extremely short deployment phase where you select which units you will field based on a small number of points, the game begins in earnest and throws you straight into battle.
Gameplay takes place in a hex-based world similar to Civilization V, and units are free to move twice a turn or move and attack. Terrain modifiers like height, width, and tile content all affect the outcome of battles, providing bonuses or penalty to both attack and morale.
I often don’t like to compare titles with each other, but Warring States seems to have successfully drawn inspiration from other strategy games when creating its own mechanics. While terrain and combat basics are heavily reminiscent of Civ, battles themselves have a bit of Total War to them.
Each unit has a morale level that depletes as they steadily take a beating, meaning most units are more prone to breaking and running than fighting to the death. This creates an interesting balance between inflicting damage and lowering morale, where it is often more effective to rout an enemy unit than completely annihilate it. While broken units can rally via the use of a special ability, the AI rarely does it during the four-chapter campaign.
Said campaign takes place in a period of turmoil in China during the 4th Century BC, where various feudal states struggled for control. Playing as the Qin, you are tasked with beating back the attacking rival states and beating them into submission in a series of 15 historically-based missions.
The story is told quite concisely via illustrated dialogue cutscenes, which do a good job of explaining events and really fit the mood of the game quite well. The artwork is stylized but professional, with an amount of care and sensibility displayed that prevents the game from turning into some sort of anime.
Aside from the surprisingly capable art direction, I was taken aback by the quality of the music in Warring States. The game features a proper Ancient China-inspired soundtrack, complete with period-appropriate instruments and compositions. It helps lend the game a degree of authenticity that I certainly didn’t expect from an indie game about hex units fighting each other.
And those fights, being the bread and butter of Warring States, is where the game both shines and sinks. Unlike broader titles, tactical considerations like flanking and engagement play an integral role in battles, meaning positioning is of utmost importance. Turns typically involve careful movement similar to XCOM until an enemy is revealed, at which point all bets are off. Archers and siege weapons all have a pretty good range, and you position melee units and cavalry closer to the opponent in order to prevent them from engaging the ranged troops.
Where the game really shines is its innovative use of “Tactical Points”, given when you make “sound tactical decisions” like flanking, defending higher ground, or proper counters (e.g. spearmen vs. cavalry). Those are used both to replenish troops in the field of battle and to use units’ special abilities, which more often than not include devastating special moves. Through the careful use of a cavalry charge, a halberd sweeping strike, or an archer’s “Arrow Eclipse”, you can hit several units for bonus damage and literally change the course of a battle.
However, the game sinks in the difficulty it pits you against. Enemies often outnumber you three to one, and the game’s stinginess with points in the deployment phase means you’re either forced to make it with a bunch of crappy levies or a couple of super powerful units which will surely get swarmed and killed. The first mission is already surprisingly difficult, costing me nearly half my units by the time it was over -- and it only got worse from there. A siege battle near the middle of the game almost made me want to punch someone, as the AI kept being reinforced with several fresh units, each with double the health of most of my infantry. I had no time to heal my guys or even position them by the time the enemy engaged, creating a very unfair and uncomfortable situation.
This is in part exacerbated by Warring States main gameplay problem: omission. In any strategy game, transparency is of utmost importance -- I need to be able to see how far a unit can move and how strong it is compared to someone else in order to make proper decisions. Unfortunately, the game neglects to tell you the movement and firing range of enemy units, nor it displays any stats other than health and morale that allows you to judge their military strength. This uncertainty makes the game much harder than it is, as the finality of the mechanics means one unit’s wrong move may cost you an entire 15-minute battle. While the game does have autosaves at every turn, it is still a crutch I would rather not have to rely on.
In the end, Warring States is a capable and surprisingly enjoyable tactical game. While the units are varied, and the combat has some depth to it, it is still feels like a very simple game -- while playing on the PC, I kept wondering what it would be like on the mobile, and if it wouldn’t be more at home in that platform. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a casual and straightforward game about Ancient China that will challenge you, look no further.