Editor James Law has been waiting for Chucklefish’s Wargroove for a while. Can it live up to his lofty expectations?
I initially thought I’d try to be the first reviewer to talk about Wargroove without mentioning its spiritual predecessor, Intelligent Systems’ Advance Wars series. It turns out the two games are even less separable than you’d think, Turn-based strategy has never felt so fresh, and it’s been a while since I’ve had my appetite whetted for this kind of brain-teasing action. I bloody love the calculated thrill of countering my enemies’ threats and developing map control with the huge variety of units available. The gameplay, at its core, is derived from the Advance Wars games of old, but the small changes the developers have made to mechanics lead to a game that somehow manages to solve many of Wars’ problems, but retains the pick-up-and-play accessibility and charm that made me and so many others fall in love with the original series. If you’re in the same boat as me and were just excited to get stuck back into a similar experience after so many years, then there’s no need to read on. Just buy the game. You’ll love it. If you’re interested in how Wargroove manages to differentiate itself from others like it, then read on.
The most obvious change is the addition of commanders. They’re playable units now, rather than just influencing the tide of battle from above with bonuses to certain unit types or weather conditions. Absolute powerhouses, they act as a trump card in battle. If your commander is killed, you lose. This simple change brings in so many tactical changes. Do you go in all guns blazing with your commander, crushing all enemies in your path? Maybe, but you’re at a big risk of fire being focused on your leader, weakening your position or even losing the whole battle. Or, you could hang back, allowing your grunts to take a beating for you, only coming into the battle once your Groove is charged. These special abilities give commanding units a powerful one-off ability that can change the tide of battle in a single turn. Similar to CO powers in the Advance Wars series, each commander has a unique Groove that reflects their personality. Sedge, the savage cannibalistic beast, finishes off injured foes, and is able to keep moving if he kills an enemy, leading to mountains of corpses in his wake if the situation is right. Caesar, the extremely adorably animated dog commander, inspires his troops to take a second move, because he’s just such a majestic good boy. The commanders representing both a tactical advantage and a win condition is a small aspect that makes a huge positive difference to the way battles are fought.
The other noticeable change from the Wars series was the way map control is gained. Capturing villages and barracks still have a similar impact on the game, in that they generate funds for you to recruit units, but capturing them is entirely different. Unowned villages can be taken immediately by any unit, and the village’s health is set at half of the capturing unit’s. So if a swordsman with 40% health captures a village, the village will be at 20%. Then, enemies attacking will have to damage the village and destroy it before capturing it themselves, in a manner closer to that of the Civilization series. This mitigates a huge frustration many had when playing turn-based strategy games, as in Advance Wars, units capturing buildings would take more time to gain control when they were at lower health. This essentially puts units completely out of action when they’re working on capturing, slowing the game down massively and reducing the tactical value of these units. It’s far smoother, in my opinion, for the capturing to be done instantly, and the challenge being to defend the village until its health regenerates, rather than just waiting around for your weakened infantry unit to whittle it down.
Further deepening the strategic elements at play, there’s a ‘critical hit’ system for each unit, where they do extra damage depending on unit placement. The dog units deal extra damage when there’s another dog next to the enemy, like they’re being mauled by a pack. The spearmen do additional damage when they have a fellow spearman backing them up. Each type of unit has special conditions that can be met to maximise damage, which means players are forced to weigh up advantages and disadvantages of each movement you make.
The aesthetics of Wargroove are the most pleasing I’ve seen in a while. Character design is beautifully done, from the pixel art sprites to the larger images in promotional material, a consistent theme persists between them. Starbound fans will appreciate the inclusion of the Floran people as a playable faction, and each team brings a unique look and feel to the armies. Each commander has a personality that’s brought through with the stunning animations and sparing-yet-effective voice acting, working off of very succinct and well-crafted writing. Wargroove takes place in such a pretty, enjoyable world, and every little touch of polish brings it alive.
The developers haven’t forgotten the community aspect, though. Tools to make your own maps, battles and campaigns exist, and they can be shared with the rest of the world, with rating tools for players to share the best of the bunch. This is an exciting aspect of a game like this, as giving players the same tools as the developers had brings a whole new aspect of longevity to Wargroove.
When playing, I do encounter some minor issues. Sometimes, during lengthy conflicts, turns last a bit too long, with slow cutscenes breaking up the flow of battle. These little things are overshadowed by the whole polish of the entire experience though. I can’t recommend this game enough. It’s everything I hoped it would be having anticipated the release for a while now. Wargroove does not disappoint. The strategy game I’ve been waiting for, and I’ll be enjoying it for a while yet.