Growing up one of the games that most influenced me was the Advance Wars series of games. This was both due to my love of chess-like games that involved turn-based strategy and the fact that it was a game that you could play when you were on-the-go, making it a go-to for when I needed something to pass the time. Ignoring the trauma of my game being stolen from me one night, it was a game series that I spent a lot of time playing and mastering. While I wouldn’t say I am one of the best, I can hold my own after having played a lot of games against other players and S-ranking the entire campaign in the first two games of the series.
Having heard nothing from the series after Days of Ruin, there came a time when I decided to start searching for other games similar. A while back I had picked up a game called “Future Wars” which I thought would scratch the itch. It turned out to be an uninspired piece of trash that couldn’t live up to the Advance Wars name. It was one of those games that didn’t understand the appeal of the series and was a mess of bugs and issues. This led me to believe that there would never be a good spiritual successor to the franchise. Boy was I wrong.
Wargroove is a turn-based tactical RPG where you play the role of a commander during combat. The game is played on a turn-by-turn basis between 2, 3, or 4 players in a number of different arrangements. It takes the core gameplay of the Advance Wars series and makes it its own. I came across the game at some point during my research for any games similar to Advance Wars, but at the time that I had found it, it was still very early in the development cycle. All I could find was some artwork and a promise that they were going to make a game that would make Advance Wars fans proud. And it looked amazing.
From the very start I felt pretty confident in the direction they were going at, though a bit concerned over months as there seemed to be little progress that could be seen from the outside. However, I am glad they took their time to produce the game as I believe their efforts have paid off big time.
The mode that I believe most Advance Wars fans or new player in general are going to start with is the campaign mode. The core campaign is one of the highlights of the game and explains the personalities and struggles of the commanders players have access to in other modes of the game. The campaign starts out with Act I which serves as a tutorial, giving characters an increasing number of different units they can use. It serves as an introduction to the game which is great for new players, but veterans of the series might get a bit turned off as the tutorials can take some time. One of my core frustrations was going back to older missions to try to S-Rank them, and having to mash buttons to skip through all of the tutorial dialogue.
The campaign has a number of different side missions that the player can choose to partake in which can get pretty difficult. The difficulty of the campaign as a whole can be rather steep, especially if you’re not anticipating the jump in difficulty. Ultimately I think that works out for the better as an easy campaign would be frustrating. Players are able to control the difficulty by adjusting sliders that let them adjust how much damage they take, how much income they get each turn, and how fast their commander’s special ability can charge. It’s important to note that reducing the sliders below the default prevents the player from being able to get 3 stars on the map, but it does make the campaign missions easier to complete. (Chucklefish, the developer and publisher, is currently considering reducing this a bit to allow 2 stars when you move the sliders down a bit.)
While the story is not the most compelling one ever told in a tactical game, I feel it has certain strengths when compared to the story told by the Advance Wars games, save for perhaps Days of Ruin. It’s not the brightest story in the world, but the cast of the game really makes it a positive experience. It’s not Shakespeare, but for a game of its kind it’s actually a quite touching and interesting story overall. I would go more into detail, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone considering or currently playing through it.
Arcade mode was a personal highlight of mine as I felt it to be a great break from other game modes. In this mode, you pick a commander and are pit against a series of five commanders in a set storyline. However, the maps that are selected for each match is chosen at random, making repeating arcade mode interesting, especially on higher difficulties.
When starting an arcade run, the player chooses a difficulty. This determines how much income the AI receives per turn. On easy mode, it seems the AI gets half of the income they normally would, giving the player a financial advance. Normal difficulty places the AI even with the player in terms of income each turn. Hard mode turns the knob up to 11 and gives them double the income, making it frustratingly difficult for the player. My personal criticism of this is that the difficulty curve shouldn’t be quite that high; a 1.5x increase would’ve been better.
There are three maps in the mode that I feel are problematic, but might be addressed by Chucklefish in the next update. One of them places the Stronghold close to each other. The greatest issue with this is with the Trebuchet unit. It is a ranged unit that has a range of 5 spaces to fire on and does the most damage when the unit is exactly five spaces away from it. The commander Nuru has an ability to summon a unit to her location. To win this map, simply summon a Trebuchet next to your Stronghold. It’ll be 5 spaces away from the enemy’s. One of the primary ways to win the game involves defeating the enemy’s stronghold (with the other being defeating the commander). The unit can fire immediately and then fire the next turn to win the game.
The second map that is problematic is one where there player only has access to sea units which can be difficult to play. Sea units in the game are a bit wonky to use (just as they are in Advance Wars) and are really designed to supplement land play. As a result, this can make the map frustrating, especially on hard in the arcade. While I think it is an interesting design, I don’t believe this map belongs in arcade mode due to how strange it plays out.
The final map that is problematic is one where the player doesn’t have access to wagons from their base. Wagons are a core mechanic in the game to mobilize units that walk on foot (though Golems are too big to be carried by them). Removing that unit reduces the tactical options the player has and really ruins the pace of the match. I feel the map should be revised to give the player more movement options. Either that, or replace it with another balanced map.
I haven’t had much of a go at puzzle mode, but once I do I will update this post with my thoughts on it. The concept of puzzle mode are challenges where you get one turn to win the game.
The number of customization options that are afforded to the player can be a bit overwhelming at first, but offer those looking to make their own missions a lot of neat tools to work with. Anyone familiar with Starcraft’s map editor already understand, at a basic level, how the customization in their editors work. There are three main components that give the player control over the engine: the map editor, the campaign editor, and the cutscene editor.
