Monday, May 11, 2009

Battle for Wesnoth, by BoltAction

Battle for Wesnoth
Real-Time Strategy for the Thrifty and Fun-Loving

Battle for Wesnoth is an open source strategy game available for download here. While I'm not a huge TBS fan, I was drawn to this simple and unpretentious strategy game pitting fantastic medieval armies against one another over a hex-grid. Gameplay is simple enough: you have a leader who sits in your castle, recruiting troops that hop around the board grabbing villages for income, slaying baddies for experience, and taking enemy castles in your name. As your units reach experience thresholds, they advance, becoming more specific and effective troop types, often far better at what they do and frequently just a bit worse at everything else. For example, a human spearman is a general unit, capable in melee and passable at range. Its upgrade options include javelineer (tough shooters that retain melee combat capability), swordsman (eschew first strike options for heavier damage), and pikeman (no ranged capability, but first strike and front-loaded attacks). Swordsmen upgrade further into royal guards, and pikemen into halberdiers, further specialized in their forms of attack. Units have their damage split up over multiple attacks, which they trade in the course of one combat, meaning that while the royal guard deals the most damage over his five strikes, the halberdier is much better at disposing of an enemy without being wounded himself, dealing only slightly less damage but using only two or threee attacks.

The mix of terrain and time-of-day options adds more interesting ways to play than just overwhelming an opponant. Chaotic units, such as undead, are more effective at night, while lawful ones, such as humans, are better during the day. Needless to say, elves are better at fighting in forests, and so on. Some units, such as the undead shadow and elven ranger, gain additional options depending on terrain and time of day, which encourages flexibility of play style and awareness of positioning based on the battle conditions. Of course, all too often the campaign simply ends up as "I've got a ton of experienced troops from previous scenarios - let's roll over the enemy like a steamroller over a turkey!" One quip: why is a side dependant on its leader's hanging back in the base recruiting units when logically he should be mopping the floor with the blood-soaked corpses of his enemies? Especially for orcs, the idea of an administrator-lord seemed inappropriate.

The game's graphics are a little bit cartoonish, and the plotlines of its many campaigns are fun, if not very original. Though these slight faults can diminish enjoyment for the connoisseur, the multitude of campaigns, sheer number of online scenarios, and variety of units and factions combine to give Battle for Wesnoth excellent replay value. The game's simple play style makes it fun, accessible, and, unlike many of the strategy games out there, transparent. On the whole, well worth the brief download and install time.

Gameplay: 18/20
Storyline: 16/25
Graphics: 1/5
Streamlined: 10/10
Innovation: 7/15
Fun: 18/25

Overall: 70/100

For the Optimists:
-Fun, comprehensible strategy game
-Cute + free + simple = kid-friendly
-High replayability

For the Pessimists:
-Graphics unimpressive
-Story uninventive
-Not very exciting

I, BoltAction, recommend Battle for Wesnoth if you're into open source games, like turn-based strategy fantasy, or are just looking for a simple, free game to suck up some time.

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