Turn-based strategy games have never been atop of my favorite genre list. Typically, I play third-person action thrillers, RPGs, and first-person shooters. Throw in the occasional sports or racing game and that is the bulk of my library. So, when presented the opportunity to play a turn-based strategy game, I really had no idea what to expect. Can Warborn make me change my views?
In Warborn, you command an elite unit of 2nd generation Variable Armours, VA’s for short. VA’s are essentially mechs and soldiers with a variety of weapons and skills. Luella Augestein is the first commander you meet in the campaign. She confers in between missions with her confidant Sam. Luella’s unit is tasked with defending multiple cities and inhabitants on the planet Cerulia. The core story line shines a light on protecting democracy from an encroaching aristocracy.
During this first part of the campaign, we are introduced to new enemies types each mission. Once unlocked they become available for your unit too. There is no character-building within the units, with the exception of the allied and opposition commanders. The story evolves with a number of these opposition commanders. And eventually you suit up as them.
I found the story confusing at times, and often would hurry through dialogue to enter gameplay. If you do not care about a story component it can be easily skipped altogether without losing out on much. However, there is quite a bit of depth to it for anyone looking for an intriguing story.
In the first few missions you have a couple basic VA’s to utilize while learning the ropes. Each VA has two primary attack skills and a support skill. For example, the Havok unit is a troop that attacks with a rifle or grenade launcher. It can also capture outposts as the support skill. Each VA has an allowable movement range from two to six spaces on the battlefield.
There are close to a dozen different VA’s to pick from throughout the game. Each mission spawns you with a set amount, but as the battle unfolds there are a few options. Capturing outposts with the Havok (and a few other VA’s) is important to do in early turns. Because you can then deploy more troops when skill points (SP) become available . These are earned by using the various skills of each VA throughout battle.
A few of my favorite VA’s are the Pathfinder, Prospect, and Vanguard. The Pathfinder has the widest movement at 6 spaces and supports the unit by finding proximity mines. Prospects are grenadiers and can attack several enemies at once with an airborne grenade assault. The Vanguard is a heavy-duty VA with a powerful attack when in close quarters. All have their counterbalance as well through. Pathfinders have light armour. Prospects have limited movement. And Vanguards can only attack one space out.
Each type of VA has a different purchase price that ranges from 20 SP to 100 SP. For context, after each turn you should earn 10-20 SP at minimum. There are other types of VA’s such as healers and snipers, all offering unique skills. Save up enough and you can even spawn the commander themself!
Depending on the number of spawned units, initial movement can be a slog. Each VA must be individually moved which can be annoying. This becomes time consuming when trying to advance on the enemies and not use any attacks. Different types of terrain such as city buildings and trees also inhibit movement which slows the game down considerably.
Energy, Kinetic, and Explosive are the three types of damage available. This means defence is variable in Warborn. Each VA type is more susceptible to one of the three, which adds to your strategy on attacks. Some attacks also do less overall damage but weaken armour, giving the next unit to attack the chance at a kill.
The last major gameplay component is Commander Power (CP). Throughout battle your CP meter will slowly fill, giving you the option to activate at 100%. Each commander has a specific power which adds a handful of attack and defence bonuses to all VA’s on the field. Things like increasing max range, covered terrain defence bonus, and higher critical hit rate are a few examples.
There are plenty of choices you can make while at battle. I enjoyed the flow for the most part but do wish movement were a bit easier. With the ultimate goal of destroying all enemies or capturing all opposing structures, the gameplay is pretty straightforward.
Controls, Visuals, & Sound
In Warborn, submenus are your best friend or worst enemy. The overall layout and button configuration is easy enough, but other variables caused me heartburn. Mountains laid across the map and other obstructions led me to never know my movement capability. I often went through a series of menus to plot potential moves, but ended up disappointed when I missed enemy contact by one tile. Group ally select and translucent paths could improve the game immensely.
Visually, Warborn does not offer a ton for the player. The game is clearly inspired by Japanese art styles and is ultimately minimalist. Attacks have special animations and armour power ups are visibly present. There are a few different backdrops to each battlefield, ranging from planet-side to outer space. It is honestly simple but fitting.
As with the visuals, Japanese RPG’s popped into my head when I heard the music. It is upbeat and fun, with attacks and skills all having specials effects. There is no voice dialogue so be prepared to read a lot if following the story.
Other Game Modes
Local skirmish and Xbox Live multiplayer are available for players to explore. Cross-platform play is also present which is a nice surprise. The offline skirmishes are against computer AI and apply the same framework as the campaign. The Xbox Live component allows you to test your skills against other gamers in the Warborn universe. There is an option to play with friends too but requires using a code to do so. Unfortunately, there is no local multiplayer.
Outside of multiplayer, Map Editor is available for the creative soul. You can build a map to your heart’s desires and play it online too. There is a fair amount of customization available and one could easily spend hours crafting the perfect map.
Not knowing what to expect coming in, I can say that I recommend playing Warborn. The gameplay is easy to pick up and gives plenty of options for the veteran strategy gamer. I love having the option to select so many different troops within battle and deciding whether another body is valuable or if I should save for medic support. The sound and visuals are not stunning but feel right for the type of game. Playing against friends certainly would fill an evening, and I hope some of mine pick it up so we can play!
Note: We received a review code from PQube Limited.