Now playing: Battle for Wesnoth
Sunday, May 20, 2007 3:49:38 PM
One day I've found Battle for Wesnoth. First impression was not too good. The game appeared to be very simple, covering only some basic aspects of TBS. Some time later I gave BfW a second try - and removed it from my hard drive very quickly. But next day something told me to try one more time BUT to read help files and the manual first. And I got hooked up.
Battle for Wesnoth is a turn-based strategy game, with fantasy background. It's rather a "generic fantasy", without any special twists or themes. There ale elves and dwarves, wizards and druids, necromancers who summon undead (skeletons, zombies, etc.), there are dragons, knights, orcs and some other creatures. Most of them is playable, as there are six factions you can play and each of them has its own set of units.
I don't want to write here about graphics, music and all the technical details. For me a good game is a playable one and it doesn't matter if it has full motion video cut scenes or not. Just take a look at Pong ;). Graphics in BfW are nice and - what's the most important - functional. They do what they are to do. The same goes for sound effects and music, although a couple more of in-game tunes would be nice. I've been playing BfW for more than two months now and as far as I remember the game crashed once (when I tried to load a save game during turn switch, but it never happened again), so it's stable. The user interface is clear and well designed, that goes also for built-in help system (with tooltips!).
Design of BfW follows the KISS principle. The mechanics of the game are simple, but sophisticated enough to provide challenging gameplay. Units are described by a handful of attributes (unit type, health points, experience, used weapons and damage dealt during attack) and skills and traits. A nice feature is that every single unit has its own name and damage values and health points vary a bit from unit to unit (depends on personal traits and unit "personality"). There are around 200 types of units. The only thing I lack is a spell list for magic wielders. In BfW mages, druids and similar units just deal ranged magical attacks of various types, no spell list.
Simple, isn't it? But it's really enough to provide rich environment that enforces players to think. And it takes a lot of time to master BfW. The key to success is to learn how to play certain units and how to use terrain to gain advantage. Each type of terrain has defense value - the higher, the better and the value is different for different units. There's also day time factor: some creatures fight better at night and have combat penalties during daytime. Rush tactics won't work, it's not enough to have more units than your opponent to win. And you can succeed with less units if you play them well - a single archer on a good spot can be a real pain in the ass. And BfW is not a game of "sacrifice a unit, get another cheap" - it really pays back for keeping your soldiers alive. Every unit has an experience count and can level up, gaining on strength, obtaining new abilities and such. There's finally some use for units with healing skills. During the game it's important to know when to withdrawn units from the first line and send reserves to battle.
To complicate things a bit there is another factor: economy. You need gold to buy and upkeep units. And to get gold you have to capture a village. The more you own, the more gold you get each turn (and in campaigns you keep part of your treasury after each scenario). Controlling villages is another key to success. You may have many strong units, but if you have no money because the enemy captured your villages and your offensive won't break through enemy lines, you've already lost.
The last main factor is limited number of turns the payer gets to finish certain scenario. That was the main reason I didn't like BfW at first. But after a couple of games I've started to appreciate that. Fist, it's a clever way to enforce play at all. You just can't stay in your castle and gather forces. Second, it makes player to play fast and aggressively and makes the game a lot more interesting. An average number of turns per scenario is about 30, which makes the game fast and exciting It's "act or die" like on a real battlefield.
Battle for Wesnoth is all about gameplay. It's simple, but not too simple - the complexity of the game is well balanced to make it entertaining and demanding and not to overwhelm player with details, numbers and statistics. It's easy to start playing, but to it takes time to master the game. It's really about tactics, you have to exploit all disadvantages of your enemy to win. As I mentioned above "the more the better" doesn't work here and high level units can't win battle alone.
There are lots and lots of nice details in BfW that player can discover during play, like random generated maps, magical artifacts and some really nasty monsters. What's more, there are six official campaigns included in current version of BfW (1.2.4). They present various difficulty levels but the storyline of those campaigns is well done and entertaining. And it's a good way to learn how to play and find out about various aspects of BfW world (its history, inhabitants and more). Of course one can play random maps with A.I. And computer plays well.
Last but not least: BfW has multiplayer mode. And that's where the real fun begins. Although available campaigns are usually polished and well done, nothing can replace live online head to head combat. There is a set of multiplayer maps supporting up to 9 players. What is more there's a number of special maps designed for providing roleplaying experience (explore and loot) or... for playing some kind of football game (yup, with knights and mages).
Maps designed for multiplayer vary from small and fast dedicated to small skirmishes to vast fields ideal for epic battles. But most of them (most of, as I had no time to try them all) provide great fun and are well constructed. It's a real pleasure to play on them. Of course playing with real opponents differs a bit from playing versus A.I., but hours spent on playing the campaigns pay back.
BfW is an open source project. So it's free and everyone can contribute to make the game better. There's also a number of user-made maps and campaigns and a growing international community (the game is available in many different languages).
Battle for Wesnoth is a synonym of simplicity and good design combined with high playability. And game mechanics are sophisticated enough to make the play very interesting and very challenging. There are no useless unit attributes here. Of course, a bit more of interactivity would be welcomed but BfW is a shiny example how to make a good fantasy TBS. And besides all other factors Battle for Wesnoth is about fun - as every good game should be. Give it a try.
Official web page: www.wesnoth.org