The Battle for Wesnoth
+ Absolutely Free.
+ Bags and bags of content.
+ Engaging strategic gameplay.
- Occasional writing clunk.
- Aesthetics may not be to your taste, tad "retro".
- Typical RNG-based frustrations.
The Battle for Wesnoth, for the many of you I’m sure who don’t know, is a turn-based fantasy-themed strategy game for the PC (and now tablet) which you can go and download right now. Usually I would go on for a bit longer before making the final recommendation, but since this game is completely free to download, has no advertising, no micro-transactions and no connectivity requirements, then really, you should just start downloading it now. It’s got cutesy, sprite-based graphics so it won’t take you that long. Go on, I’ll start a new paragraph while you set it off.
The game plays from a top down perspective as you command various troops around the battlefield, competing for the villages that bring you income with which to support your troops, as well as the best defensive positions available – castles tending to be a safe bet for most unit types, but some units, like Elves or Dwarves, do better on certain terrain. I’ll leave you to guess which. Troops making an attack against an enemy usually have multiple choices of weapon, perhaps trading off between a damage type your enemy is vulnerable against vs. having more attacks to throw out if one big swing won’t cut it. Some attacks also cause poisoning or other effects, while making an attack your enemy has no counter against – such as shooting at a swords-only Orc – is met by no counter attack. Once a unit’s gained enough experience, it levels up to an upgraded version, sometimes with a choice in what they become – a Horseman may chose to become a Knight or a Lancer, for example.
Wesnoth’s v1.0 release was in 2006, but I came to the party a few years later, when the map editor and multiplayer features had been added. Back then, there were around a dozen campaigns to play through, varying in length from short eight map tutorials for the Elven faction, to the twenty-odd scenarios detailing the rise of the titular Kingdom of Wesnoth, and its contentions over the throne many years later. Combine that with the skirmish maps where you simply pick a faction, pick a map and then play, and you can see that Wesnoth gives you more content than most AAA releases these days. It even includes an Add-Ons browser in the main menu where you can download player-created content like new factions, campaigns and multiplayer maps.
You get so much game for you money (which is nothing, its free, remember?) that it reminds me a lot of older PC games from when I first started out in the hobby – the Heroes of Might & Magic series in particular, another turn-based fantasy-strategy with map editor and skirmish modes. Also like older games, at times the writing can be overlong or a little clunky, with the written conversations between characters flicking back and forth between their sprites for just a little longer than necessary. However, I’d call that a pitfall of the fantasy genre as a whole, rather than Wesnoth in particular, which does the job of breaking it up and filling it with nicely drawn characters.
Aside from the occasional hiccup in the writing, Wesnoth’s only other detracting feature is its reliance on the random number generator, the percentile chance of your attacks hitting or missing depending on your enemy’s defence bonus. Like other games with a random element, such as Darkest Dungeon, it can at times be sadistic – your Elven Archer with a 70% dodge in the forests being struck by every clumsy Orc Warrior who tries, or your Grand Mage, whose magical fireballs always have a 70% hit chance, missing every single blast. But it’s perhaps my love affair with Darkest Dungeon that’s made me save-scum Wesnoth a little less these days – managing your losses is an important part of the game, and you’ll only frustrate yourself by loading the game up too much. I’m not mental though. If my favourite unit’s on the line I will load an earlier save and move him out of danger – if you make a bad move, the game doesn’t punish you for loading your saves and coming up with a new strategy.
All in all, you couldn’t ask for a better game to add to your collection, especially if you’re on a budget. With weeks’ worth of vanilla campaigns, skirmishes and the modding community, The Battle for Wesnoth could be a game you never uninstall, or just something to bridge the gap before everything gets grimdark in Total War: Warhammer.