Wargroove is a long awaited tactical RPG published and developed by Chucklefish Games. It’s not as accessible to newcomers as it could be, and doesn’t do anything new for the genre, but it goes above and beyond to do everything well with its tight gameplay mechanics and substantial amount of content.
Developer & Publisher: Chucklefish Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by Publisher
Interface: Controller or Mouse and Keyboard
Available on Nintendo Switch eShop, Microsoft Store, Steam, and coming soon to the PlayStation Store.
Wargroove has you play as Queen Mercia, who has fled her home of Cherrystone Kingdom due to the untimely death of her father and the start of a war. Mercia then must seek allies from all over the world to put an end to the war once and for all. The story of Wargroove is relatively typical for a fantasy based strategy title, but the characters themselves are quite charming and all have distinct personalities. Ranging from serious, to silly, to heartfelt — most often the latter two –one can’t help but smile during all the character interactions in cutscenes between missions.
As a strategy game, players always have a at least one commander as well as handful of different units at their disposal. These units consists of typical fodder such as soldiers, knights, rangers and more, with mythical creatures such as golems, harpies, and dragons introduced later, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. All factions have the same units, but go by different names in each. For example, while the harpies are called such in the Cherrystone Kingdom, while the Felheim Legion calls that same type of unit Vampires, despite being exactly the same in every way except color. This is a little off putting at first, but since the order of units is the same on every list no matter which faction you’re playing as, it doesn’t take long to realize that all armies are the same.
The goal of most battles is either to defeat the commander or destroy the stronghold, while capturing villages and defeating enemy units on the way. Additional goals can include getting villagers to safety, rescuing and recruiting prisoners, and more. When neutral, villages can be captured automatically once a player send a close enough unit to it and it then will obtain half of that units health, but if the village has already been captured by the enemy the village first must have its health depleted. The more villages that are captured, the more money is gained for your next turn, allowing you to call upon stronger units you may not have had at the start of the battle. Barracks and towers work the same way, but have the additional benefit of allowing players to call for one additional unit as long as they have the money for it, with capturing multiple allowing you to call one unit per captured deployment building each turn if you so choose.
Each commander has a “Groove,” a special technique which takes some time to fully charge up. These grooves can range from healing and stat boosting ally units surrounding the commander, creating obstacles, summoning additional units and more. While some can help turn the tide of battle, some grooves aren’t nearly as useful as others, only helping with specific situations you may find yourself in. Because grooves stay the same throughout the entire campaign and aren’t upgraded in any way they tend to become less helpful over time, particularly when you have alternative options to help you accomplish your goal without having to worry about the limited scope a specific groove has.
Most battles take place primarily on land, but Naval battles are introduced later on in the campaign and introduce naval units such as mermen, sea turtles, and ships. Naval battles are then mixed in with land battles, adding a variety of different strategies you can plan. In the late game, it’s understandable that some naval areas would be included for variety, but since by that point you have units that can fly over both land and water with better maneuverability compared to the naval units, having mixed battlefields for several levels feels unnecessary.
There are also difficulty sliders for damage received, money earned, and groove charge in the campaign to adjust the difficulty if you feel the normal difficulty is either too easy or too hard. Easier difficulties grant players only one star rankings in each battle, and since you need 100 to unlock the epilogue, you’ll be missing out if you only play the easy mode and don’t go back and replay missions on a higher difficulty. On the other hand, harder difficulties don’t give any additional rewards, so overall it may just be best to play on the default difficulty depending on your familiarity with the genre. Being a newcomer to the genre, I had to adjust the difficulty slightly so I could actually progress, but it gets easier over time once you understand how all units work and can figure out the “dos and don’ts” of battle. The difficulty sliders don’t feel as finely tuned as they could be though, and it made my army feel almost too powerful, specifically when a golem killed itself from attacking one of my villages. An undo move button that lets players retract accidental moves would also be a welcome addition.
* As of writing, Chucklefish has revealed an upcoming patch which will change the sliders to five preset options — Story, Easy, Medium, Hard, and Custom — as well as a Confirm End Turn button.
In addition to campaign mode, there’s also a single player arcade mode where players can play as one of 13 commanders — unlocked by completing main missions and side missions throughout the campaign– through a series of battles against other commanders. This give you a chance to play as the different commanders and factions after first trying them out in the campaign and seeing whose groove you like best. Completing missions in Arcade will also unlock music tracks you can listen to at the Jukebox, a feature many games don’t have these days. For players who really want to test their mettle, there’s also a puzzle mode where battles have to be completed in a single turn.
Wargroove also has a create mode where players can create their own custom maps, campaigns, and even cutscenes, all of which can be shared with other players online. In addition to this, Wargroove has a multiplayer feature for two to four players either online or locally, with both competitive as well as co-op play as well as cross play between Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One. While multiplayer is only available for certain in-game maps and custom maps, the ability to play the single player campaign and arcade with another player would be a well appreciated addition, teaching both players the mechanics before trying out the other modes.
While Wargroove is simple enough to learn and more difficult to master, a few in-game rules don’t make much sense. Some flying enemies can’t attack other flying enemies: Dragons can’t attack harpies or other dragons and harpies can’t attack dragons, but wraiths can attack all other flying enemies as long as they’re within range. Otherwise, the limits of each type of unit are understandable and well balanced, so no one unit ever feels overpowered even if some are slightly stronger than others.
Wargroove is an exceptional strategy RPG that does everything expected of it and more. It might not twist the genre in any way that stands out among the rest, but everything else it has to offer shows that it’s a prime example of the high quality games in the genre are capable of. The sheer amount of content Wargroove provides even before finishing the campaign will likely have both longtime fans and newcomers playing it for years to come.