SummaryA Tactical Wet Dream
The GoodThe Battle for Wesnoth is an independently made, open source game. As such one cannot compare it in terms of production to mainstream releases. The game itself is turn based and has a tile movement system, yet it’s incredible how much strategy has been squeezed into such a deceptively simple display.
As an RTS fan I rarely find a game that is tactically interesting and challenging, and Wesnoth is both. There is no room for sitting back and simply charging at the enemy. You often (though not always) start with your hero in a castle where they can recruit units. Your objectives play a key part in how you progress in a mission, most missions giving nicely varied and topical objectives. Staying back and pumping out troops isn’t always the best plan, especially as you need to control scattered villages across the map in order to pay the upkeep of your ever-expanding army.
You’ll have to consider your supply lines (namely how far the front lines are from the reinforcing castles) and constantly be aware of any holes in your defence or isolated units, as the enemy frequently calls your bluff.
You need to be very conscious of rotating injured units with fresh reinforcements or risk seeing your whole force decimated. In fact this is one of the few RTS’ that depicts this dynamic where most just have dead or living units.
As each unit fights better on certain terrain, against certain targets or even at a certain time of day, you need to match strengths against weakness.
Units gain experience and evolve into more powerful or specialised troops that can be recalled for later missions. You have to use these invaluable (and named) soldiers carefully, and you often have a lot of affection for the ones who’ve been with you throughout each campaign.
What you have in this game is a strong SYSTEM, one that is easy to learn but hard to master. At no point does it point out the frontline of the battle in glitzy neon graphics, but tactically it is obvious where the focuses of combat are and where you are beginning to break through. Injured troops do not wail or drag themselves limply around, but they are apparent and must be attended to. The fights themselves are simple animations following some invisible mathematical formula, yet it is just as thrilling when your Peasant holds out against all odds, a bare fraction of health left, allowing you time for the reinforcements to arrive. It is megawatt power for the imagination. The campaigns are the main component of the game, though there is also a multiplayer that is built around the strengths of the game dynamics. Some of these story campaigns are pleasantly innovative, particularly one set in a post-apocalyptic desert. With elves. Pretty much all of them give a nice narrative framework to base the fights around.
The provided campaigns aren’t the only ones on offer as the game supports a simple and swift ad-on connection that lets you browse and download additional user-generated material, much of which is of equal quality to those provided.
Oh and the music is very nice, if a little repetitive.
The BadHoly crap is this game hard! It really catches you off guard just how intelligent the enemy A.I is. And that’s the kicker- the game isn’t hard because it places any constraints on you. It’s hard because you’ve spent too much time sending your biggest tanks towards the enemy, brain withered and wilted in the face of an actual tactician.
That this game has a colossal learning curve, though one based around tactics and not the easy-to-grasp interface, isn’t a bad thing by definition. It’s the main reason I love the game and something you should never change about it. It is distracting to first time players who finds themselves defeated again and again by the second level of a campaign. My advice? Play harder. A battle hard won is immeasurably more satisfying than a battle won because you have more resources.
I’ve stated already that you shouldn’t judge anything aesthetically in the game, given its engine and user-generated nature. However many of the campaigns are uneven in terms of quality.
The aforementioned post-apocalyptic elf storyline is very interesting and original, yet is presented with simple text on a black screen before each mission, whereas others have illustrated cut scenes, progress maps and such. Other campaigns recycle unit sprites and sound effects and occasionally have very crude hero portraits. It would be nice in a later release of the game if the provided campaigns could just be sexed up a little by, and I feel like a dick for saying this, a better artist. A bit of polish and this game will shine.
The Bottom LineYou'll be pressed in finding a game as pleasing to the grey squishy thing between your ears as this. Oh and did I mention that it's free? Genius.