Review: Wargroove01 Feb 2019 0
Released 01 Feb 2019
All I should need to say is that Wargroove has a unit called warpuppers. Warpuppers! Not enough to convince you? Fine, how about this. Chucklefish, the studio that made the frankly amazing Starbound have decided to bring their big book of design mastery to Advance Wars golden tomb. And it is magical.
From the anime style opening showing off the different commanders to the polished pixel art presentation, Wargroove is beautiful. The animations are fluid and attacks have some decent heft behind them which makes the combat actually cathartic. Especially when you manage to take down some unit that’s been terrorising your scouts.
The joy of victory carries over past the fight to when units die as their token on the map disappears as a little ghost which is adorable. And most importantly, when warpuppers lose in a fight, they run away rather than die which saved me from so much guilt. The artistic beauty continues all the way to the battlefields themselves with each battle taking place on a literal map with pixel art forests, mountains, and towns that all provide easy to read tactical options.
Simplicity is at the heart of Wargroove with much of the interaction coming purely from the mouse and an engine that understands we make mistakes. Whenever you click a square, it gives you the various options you can take from that square like capturing a town, fighting an enemy, waiting, or cancelling because you misclicked. Clicking on enemy units lets you see their range and mousing over with a unit of your own selected shows you how much damage you will deal and how much you’ll take. Even tactical information like critical hits are straightforwardly displayed as a flashing 'damage dealt' arrow.
With all this simplicity, Wargroove builds a strong tactical core that forces you to think. Healthier units hit harder but with units like the pikeman or warpupper getting bonuses for being adjacent or grouping an enemy, positioning becomes more important than swarming. Coupled with the unit countering where each unit has a list of units it is effective against and weaker to, the game presents a deeply tactical game without the bells and whistles.
Even to a TBS newcomer Wargroove is easy to understand as the campaign carefully introduces you to the game’s systems, introducing new elements with missions themed around them without feeling too slow. After the short introduction that teaches you the basics of combat and movement, the campaign introduces unit countering, recruiting, wagons, and champions over the course of four or five missions. By which point the tutorial eases off and lets you dive into the game properly with just a few hints and reminders to guide you.
Beyond the multiplayer and campaign there is an arcade mode which pits you against four increasingly difficult commanders in a quest to find 'the ultimate weapon'. This unlocks pretty early in the game but has its own storyline that is informed by the campaign so playing it before completing the main game can lead to some spoilers about other commanders. It’s nothing major unless you care about a lot about story. As straightforward as it is.
The other cool mode available is puzzle mode which challenges you to complete an objective in a single turn. Usually destroying a stronghold or defeating a commander. The puzzle, and in a sense end-of-tutorial exam, involves working out the order in which to use your units. Clearing the way for a cavalry to get their 6-square movement crit, clever use of commander powers, and tactical positioning are all put to the test. And this is actually a really cool way to teach players how to get the most out of their strategies.
My list of gripes is relatively short and while I will praise Wargroove for being focused, I can’t help but feel a bit short-changed by the animations. After about four campaign missions the animations start to get repetitive. Some variation would be greatly appreciated or, at the very least, make the 'hold right click to skip' faster and more obvious as capturing towns can be grating.
The lack of animation variety is offset by the great designs of the four factions. Each faction is bright and colourful with - excluding Cherrystone as they are intended to be the generic fantasy humans - very unique designs. But hands down the best faction has to be the Florans. Originally from Starbound the psychotic meat eating plant people have some of the best unit designs - their mounted unit rides an alpaca, they have a treebuchet! But while each factions looks unique, they feel and play exactly the same. The only variety is in the commander abilities. Obviously, this is a trapping of the genre as the focus is more on unit choice and positioning than understanding the unique attributes of each faction. And I’ll give it that it is a lot better than just making four different coloured Cherrystone factions.
Beyond that the only bad part of the game has been the damn sea turtles which feel at once too fast and too powerful, zooming around the water one hitting practically every sea unit. Which would be fair if they were the most expensive but they only cost slightly more than the common amphibian soldier.
The best part in my humble opinion, is that Wargroove comes with a map editor and campaign maker that, like the rest of the game, is so easy to understand. You place down missions on the world map then you can edit the map the mission will take place on. Add units, place triggers for events like reinforcements, decide which enemies you want the player to face, and you can make cutscenes and dialogue. It brings back memories of Age of Mythology and Stronghold II and that is worth more to me than its weight in gold. It will be interesting to see if the same modding communities that have sprung up around Starbound and Stardew Valley get to work here.
Chucklefish have a proven record of publishing great games and making great games and Wargroove is no exception. If the modding community takes hold then I can see this becoming one of my new favourite tactics games. And if you’re a fan of Advance Wars, you owe it to yourself to check it out.