The map editor gives the player full control over how large the map is, the terrain, buildings, and units. It also lets the player adjust certainly aspects of balance such as starting income and how many commanders there are on the field. Using triggers, players can also create special events that occur on the map. The map editor is capable of creating two types of maps: skirmish and scenario.
Skirmish maps are the types of maps you’ll be playing when you’re playing against friends or against the AI in local or online multiplayer. Think of them as your standard map where there usually aren’t a whole lot of triggers. They are very basic and offer the standard gameplay.
Scenario maps take things to a whole other level. Using triggers, players are able to make scripted events and even call cutscenes over the course of the game. The opportunities are limitless and there are a ton of creative and entertaining scenarios published online by other players. In essence, the main campaign of Wargroove was designed using the same system players have access to.
Players are also able to create and publish entire campaigns of their own design. This enables a player to write their own story using the characters of Wargroove as actors. It is essentially stringing along a series of scenarios where the players have full control over what happens. It is a refreshing addition to the game that really sets it apart from the Advance Wars series. Never before has the player had this much control in customization. The cutscene editor is also excellently designed allowing players to tell stories and offer dialogue. It is an essential part of the campaign editor.
When players decide to take things outside of the single-player experience, there are two ways for the game to be enjoyed. The first is the local multiplayer. Local multiplayer allows one to four players to play on a single device. On the Switch this can be done both in handheld mode and in docked mode. Players choose which map to play on and then fill the map with the number of commanders required to play the map. They can also make adjustments for the match such as increasing or decreasing income per turn and changing the weather. An AI can be chosen to sit in for one of the commanders, making it easy to get into games for practice.
Online multiplayer comes in two forms. The first is quickplay. Quickplay enables someone to be matched with someone else that would theoretically be around the same skill level, though a player can get matched unfairly at the start since they haven’t quite yet played games. While there is no ranked system in place currently, Chucklefish has publicly stated that they are using an MMR system to match players.
The second way to play online involves their asynchronous multiplayer system. Asynchronous multiplayer allows for multiple players to play against each other online, but allows for them to leave the game and come back when it is their turn. On Steam, whenever a turn comes up for me, I receive a notification letting me know. This makes playing the game online more convenient. At the same time, it gives no urgency to get players to do their turn, thus games can either fall off the radar completely or take a while to play.
Players can match each other online by using a unique code for their lobby, allowing them to share that code with others to join. At the current time of writing, players on Steam, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One are all able to play against each other with there being compatibility between the different systems. While a PS4 version of the game is planned, no comment has been made on whether it too will be compatible with the other versions.
One thing to note is the lack of an AI in online matches unless it is a scenario map, meaning standard games have to be played by real players. Chucklefish has already stated that they will add the option to have a computer player in skirmish mode online in a near future update.
While there are a lot of things I praise the game for, I do have some criticisms, such as my thoughts on the arcade mode. One of my biggest criticisms of the game is something I’ve often criticized Advance Wars for: fog of war. The concept of fog of war is that the player doesn’t have sight over the entire field, thus they are restricted to seeing only what their units can see. While I love the concept and it works great in online multiplayer, the AI completely ignores fog of war during play. As a result, the restriction ONLY affects the player, which is a major oversight.
Advance Wars suffered from the same issue for the most part, though I do recall Days of Ruin making the fix by allowing the AI to know where your units are, but can only actually attack your units if they have actual sight based on the same rules enforced on the player.
Two other things that need to be adjusted for fog of war lies in being able to see a player’s income and the inability for forests to hide units effectively. Both the range into forest and income should be adjusted, but Chucklefish has already stated they are going to work on improving fog of war in general and specifically for the AI to make it more fair. This has huge implications for the campaign mode as well, which would resolve a complaint I have with Act 2 Mission 2 in particular.
Another major criticism I have with the game is the campaign mode, or rather the way that you are rated on it. Upon completing a campaign mission the player is awarded stars and a rank based on their performance. Both factors are influenced by the number of turns they took to complete the mission, the number of units defeated, and the number of units they lost. Getting an S-rank on a mission is entirely dependent solely on the number of turns it takes to complete the mission, however. If the player reduces the difficulty beneath the default difficulty, they are also restricted to only earning 1 star. Increasing the difficult offers no benefits to the player as well.
Chucklefish has already stated that they plan to provide more information to the player on how quickly they must achieve victory for the S-rank status, and to reduce limitations on earning stars in the campaign. Exact details, however, have not been published at the time of posting this.
With all of that being said, there are a number of things I really want to praise Chucklefish. In particular, they have a Discord server and Reddit community that they are very active in. The developers themselves often respond to people in the support channel and they have great people conversing with the players themselves. I’ve even seen some staff play against others in the community by organizing matches in their matchmaking channel.
The artwork in the game is very unique and gives the game a lot of character. Each unit in the game changes their style based on the faction the player chooses. The Cherrystone Kingdom units have a very medieval look to them. Felheim units are comprised of skeletons and the undead. Heavensong has strong Asian influences in the design, and the Floran Tribe units have a strong tie to nature.
While I generally have the music disabled as I often play the game on the side when doing other things, the soundtrack is actually pretty awesome. When playing the campaign, I generally play it with the music on.
Overall, I feel like Wargroove is a great game even if it can be a bit rough around the edges. It’s one of those games I think most people would enjoy even if they don’t dive deep into it. It’s a great game to play with friends and has a lot of single player content.
Official Website: https://wargroove.com/
Steam Page: https://store.steampowered.com/app/607050/Wargroove/