Published on February 14, 2019
Release Date: February 1st, 2019
Platform: Switch, Windows, Xbox One (Played on Windows)
Copy provided by publisher
A game derivative of Nintendo's classic turn-based tactic games, Wargroove comes to us from developer Chucklefish looking to iterate upon an established formula. You'll amass units, capture settlements, and conquer on your road to becoming the ultimate tactician. Aping the foundation from other games, Wargroove manages to distinguish itself enough from the competition, but only just barely.
Firstly, let’s dive into what hasn’t changed. Players control a group of units, and choose where they move as well as additional contextual actions. This can include attacking nearby enemy units, or capturing settlements to secure additional resources at the start of every turn. Maps are made up of different tiled environments which feature defensive bonuses. Open roads, and rivers leave soldiers exposed, while forests and mountains offer greater protection. The key to victory is considering where units are placed, as attacking from more defensive environments will help sustain the long road to victory.
Now for what has changed.
The first major point of distinction for Wargroove is how critical hits are determined. Each unit type has specific parameters that guarantee increased damage while attacking. These conditions can include attacking while adjacent to another unit, moving a certain distance before attacking, or attacking from a certain environment. Almost all of these bonuses are related to positioning, which puts a heavy emphasis on how players choose to move their units every turn. In conjunction with different tiles providing varying levels of defensive bonuses, this system encourages and rewards thoughtful play.
The other major difference comes from how settlements function. Settlements provide additional income to the player every turn the player controls them. When a group of infantry takes over a town, it gains health equal to half of the soldier’s initiating the takeover. Each turn the settlement will slowly restore health. The health of the settlement has two functions. Firstly it can be expended to restore the health of a nearby ally. Secondly, it is used to defend the settlement from enemy raids. As a result, settlements are a more active part of the entire skirmish, rather than a resource to collect and drain for the remainder of the fight.
Stepping back from mechanics, I'd like to highlight one of my favourite features offered by Wargroove: puzzle mode. This mode features twenty-five puzzle maps where the player must finish the skirmish in a single turn. True to its name, the scenarios are quite puzzling and require the player to have a deep understanding of the game's mechanics. This heavy reliance on the unique mechanics of Wargroove makes it a consistent joy to play through each puzzle.
Speaking of puzzle maps, that's one of the many map types that can be created through the in-game map editor. The creation tools are incredibly powerful; offering players the ability to create skirmishes, puzzles, and even scenarios with cutscenes. Everything seen across the game's campaign maps can be found in the editor, so players can get truly creative with what they make. Or they can be a huge wiener and recreate their favourite maps from Advance Wars. The freedom leaves a lot of room for creativity, and you can share your creation with the rest of the online community afterward.
The final aspect of Wargroove that stood out in a positive light, is the unit balance. Every unit feels like it has a purpose. In addition, no one unit is so overwhelmingly powerful that it can seize victory for the player by itself. The most expensive units have counters that can easily dispatch them, so careful unit selection is as important to winning as positioning. I will note that the dog units feel a little weak outside fog of war as that's where their unique abilities shine through. That aside, the balance encourages players to use all of the available units instead of always relying on the same tricks.
Oh, I also like the art. Look at how smoothly animated those pixels are.
In addition to the puzzle mode, and scenario creation tools there is also a campaign, arcade mode, and multiplayer skirmishes. The campaign is thirty-three missions long, and acts as a tutorial for most of the game’s mechanics. Arcade mode is five consecutive skirmishes that escalate in difficulty where a single loss requires players to start from the beginning. Multiplayer allows for battles against the AI or your friends in local, online, and cross-play formats. None of the features are exceptional, but they're all welcome content that flesh out Wargroove as a complete package.
In spite of all the available modes, Wargroove still feels like it lacks variety. A big part of this comes from how all of the commanders play fairly similarly. They each have a unique ability, known as a groove, but it doesn't drastically alter how they're played in combat. For example, Caesar gives adjacent units an additional action after they’ve been moved. Over the course of combat you’ll charge up your groove, but the infrequency of its use makes it a special one off, rather than a staple of each encounter. While this makes playing a new commander simple, it also doesn't offer much of a reason to play anyone outside your favourites.
The campaign also feels like it lacks variety. The different mechanics utilized throughout should result in a game that has a great sense of pace. However, mechanics are neglected so quickly that in a lot of cases they feel underutilized. Fog of war, and different weather conditions are introduced only to be cast aside a mission or two later. Making greater use of these mechanics could have resulted in more interesting scenarios throughout the campaign.
The campaign also suffers from a lackluster story. The focus of Wargroove was very clearly put into the tactical gameplay, which is fine, but the story makes the campaign a bit of a slog. Most of the game's cast is very serious, which makes them feel like a group of wet blankets. Were it not for characters like the sassy Nuru, or boisterous Ragna providing occasional bits of comic relief it'd have bordered on unbearable.
The final two things I'm going to mention have already been highlighted in a blog post made by Chucklefish shortly after launch. In the game's current state the results screen after a mission doesn't clearly convey what needs to be done to get an S ranking. In addition, the vulnerabilities chart is incredibly difficult to read because low res images of unit faces are used instead of standardized symbols to represent each unit. Both are planned to be fixed in the short term but immediately jumped out within my first hour of playing Wargroove.
Update: As of version 1.2 (March 6th, 2019) both of the above issues have been resolved. Read more here.
Chances are if you enjoy tactics games, or the games Wargroove so clearly draws inspiration from, you're going to enjoy Wargroove. Mechanical changes to critical hits, and settlements, as well as the puzzle mode, beefy content editor, and overall unit balance make for a fairly enjoyable tactics game. Despite the litany that sets in from the campaign and lack of overall variety in the commanders, there's still a huge amount to love about Wargroove and the many ways to play it round out a tactics game that is easy to recommend.