Game Review #524: Warborn (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Developer: Raredrop Games
Category: Turn-Based Strategy
Release Date: 6.12.2020
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Buy Warborn from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
I have recently lamented the lack of a successor to Advance Wars on the Nintendo Switch. Apparently, Raredrop Games heard my cries, and traveled back in time to begin development of a game that would make my dreams come true only a few short weeks later. Warborn for the Nintendo Switch takes everything that works about the Advance Wars formula and kicks it up a notch by adding the one thing that makes everything cooler; giant robots. While I had never consciously considered it, I realize now that a version of Advance Wars that is also an 80s giant robot anime is basically everything I ever wanted in a video game.
Machines Born For War
Warborn takes place in and around the planet Cerulia, its story wafting through Cerulia’s many different climates, some orbiting space colonies, and all the way out to the Zones. Across the game’s forty-plus missions, players will take control of four different factions and chase their disparate, sometimes conflicting goals. The first act follows mercenary outfit NOMAD and its ace pilot Luella as they move from job to job, coming into conflict with the various other factions. The second act starts with Vincent and his forces from the Nethalis colonies hot on the heels of NOMAD trying to figure out if they’re connected to a mysterious force of unmanned VAs (variable armors, the game’s term for giant robots) involved in a string of attacks against the colony’s supply convoys. The third act follows Aurielle, head of security for the Krukov Mining Corporation out in the Zones, as she tracks pirates attacking her company’s outposts. Finally, Izol of the Cerulian military brings things home by trying to discover and eliminate the source of the unmanned Vas once and for all.
The story has its twists and turns, as certain storylines weave themselves through the different characters’ arcs. The characters don’t have the most-developed personalities I’ve ever encountered in a strategy game, but they all find a way to remain likeable throughout, even when they’re on opposite sides of the fight. The plot itself unfolds like a classic 80s mecha anime – a la Gundam – with aces and nameless cannon fodder alike clashing on the battlefield amidst greater political intrigue. The setting is naturally developed as the story progresses; if you don’t quite understand what the characters mean when they talk about “the Zones” in the early acts, by the time you hit Aurielle’s missions in act three you’ve got a great understanding of the sector’s geography – or astronomy, I guess, since it’s in space.
Mechaphiles Meet Hex Tiles
There are three phases to every mission; phase one is a (usually) short visual novel-style cutscene explaining the scenario and setting, while phase three is the same thing except it explains the fallout from the preceding battle and introduces some things that move the story forward. Phase two is where the fun lives; that’s the actual battles. Hex grids seem like they’re all the rage nowadays, and Warborn follows that trend. Like Advance Wars and similar games, units are generated from base tiles captured by your units, and the resources to purchase them are generated by eionite refinery tiles captured by your units. You and your opponent take turns moving your armies and attacking. When you’ve moved all the units you want to move or made all the attacks you want to/are able to, you can end your turn. Your turn automatically ends when you’ve exhausted all of your VAs’ actions and you don’t have a base that can still produce a unit.
Your units are giant robots called variable armors, or VAs for short. Each VA has three unique actions it can take on a player’s turn. Most units have two types of attack and one special ability that provides a buff. Some units, most notably the Aegis, have three special abilities instead. The Aegis is the repair VA; its three abilities heal damage, increase another VA’s armor, and increase another VA’s damage. While all VAs have one thousand hit points, they don’t all take damage at the same rate; there are three different types of attacks (explosive, electric, and kinetic), and every VA has a corresponding defense rating against those types. Matching damage types against armor wasn’t a huge part of my strategy, but it did make certain units harder to kill if you relied too heavily on one type of VA.
Making Mecha Moves
Moving through different terrain effects your units’ movement; the tradeoff is that the more movement is restricted by a tile, the more defense bonuses you get. Hiding in a city tile means you won’t be able to move very fast, but your opponents won’t do nearly as much damage as they would on an open field. I enjoy the armor bonuses, but I often felt like the movement penalties were fairly severe, especially on larger maps. Some of the slower maps could only inch along one hex at a time if they had to move through a knot of city tiles, meaning I had to slow my whole army down to keep my heavy attackers close to my healers.
Managing your positions is an important part of your strategy, but there is kind of one glaring issue with the single player campaign in terms of its tactical challenge: the AI just isn’t that smart. It doesn’t seem to understand how to choose the order in which its units act in order to maximize its soldiers’ abilities. For instance, the Novus VA has an ability that reduces enemy VAs’ defense rating. Even on hard, the AI was constantly attacking me with a different unit first and then using the Novus’s disintegrate armor attack on me second, notably in situations where if it had used the ability first, it would have destroyed my VA. So, while I really, really like the setting, story, and unit variety, the difficulty level can sometimes feel lacking. I’m not that smart; but if I can spot such a huge fault in the AI’s strategy, it might not be very good either.
I Need A Hero
Each act focuses on a different faction, and with each faction comes a unique hero unit. These heroes are often – but not always – deployed by default in their stupid-powerful VAs, but they can be summoned at a base if you fill the commander points meter. Alternatively, you can use your hero’s special ability with the CP meter instead, granting your VAs a universal power-up that lasts an entire turn – even during your enemy’s phase. Each hero also gains special passive abilities that enhance your army as the storyline progresses. They each have their own strengths; Luella is an all-rounder, Vincent has a melee focus, Aurielle enhances healing abilities and buffs, and Izol focuses on defense. Their different VAs are pretty darn cool, too, and to reiterate, they are all STUPID POWERFUL. Izol in particular is a freaking one-man wrecking crew.
Custom Maps and Multiplayer
Sadly, as I’m writing this review from an advance copy (OK, it’s not that sad – it’s actually really awesome and makes me feel super special, but bear with me), I wasn’t really able to experience the multiplayer portions very much. I wasn’t able to find any games when I searched for one online – but again, I was playing a few days before the game even launched. I guess I couldn’t synch up with any of my fellow reviewers when they were searching for a game. What makes it even more of a shame is that Warborn features a fairly robust map editor. The number of different tiles isn’t huge, by any means, but it’s a cool feature and I really liked playing around with it. Local multiplayer is also available, but social distancing meant that mode stayed unplayed as well. Grr.
Kidō Senshi Warborn
I talked already about how much I loved the game’s setting from a storyline standpoint, but for real: I love this game’s whole aesthetic. It is a picture-perfect homage to classic real robot mecha anime like Mobile Suit Gundam or Armored Trooper VOTOMS. The VAs feature awesome designs, and while the character portraits sport a slightly rough art style, they still scratch that anime itch rather well. Most importantly, the music is fantastic. I knew the game would sound amazing from the title screen, where I was greeted by an energetic, inspiring theme that let me know from the word “Go” that I was in for the tactical mecha anime experience I’ve been dreaming of.
I Was Warborn For This
I freakin’ love this game. It’s a hex-based Advance Wars with giant robots and an absolutely killer soundtrack. I mean, how does that combination of words not make you want to run to the eShop and buy it right now? The AI is a little lacking, and sometimes the game can get sort of slow in large maps with lots of city tiles, but that’s as much as I can find to say against it. It’s fun to play, with a diverse array of cool-looking robots with a diverse array of abilities and tactical uses. When the game actually launches, you’ll even be able to test yourself against players from around the world online. I. Freakin. Love. This. Game.
Buy Warborn from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes