Thursday, August 30, 2012

Battle For Wesnoth (Video Game Review)

I've spent much of my summer looking for free games to play, most of which are MMOs that still retain some kind of money-making scheme. The alternative is open source games, which are completely free and have no money-making scheme. The problem with these games is, because they have little or no money being put into them, they tend to be low-budget, crappy affairs.

The exception to this rule, I believe, is a little game called "Battle For Wesnoth", a fantasy, turn-based strategy game in which you command your units on the field of battle in a quest to destroy the forces of evil. Fighters, elves, mages and clerics, this game has all the core fantasy character concepts you'd expect.

The graphic design has the 2-D "spritey" quality of the Super Nintendo era, but with modern, high definition that results in smoother lines and a much cleaner look. The animations are very simple, but still charming, as skeleton warriors can be seen juggling their own heads from time to time while waiting for orders.

That said, this game is far from having cutting edge graphics. When compared to modern console games... well it just doesn't remotely compare. So if that's an important part of your experience, you'll want to steer clear.

Wesnoth has better music than we have any right to expect from an open source game. Although the orchestral score uses synthetic sounds, this is true of most video game scores. The music is epic, militant or moody depending on the circumstances, and enhances the story and overall experience.

Speaking of story, while Battle For Wesnoth doesn't have the most gripping story or characters, the pacing is very well executed. Before each scenario, a part of the story plays out, mainly through the use of text accompanied by large (and beautiful) character portraits. But the game doesn't settle for a brief set up followed by a long battle. Instead, as key objectives are achieved or as new areas are discovered in the "fog of war" exploration of the map, small scenes interrupt the action to re-engage players with the story. And though I don't find the story captivating, I appreciate the effort to make the game story-driven.

Strategy board gamers and fans of Final Fantasy Tactics will probably be especially drawn to this game. The landscape is based on a hex design, with different types of terrain effecting movement in positive or negative ways, depending on the type of unit passing over them. Units are allotted a certain number of movement points and combat hits and damage are randomized by the computer after factoring the strengths and weaknesses of both units involved.

There are dozens of scenarios, both included with the game and created by other users, boasting approximately 300 hours of free gameplay! Each scenario also offers 2-3 levels of difficulty, and at least two campaigns are designed to help new players learn the game.

After one or two scenarios, everything clicks and makes sense. The game is not overly complicated, but still offers plenty of strategy. Primarily, you'll be claiming village territories, which then support your battle efforts with added gold every turn. Gold is used to recruit different types of units.
As units take part in combat, they receive experience points toward leveling up into advanced versions of their current class, or sometimes a new class if you choose to send them down a different branch of advancement.

The game also has an interesting night and day mechanic, which adjusts the combat odds for or against you and your enemies, depending on your units' alignment. (Chaotic units do better at night, lawful untis do better in the day.)

You can save the game at any given moment, making it easy to pick up and put down as you like. The game is also downloaded to your computer, so once you install it, there is no internet connection required unless you want to download additional scenarios.

I highly doubt that any spiritually worthwhile conversation or thought will be provoked by Battle For Wesnoth. I've put in well over five hours and haven't run into any interesting ideas or metaphors. This game isn't ever trying to say anything. It's purpose is to let you be the commanding hero in a battle against evil, and not much more.

The game is available for PC, Mac and Linux, and for a small fee you can get it on your i-phone (though I've heard that version is a little buggy, and besides, this is The Summer Of Free anyway).

My scoring for free games ignores the fact that they are free and treats them like any other game I've paid for. (These days, time is often more precious to me than money.) So even with what might not be considered a stellar Quality score, this game is WAAAY better than I think we have any right to expect from a free, open source game. Do yourself a favor and don't miss trying it out!

Quality: 8.5/10

Relevance: 5.0/10

Battle For Wesnoth Website

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