Battle for Wesnoth is an epic strategy game that’s almost perfect

Posted: November 24, 2009 in Strategy

Strategy games are a dime a dozen, and it takes tremendous depth to be considered among the best of the best. That honor arguably belongs to Battle for Wesnoth, a complex old school gaming adventure that could literally takes weeks of play to reach the climax. Boasting campaigns and skirmishes, Battle of Wesnoth delivers combat-filled challenges that not only test your battlefield prowess, but also your ability to focus on the tasks at hand. But be warned, the game has a steep learning curve, and those new to TBS, may find the game frustrating.

The story follows the life of Konrad, the heir to Wesnoth, and the sinister evil queen who schemes to end his life so that she can maintain her rule over the kingdom. One thing that you need to very clear on is that gold serves as the foundation in this epic battle where the abundance or the lack of this commodity can spell the difference between success and failure. In general, the game involves recruiting troops and deploying them around different environments to do battle with enemies. Completing levels consists of meeting objectives such as destroying enemies, conquering specific areas or just plain survival.

The retro graphics will undoubtedly be the deciding factor for many would-be Wesnoth gamers, and admittedly, they are old school. The clean, yet clunky 2D graphics and animation is reminiscent of mobile games seen on Palm devices back in the 1990s with pixels and all. But, if you looked up the adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, you would likely see Wesnoth’s app store icon comfortably sitting next to it. At various points in the game, dialogue boxes with artwork featuring the characters provide pieces of the storyline. The battle scene illustrations are rather simple with some occasional lag, and if you’re expecting to see wild explosions and destruction, you may want to stick to the evening news.

The music soundtrack does an effective job conveying the epic adventure and immersing you into the game. The sound effects are adequate providing just enough to set the tone without driving you to the point of irritation.

Compared to other TBS games on the platform, Battle of Wesnoth easily wins in the depth department providing Campaign and Skirmish modes. Following the storyline, 14 campaigns are available, each consisting of a varying number of scenarios for a total of 200 scenarios in this initial release. Each scenario is categorized by difficulty—novice, intermediate and expert—and allows you to play at different military ranks. Skirmish provides gameplay against the AI based on maps that have been successfully completed in Campaign. And, game settings are available for number of gold, fog of war, shroud, and difficulty among others. Online and hotseat multiplayer are also available.

In addition, Battle of Wesnoth also has other options including a nifty autosave function where you can save up to 60 turns and even replays. You can also adjust the shadowing of units, show team colors or skip watching AI moves. All in all, the level of customization is perfect for a game of this magnitude.

If you’re similar to me, then you’ll like that Battle for Wesnoth is heavily focused on combat, so don’t expect to be overly saddled with resource management or even construction duties. As is typical with TBS games, the game uses a grid system on which attack units can be placed and moved a certain number of spots per turn. And combat takes place once a unit is located next to an enemy.

Speaking of attack units, Battle of Wesnoth provides an array of troops at your beck and call and of course for a share of your gold booty. A variety of elf units such as fighters, archers, riders, healers and mages are available for recruitment, each with their own specific attributes and personalities. Depending on the enemy and the terrain, attention to strategy and details are essential for setting up and winning battles. For example, slower ground troops can find protection in the mountains, while faster riders can become sitting ducks if they stay on higher terrain too long.

Aside from the load times which do take a bit longer during start up, another area where Battle of Wesnoth can be a little quirky is in the touch controls. As is typical in TBS games, movement is done by tapping the appropriate unit and then placing it on the intended location. With Wesnoth, this isn’t as smooth as it could be. Whether navigating or scrolling through menus or choosing a specific action on the battlefield, taps and swipes sometimes failed to register right away. It also doesn’t help that the menu designs can be cumbersome.

While you can pan the map by swiping the screen or navigating the mini map, a shortcoming is the lack of a zoom function. Because of this, moving troops can take some getting used to since there is a slight lag between selecting the unit, and then placing it.

The Menu button is important since the recruiting and recall functions are located here. The recall function adds a nice layer of strategy to the game and sets its apart from many other games since this function enables troops that survive a battle to be carried over or used in the next campaign for a fee. Because troops gain strength through experience points, battling stronger enemies becomes more manageable with more experienced troops. Of course, there is a catch to all this. Keeping troops alive long enough can prove difficult and challenging because enemies tend to attack the weakest first.

The campaigns ratchet up in difficulty pretty quickly, and coupled with an aggressive AI, Battle of Wesnoth can be a frustratingly difficult game, even more so for novices. It is also unforgiving if you’re expecting to cake walk through the campaigns simply with baseline troops. A good deal of this hinges on your ability to grow and maintain stronger units, while hoarding an abundant stash of gold. For advanced gamers, Battle of Wesnoth delivers the right amount of challenging, yet rewarding gameplay.

Overall, Battle of Wesnoth is quite the accomplishment for the platform providing a tremendously deep game experience with more content than you can imagine. An update is already planned that will deliver an additional 24 campaign missions and 150 attack units. While the controls can be temperamental, and the old school graphics occasionally lag, Battle of Wesnoth provides the level of challenge that should undoubtedly appeal to intermediate and advanced gamers.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (tremendous amount of depth and content; hundreds of scenarios and attack units along with plenty of functionality; cream of the crop for the TBS category; old school graphics are more than adequate; steep learning curve that may frustrate those new to the genre; tweak these and you can add another star to the meter—occasional lag with a slight loading time in between sessions; lack of zoom; touch controls can be touchy with clunky menus)


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