|PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch
[reviewed on Steam]
|October 5, 2023
In early 2019, tactics fans were introduced to a new entry in the genre, Wargroove, by developer Chucklefish. Wargroove combined beautiful pixel art with a deep tactical gameplay to provide the spiritual successor to Advance Wars that many had been looking for. Not only do Chucklefish have one of the best names in game development, but the game they produced was “the best strategy game available on Switch at the moment,” according to our review of Wargroove. Now, four years later, we are treated with a sequel, Wargroove 2. Does Chucklefish’s sequel live up to expectations? What has changed, and how do the changes affect the game? Is Caesar still a good boy? (Spoilers: yes he is!)
Wargroove 2 is a tactics game which revolves around warfare and combat, so the game is inherently violent in theme. In execution, however, the violent aspects are kept to a minimum. Groups of enemies will attack each other and you’ll hear various weapon sounds, but characters only flinch when hit, and when defeated, a character simply disappears. There’s no blood and no graphic violence of any kind.
Wargroove 2 has some light cursing; the worst I recall seeing is “damn” and “hell.”
Wargroove 2 contains a lot of progressive values regarding sexuality and gender identity. One of the characters is referred to as “they/them” with no explanation. Two ten-year-old boys are encouraged by other characters to be more than just friends. In a lore point in-game, you’re told that a prince ran away with the heir of another kingdom; you find out later that it was two princes.
Besides these issues, the dialogue is clean and free of innuendo, and the character design is very reasonable. Everyone wears armor that people would actually wear in combat.
Wargroove 2 also deals with quite a few non-sexual adult themes, such as genocide, mental trauma, long-standing political bigotry, and emotional manipulation. They’re just touched on in story points and never actually shown.
One of the few major complaints about the first Wargroove game was its lackluster writing. I found the story and writing in Wargroove 2 to be better overall, but it was not consistent. The writing team was definitely aiming for a light-hearted tone akin to the first game, and it delivered, if it was a bit much at times. At its best, the writing is nuanced, complex, and insightful; at its worst, it’s overly cheesy and predictable. Compared to the original game, Wargroove 2 managed to improve its writing, but only marginally.
A potential problem with the exposition in Wargroove 2 is that the player is expected to have played the DLC of the first game. If you’re like me and played the first game, but not the DLC, you’ll be very confused by characters you’ve never seen before and references to plot points you never experienced. It’s jarring, and it could have been handled much better in the writing. You end up feeling like the un-cool kid who didn’t go to the party and missed the crazy story everyone else is talking about at school the next day.
….okay fine, it’s me. I was the un-cool kid. Are you happy now, Chucklefish?!?
The story of Wargroove 2 is split up over multiple discreet campaigns, which you can play in any order, except for the last. These campaigns pick up a couple of years after the events of the first game and show us how the various factions have been getting along.
The largest addition to the story is a totally new faction of anthropomorphized mouse people, and they’re absolutely adorable. Originally a culture of scholars and scientists, this people was threatened by the events of the first game and built an army to protect themselves. In the tutorial campaign and the first campaign, you play as this people venturing forth to do reconnaissance on the world around them. What they discover—about the world of Cherrystone and about themselves—will surprise you.
Wargroove 2, like its predecessor, is a tactical strategy game akin to Advance Wars. The four campaigns are split up into a half-dozen or more individual scenarios, which the player must beat to proceed; each scenario is has one main objective and multiple optional objectives that increase your overall score at the end. As a scenario unfolds, the player and the computer-controlled opponent navigate their units around a grid-like battlefield and engage in combat to gain the upper hand.
Those familiar with the genre will understand how dense and complex the gameplay of a game like Wargroove 2 can be. For those who have never played a tactics game before, allow me to paint you a picture. Wargroove 2 is a bit like chess, because there are multiple unit types, each having individual move sets with different strengths and weaknesses. Imagine if chess had structures you could capture that gave you gold and allowed you to purchase more pieces to place on the board. Then, imagine if chess had air units and water units, each of which interacted with land units in different ways. Then, imagine if chess had trebuchets. Then, imagine if the King piece in chess had a very powerful ability (yes, more powerful than castle-ing) that you could use one or two times per game.
If it sounds complicated and confusing to keep track of, that’s because it is.
