Not every game has to reinvent the wheel. While there are always a plethora of fresh and new ideas being brought to the table by indie developers, sometimes a title can be just as successful by taking something that is fairly common and executing it well. I’d even argue that improving an idea that’s already been done gives you the chance to elevate it. We’ll be exploring that theme with WARBORN, the new turn-based hex-grid strategy title from Raredrop Games and PQube that shows you can take a familiar concept and still create a great experience.
WARBORN takes us to the Auros System, where four factions vie for supremacy in a state of constant war and driving political agendas. To further their interests, each faction has access to VA’s (Variable Armour), gigantic mecha units with designs that you’ll be very familiar with if you’ve seen anime like Mobile Suit Gundam. Each faction has an individual campaign, where you’ll explore their stake and ideas in the overall conflict. The story isn’t anything new, but it’s underpinned well in scenes between the action and remains consistent throughout.
Each campaign has individual missions to tackle, with a total of four commanders to play with though only one campaign is unlocked to begin with. Story segments take place before you dive into the action, which normally consists of a conversation between characters and a breakdown of what the upcoming objective will be. The story isn’t something that is heavily invested in, and whilst I don’t believe that’s incredibly important to this type of game, it’s still a little guilty of being a touch too basic.
Missions themselves take place on a top-down hex-grid map with the objective varying between destroying all units or capturing a base. You’ll have control of various individual VA’s, each with distinctive abilities that you can use to take command of the battlefield and wreak havoc upon the opposing factions mech’s. Each unit’s turn consists of a movement phase, and then an action phase to utilize a variety of skills that can help push your advantage. But of course, the enemy is also fielding similar units so it’s important to get to know the units, their movement distance and what sort of range they have.
The are several VA types chock full of abilities to wrap your head around. It’s a welcome level of depth, but not too overcomplex that it becomes convoluted. For example, basic attack units are called the ‘Havok’, and they have access to a simple 2 range machine gun fire and something that doesn’t require line of sight in its grenade launcher ability. You’ll also have access to scouts, snipers, heavy weapons and artillery VA’s as they gradually unlock through the campaign missions. All units are built with the idea in mind that they can offer some sort of tactical advantage and it all meshes well together to provide a solid tactical experience.
Whilst you might be thinking this sounds rudimentary so far, you’d be incorrect in assuming so. There are various afflictions that your VA’s can fall victim to with immobilisation, viruses and weakened being just a few of the status effects that you’ll encounter. Elements like this can quite quickly change the outcome of an engagement, even more so when you consider there can be a considerable number of units on the battlefield at any given time. Position of your units and knowing your abilities well plays a key part in the success of a mission and I enjoyed getting to know the units as well as the tension that came with seeing my best laid battle plans crumble when I made a misstep.
Some missions will have you tasked with completing the objective with the units you started with, albeit with a set of VA’s that allow you to repair damage. Most missions will give you access to capturable outposts and Eionite refineries. Outposts provide you with the means to call in reinforcements, whilst each refinery will add ten SP to your stockpile which can be used to buy those reinforcements from your outpost. You can capture both neutral and enemy structures, with the latter taking both an allied and enemy turn phase to complete. It adds an interesting layer to the action, making for some pretty unit heavy battling when both you and the enemy are pumping out two or three units a turn.
Each individual commander has various skills that you’ll unlock throughout their campaigns that will give you an advantage under certain conditions. You’ll also build up a resource called CP (Command Points) throughout each mission too, which increases as you take and dish out damage. Once full, each commander has a powerful ability that you can expend your hard-earned CP on to give your units a tactical edge, or should you so choose, the ability to call in a Deity VA. Each commander has one of these, though they can only be called when you control an outpost. These units are exceptionally strong, having access to abilities that can destroy multiple enemies in one move. It’s not all roses though, with enemy factions having access to these powerful units themselves, but since playing games like Zone of Enders I think you’ll agree that commanding a powerful mecha is plenty of fun!
Overall, the tactical element of WARBORN is very well balanced, and there’s plenty of challenge in the missions with various difficulties to choose from dependent on your capability and play style. I don’t think I ever felt overchallenged in my time with the game, but there were still enough tense moments to keep me excited.
Outside of the campaign, you can keep the action going with access to offline skirmishes and multiplayer battling. There’s also a map editor to sink your teeth into and it is both intuitive and easy to use, making map creation an absolute breeze. Player created maps can be used in skirmish and multiplayer mode, offering a bit of variety to keep the game going well past the campaign.
WARBORN doesn’t break any ground visually, but it’s a clear and polished art style that is greatly reminiscent of Advance Wars. The games animations are effective, and the more subtle aspects like craters appearing on unit destruction add to the setting well. The music however is an absolute ball, churning out tracks that are drawn from the mecha anime of the 90s. I must admit that it got me all nostalgic, so kudos to the developers there for capturing that theme so well.
It’s true that WARBORN doesn’t showcase anything new in the turn-based genre, but it plays to its strengths by taking tried and tested concepts and executing them well. While this would be considered a stigma in most cases; I think there’s plenty to WARBORN to justify giving it a chance.
There are areas that let it down slightly, with very little focus on a strong narrative and nothing too exciting in the graphics department. Admittedly, these are pretty small criticisms with neither harming WARBORN’s effective take on the strategy genre.
WARBORN’s nostalgia-laced take on mech-strategy is packed full of fun and enjoyment!