Wargroove is a runaway train of turn-based tactical splendor, but should it have spent longer in the station? Let’s find out.
Wargroove’s story focuses around an assassination, an ancient war and an evil weapon that your protagonists set out to find and destroy. To mention any more than that would be to rob you of the experience of discovering the story yourself. I will say, though, that I wasn’t expecting to care much for the story when I first jumped in, but I was gladly mistaken.
Adding to this, one of the many great things about Wargroove is that the developers have included campaign and cutscene editors. Using these, you can create your own story, but it doesn’t end there. You can download other people’s custom campaigns, so the stories are as limitless as the playerbase’s imaginations!
If you haven’t watched my “11+ reasons to be excited about” video on Wargroove, I recommend it if you want more backstory on the franchise and what the game includes. To summarise briefly, though, Wargroove is a turn-based strategy game of a similar ilk to Fire Emblem and Advance Wars.
You capture villages to receive a regular income of gold, spend the gold to recruit infantry, cavalry, artillery, and so on. Every unit is strong against certain other units but weak to another. It goes a bit further than the familiar “rock-paper-scissors” triangle you see in Fire Emblem, simply due to the variety of units, but a basic example of this would be: dogs beat soldiers, soldiers are effective against archers – up close, that is – and archers beat dogs. I did find, unfortunately, that the icons to indicate what a unit is effective and weak against are too small. You can use the codex as a reference to learn more, but it would have been nice if they were more obvious.
Your goal in each mission you play is usually to defeat the enemy commander or their stronghold, but occasionally you’ll need to flee to safety or rescue villagers. This variety was welcome in the Campaign but did leave Arcade mode feeling a little 1 dimensional, as you only ever have 1 objective there: defeat 5 commanders in a row. It didn’t capture my interest, but I can see the appeal.
There’s a myriad of modes to play in Wargroove, though, and I particularly enjoyed Puzzle Mode. These little 1-turn scenarios have you bending the battlefield to your will to complete your goal. From what I could tell, there’s only 1 solution per puzzle, and this makes completing them incredibly rewarding.
Something that really surprised me was the map editor. I’m not usually one for level editors – I mucked about a bit with Halo 3’s Forge back in the day, but that’s about the extent of my creativity. Wargroove’s map editor had me hooked, though. The UI is intuitive, you can really get creative with the units, tiles, and scenery that can be placed, and you can even turn your levels into their own campaigns, complete with unique cutscenes and secret triggers. It’s certainly not perfect – I wish there was a button to rotate whatever you’re holding, but there doesn’t seem to be one – but it’s a tonne of fun and caught me by surprise.
As much as I enjoyed the rewarding, tactical gameplay, I couldn’t help but feel that something was off. Compared to the fluid, dynamic combat system that Into The Breach brought to the Switch last year, WarGroove feels a little restrictive and unforgiving. You don’t have the option of moving multiple units and THEN deciding what action they should take, and there’s no ‘undo’ or ‘reset turn’ option. One accidental button press 2 hours into a mission can completely ruin the entire operation. If you slip up and leave your knight in range of a pikeman then you’ll lose a unit and your positional advantage on the battlefield, but if you leave your commander in a vulnerable position then it’s game over. I had this happen a couple of times, and it’s incredibly disheartening to lose hours of progress to a simple misinput.
This was fine for shorter missions, I was often able to get an S rank on my first attempt, but I had to repeat some missions 5 or more times before I could complete them. This might be exactly the slow-paced trial of methodical planning that hardcore veterans are looking for, but it’s worth noting that even some of the earliest story missions will take 20-30 turns of near-perfect decision making.
Some people thrive on challenge, but I can definitely see this being too punishing for some. Fortunately, there’s an excellent set of difficulty sliders that let you tailor the campaign experience to your level. You can increase or decrease the how much damage you take, how much gold you receive each turn, and how quickly your commander’s Groove power will charge. The lead designer and CEO of Chucklefish even released a tweet advocating their use.
There’s little incentive to increase any of these, except for personal bragging rights, perhaps, but decreasing them inhibits your ability to get 3 stars on a mission: the most you can get on easy mode is 1. Returning to the CEO’s tweet for a second, I just want to highlight the second point he made: “Ranking is based on how few turns it takes to complete a map.”
This doesn’t quite sit right with me, because the number of units you defeat or lose aren’t taken into account, you’re just scored on how quickly you complete the mission. It’s this approach that meant Valkyria Chronicles was broken by “Scout Rush” – people will find the quickest way to end the level and throw careful tactics aside. I just wish there was more to the ranking system, but it probably won’t affect many players.
If I sound critical, it’s only because I loved playing Wargroove, and I hope the developers can extend the love and care they’ve put into crafting the game, into some quality of life patches. If they were to include some flexibility in how you can move your units or the option to undo a mistake, this would easily be my favourite strategy game, by far. Thankfully, Chucklefish is already listening to feedback by the looks of it, so hopefully, these gripes will be addressed in the future.
The audio is incredible; a real delight. Not only are the songs epic in scale and grandeur, but the sounds of battle are all well-done, too. The clangs of swords and the rumble of wooden siege engines never feel dull or out of place, the sound team clearly put a lot of love and attention into the audio. I’ll leave a link here for one of the brilliant songs in the soundtrack so you can get an idea of what to expect. We also interviewed Phonetic Hero, the soundtrack’s composer, which you can read here if you’re interested.
Though the cutscenes in-game are mostly text, they are interspersed with some lines of voice acting, too. For the amount of text in the game, I think this was a good compromise. It would have been an exhausting, costly task to have every line of dialogue fully voiced, and the morsels you do get really liven up the cutscenes on their own.
Visuals & Performance
The animations, sprites, cutscenes, and commanders in Wargroove are all gorgeous. Admittedly, the pixel-art style on display doesn’t quite have the same visual wonder that it did 2 years ago on announcement, but you can hardly blame Chucklefish for the slew of other pixel-art games that have released since then.
There’s no touchscreen control option, which would have been especially perfect for the map editor, but alas, this is a multiplatform release and it would have taken the developers significant time and resources to code this into Wargroove for just the Switch version. The game runs perfectly in handheld mode and was surprisingly kind on the battery, which is nice to see.
Wargroove costs a measly $19.99 USD or £15.99 in the UK, which, for the extensive content included is frankly a steal. I would have happily paid more, and we also have price parity, across all systems which is always a bonus. Thanks to the hours and hours of replay value and the comparatively low price, it gets full marks for value – and that’s a rating I’ve never given before.
Tonnes of modes, hours of content
Excellent sound and visuals
Rewarding tactical gameplay
Custom content and multiplayer modernise the traditional format
Mistakes are very punishing