I’ve known about Battle for Wesnoth for a few years now, but I never took the time to actually try out it for more than a few minutes. I’m seeing now that may have been a mistake, it seems I was missing out on a pretty good game.
Battle for Wesnoth is free; free as in open-source and free as money. That may trigger some kind of bad response from you, surely a game that has been worked on over many years by dozens of people in their free time will feel all weird and inconsistent. But somehow it doesn’t. In fact, it feels as consistent and polished as any other retail game, actually, I’ve played a lot of retail games that were less consistent and less polished. So however they’re managing it, they’re doing a really good job.
I was playing the version of the game available for the Pandora and the game was clearly designed to be controlled with the keyboard and mouse. It does plays pretty well using the analogue nubs, and the keys have also been rebound in a way that makes at least some sense, although it takes some time to learn them. You usually have multiple ways of accomplishing something, and if you right-click (the mouse buttons are mapped to the right analogue nub) you’ll be presented with a menu that also shows the controls for each command. This made the game more accessible by letting me play the game without actually knowing most of the controls, learning them as I went.
The controls aren’t the only thing that’s accessible. They also have a short tutorial to introduce you to the game. I actually played the tutorial a couple years ago and still remembered how to play when I tried it out again, so clearly it did a decent job of teaching me how to play.
The gameplay itself is quite simple to learn as well. You have a hexagonal grid that makes up a level, and you take turns moving around your characters in the map. You capture buildings which give you gold and heal your units, and if you try to move to a space occupied by an enemy you will begin to attack them.
The outcome of an attack sometimes feels down to chance a bit too much. This feeling may be strengthened by the fact that they list the probable outcomes of the fight if you click a button asking for them. I was a bit disappointed by this at first, if felt like the lucky guy would always win. And as I played through one of the shorter campaigns I began to feel like I was one unlucky guy.
Then I realised something. I was letting the enemy take all the buildings on the map without any kind of resistance. I thought I didn’t need the gold – I had already recruited all the units I wanted for the map – but they did need the gold, and I was letting them have it. On top of that, I didn’t realize that the gold I earned on each map would partially carry over to the next, so I was depriving my future self of gold that I would need. With this in mind, I started the campaign from the beginning and began to find that I wasn’t the unlucky guy that I thought I was. With more gold during the later parts of the game, I was able to recruit more units and for once the odds were in my favour.
If I had one complaint with this game, it would be the story. Though it’s not even the story itself, as each campaign kind of seems to have it’s own story (and I haven’t played them all) but it’s the characters. You see, with the ability to recruit new people all the time, you tend not to care a whole lot whether they die or not. Especially if you just recruited them and they have no experience. Although you can recall your units, and eventually you can train them and begin to get familiar with them, but you’ll never learn their name and you’ll only care that they died because it represents a loss of time needing to retrain another unit.
Any time I lost a character in one of the GBA Fire Emblem games, I would restart the mission from the beginning because I couldn’t stand to lose them. Another example is Dragon Age: Origins, which takes this even further. By the end of that game you really feel like you know the characters. I’m pretty sure the only reason I finished that game is because I wanted my main character to succeed, not because I wanted to see the ending.
To add to this, loss of life is also made less dramatic by the fact that the game autosaves every turn and the ability to return to the previous turn is only a couple clicks away. Anyway, I would have abused the quick save if they hadn’t done it automatically but it does add to that feeling that many of your characters are nothing more than pawns to be sacrificed.
Of course that feeling is just fine in multiplayer. If you were to get attached to your characters there, it would make a loss even more devastating as you watch your units get slain one by one. I haven’t tried it yet, but I will eventually. It’s just that the wireless on the Pandora tends to be a bit unreliable and I don’t want to be the slow guy because I don’t have a mouse.
This game sure has a lot of value to it. It’s free and I’m sure the campaigns alone have 50 hours of gameplay or more to them. And if you’re into multiplayer, that could go on forever. Although I’m pretty sure you’d get bored of it after a while, it’s a pretty decent distraction in the meantime.
You can get the game here.