It’s been nearly two years since Nintendo showed off what would later be known as Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the series’ Switch debut. But we’ve gotten zilch on that game since then, so fans might be antsy for a fix while that comes out. If you fit into that category, despair no more, for a potential alternative has arrived in the meantime. Coming from developer/publisher Chucklefish (who also provided early review code), today’s review will be on Wargroove.
Wargroove is a story set from many different perspectives given the fact that a lot of commander units are playable, and each of them have their own point of view in the overarching narrative. There is, however, an arc the game immediately introduces. In the land of Aurania, the king is murdered in cold blood by a dark witch on a stormy afternoon, leaving behind his daughter Mercia, who grows up to become queen and fill the void left by her dead father. Not long after, rival forces begin to cause disarray in the land, and Mercia is thrust into the battlefield to stop their efforts and avenge her father in the process. Sound simple? It is. It’s not an overly deep narrative, and really all things considered it’s rather light hearted. The easiest way to put it: there’s a playable dog, which tells you everything about the game’s tone.
Wargroove is a turn-based strategy game. Half of this section can be covered now by mentioning the obvious parallels with Fire Emblem; unit movement, attack options and classes, movement-affecting terrain, variable objectives, a unit whose death causes an instant loss and an effectiveness chart are all things Fire Emblem fans can recognize and adapt to quickly. The differences are where Wargroove gets interesting. Instead of singular, named units like Fire Emblem, you have one named unit (who has a special ability unique to them, usable after engaging in enough combat) and a bunch of generic red shirts in different classes. Spawning red shirts involves having a barracks to produce said units, while also capturing villages to generate income to afford them, and you can spawn as much as your budget allows. Another difference is critical hits, based not on the almighty random number god, but positioning. For instance, Pikemen land crits when standing adjacent to each other, Bowmen land crits when they don’t have to move, and dogs land crits when in packs surrounding an opponent. The sense of strategy is amped up with changes like these, making for a game which isn’t too easy, but also not hard enough that you’d throw your Switch at a wall.
One notable aspect which arguably does influence the difficulty is no mid-level saves or an undo feature. When you make a move in Wargroove, you’re committing to it, regardless of the consequences, which means that every decision count. The absence of such features may come from an understandable desire to avoid the easy alternative of save scumming, and while it does encourage critical thinking, it does make levels feel a lot longer when a mistaken move can cost you the match; and sometimes the levels can be close to an hour long. It feels like there could’ve been a compromise between having anti-frustration features and preventing the save scumming, such as having a save file which can only be loaded once, thus providing some safety net that isn’t exploitable. Though, to be fair, not only is this not a deal breaker, but there are direct adjustments to the difficulty that can mitigate any frustration, such as altering the amount of damage taken or gold generated during battle, which is a unique idea when most titles would settle for a general Easy to Hard modifier.
Apart from the campaign, there’s three other modes of note. Arcade mode lets you pick any unlocked commander from the campaign to use in a gauntlet of matches, like it is in fighting games. Puzzle mode generates a map and sets a condition for you to accomplish, such as killing a unit, capturing a location, things like that. It’s comparable to the Skill Studies from Fire Emblem Heroes, just a bit more complex.
The real ace up Wargroove’s sleeve is the custom content. You can make your own maps to play in, which is time consuming enough, but if you’re so inclined and have the patience for it, you can build an entire campaign scenario with side quests, co-op and even your own cutscenes, which even just on paper is a staggering time sink for those with imagination. It’s pretty much Mario Maker for strategy games, and it is a wonderful feature. And just to seal the deal, Wargroove has cross play; it’s also available on Xbox and PC, so there won’t be any shortage of levels to download, levels to share, and players to beat up. Wargroove is a very packed game, and then some.
And once you take a break from playing Wargroove…just look at it. The graphical quality in Wargroove is ridiculous, especially since it’s sprite-based. Everything is crisp and fluid, units are distinguishable from one another, there’s a lot of unique animation sets between the commanders, and it’s an overall very pretty game, enhanced by a stable 60fps performance. The music is a tad repetitive at times, but that’s not such a huge deal.
One praiseworthy aspect of Wargroove is the specific options you’re given to play around with. Aside from the aforementioned campaign difficulty options, ten languages are available to switch between at the drop of a hat, there’s different health bar and zoom displays, and most notable of all, a color blind mode. Now, I’m not colorblind at all, but when a game goes the extra mile to accommodate more people, it is very commendable.
Three Houses is still a ways to go before we see it on store shelves, so if you’re hungry for some strategy action, Wargroove is a very viable (and not frequently frustrating) alternative to pass the time. And even beyond the market it’s going for, Wargroove is a damn fine game in general. An easy recommendation.