Battle for Wesnoth is a tactical Strategy game that takes place in a world filled with Elves, Humans, Orcs, Kingdoms, Creatures and so many other mainstays of classic fantasy games. Using an open campaign system the game is designed to support user-created content, which means that anyone can create a campaign and let others download it right from title screen. But this is getting a little ahead of things. Let’s talk about the core gameplay and where this highly successful game comes from.
As you know many freeware titles come from independent game developers, often individuals or groups of two or three people working together. But then you have games born out of the Open Source movement, which often attract numerous contributors each with different skills and talents to lend to the effort. This also means that production values can often reach new levels due to the inherent collaborative nature of Open Source production. Battle for Wesnoth is one of those games. In this case it shows and the result is a fun strategy game, laced with role-playing elements that plays well in both short and extended play sessions. Of course it helps if you’re a fan of classic Tolkien-esque High Fantasy, and even more so if you can appreciate graphics that hearken back to the golden age of 16-Bit game consoles.
The core game comes bundled with several scenarios, each ranging from Novice to Intermediate to Expert – as do the many addon campaigns. Each campaign tells its own story; though most stay within the canon of the Wesnoth kingdom while others pursue side stories and other tales. For this reason it might be more enjoyable to play through the included campaigns first, beginning with the fine Tutorial. I can only speak for myself here but I find it far more enjoyable to learn about a game as you play rather than reading through a long manual. Battle for Wesnoth strikes an excellent balance here with the Tutorial campaign on one hand (that lets you dive right in) and an equally helpful encyclopedia that lets you look up information as needed. Both enable the player to enjoy the depth of the game without being overwhelmed by it and are fine examples of polish and care.
Each game places you on a map comprised of hexes. Think of it sort of like a large board game and the characters & creatures are all miniatures. Only one miniature may occupy a hex at any given time and it’s how you move and maneuver your characters that will determine their position in battle. As with most strategy games each type of unit possesses strengths & weaknesses; thus you’ll need to learn when and where to match certain units against others. On this game board the terrain inside each hex is important. For instance, a Forest will afford you more protection but limits your movement. An open plain offers no protection but lets you move through more spaces in a single turn. Each campaign has you playing with different ‘sets’ of units so there’s a lot to discover in terms of unit types and abilities. When a character moves next to an opposing unit the option to attack becomes available. Many units have ranged or melee attacks while some have a special ability such as magic. Suffice it to say there’s much more depth of strategy here than I’ll fit into this review. Once you begin playing you’ll learn about the advantages & disadvantages of day/night cycles, as well as the importance of controlling towns & keeps, earning gold and recruiting units.
One particularly neat aspect of the game is found in character advancement. As a unit becomes more battle hardened they slowly gain experience and eventually Level Up, gaining greater strength and, in some cases, new abilities. This creates an interesting dynamic where you then try to use these characters for the tougher battles without getting them killed. Bear in mind that each map may introduce different Victory/Defeat conditions, which can also vary the flow of the game. The consistent ones seem to be keeping your Hero character alive and completing the level within a set number of turns.
The success of this game is evidenced by an active community of developers, artists, casual contributors, campaign writers and legions of avid players. And yes, multiplayer support is built in (though I cannot attest to the quality or enjoyment of this feature). When you’re ready to browse through some of the downloadable Campaigns click the Add-ons button at the main menu. From there you can search out a specific module or sort by various criteria. I recommend sorting by Type in order to group the Single Player campaigns. All this having been said I cannot vouch for the content or family friendliness of user-created campaigns, so do be cautious about what you download. Fortunately, addons can easily be uninstalled as well. Should you run into additional problems I suggest heading over to the forums.
Fans of the Strategy genre will find a lot to enjoy here. Not only does Battle for Wesnoth have one of the highest production values of any free video game out there, it also happens to be one of the best turn-based strategy games in existence. You can’t compare it to classics like Civilization III since this approach aims for greater accessibility. Just about anyone can pick up and play Wesnoth. But for strategy enthusiasts, there are hidden layers of depth and volumes of tactics waiting to be discovered and mastered.
Note: The file size for this game is considerably larger than most of the other games featured here. Do keep that in mind before downloading.
Designer: David White and the Wesnoth Team
Genre: Turn Based Strategy
File Size: 201 MB
Control Scheme: Keyboard & Mouse
Version Played: 1.6
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