Wargroove 2 might present a lovable, friendly façade, but once you enter a scenario, it becomes a game that demands attention and care. One wrong turn can end a scenario and have you re-starting a half-hour or more of work. Strategic planning, critical thinking, and patience are key to being successful in Wargroove 2.
If you’re worried that this all sounds too complex, Wargroove 2 does a good job of explaining each and every mechanic, every unit, and every tile of land, if you’re willing to be patient and do a bit of work for it. The tutorial campaign gives you the basics and eases you into the gameplay, never giving you too much at once. As you progress through the main campaigns, new units and gameplay concepts are slowly introduced, at a rate that I appreciated. I never felt overwhelmed with a lot of new information to incorporate into my strategies. Wargroove 2 did this so subtly that I was navigating complex multi-pronged, multi-unit engagements before I even fully realized what was happening. The person/team that designed the difficulty curve in Wargroove 2 did a great job, especially for players who might be new, or players who are just not very good, like myself. For the items that the game itself doesn’t explain, there is an in-game resource book that goes into very minute detail on every unit and every mechanic, so if you don’t mind a bit of reading, the game is very digestible.
As good as the Campaigns are, they’re not even the only way to play Wargroove 2. There is a full map creator/editor that allows you to easily create custom maps, play them, and share them online with the community of Wargroove fans. There’s online, asynchronous PvP action if you really want to test your skills. And there’s even a new rogue-like mode called Conquest that is very reminiscent of Slay the Spire. You start a Conquest run with a small group of units and fight your way through tiny four-or-five-round skirmishes, all the while recruiting and upgrading units and choosing your path forward on an overworld map. Your objective is to make it all the way to the end boss and defeat the champion. It’s quite a bit of fun, and very bite-sized.
Wargroove 2 is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, due to its depth, but if you enjoy this kind deep, strategic gameplay, this is one hecking good cup of tea.
However, I did have a few issues with the gameplay in Wargroove 2.
First and foremost, Chucklefish played it too safe with the sequel. I can think of a whopping one new mechanic that I noticed, and it was never of any real consequence in scenarios. There wasn’t anything introduced that ever made me feel like I was playing an upgraded, superior version of the original Wargroove. There is an argument to be made, of “don’t fix what ain’t broken,” but the gameplay of the original wasn’t that good. I was left wishing for anything that made Wargroove 2 feel like more than “Wargroove, but with a different story.”
To launch off the above point, a large issue with campaign design from the original Wargroove remains in the sequel: some of these scenarios are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long. Nobody—I don’t care how hardcore you think you are—wants to play through a map that takes an hour to reach the end of, only to fail within the last few turns and have to completely re-start. Wargroove 2 isn’t a 4X strategy game, and it needs to stop pretending it is. If you’re going to have scenarios this long, give the player a checkpoint from which to restart.
My one final gripe with Wargroove 2 isn’t with the game itself, but with the genre, because it’s an inherent problem I find in any kind of strategy tactics game: it can sometimes be very hard to understand why you failed. When you have to make a dozen-plus decision in one turn, multiplied by a dozen or more turns, it can be difficult to pinpoint the bad decisions. This issue, coupled with the obtuse length of some campaign scenarios, can make the game very frustrating, and it can be easy to lose motivation.
The gameplay of Wargroove 2 can be a lot of fun for newbs and veterans alike, but it could have been better. I wish Chucklefish could have been a bit more critical of Wargroove 2’s predecessor.
Visuals and Music
Chucklefish did a fantastic job on the visuals of Wargroove 2, just as we’d expect from the quality that was in the original game. The pixel art is beautiful and eye-catching, and the animations are all clean and fluid. Wargroove 2 expertly walks a delicate line between evoking nostalgia and being too polished, and it creates a game that you want to play, just to see more of it. The aesthetic design of the game is definitely a highlight.
The audio design of Wargroove 2 is…adequate. I won’t be too harsh on an indie development team, but at best the sound design is forgettable. None of the music is particularly attention-grabbing or interesting. The sounds of combat do their job, but they’re very simple and realistic; in a stylized game like this, I’d have preferred the sound effects to be a bit more exaggerated and/or stylized. The voice acting made me laugh, but not in a good way. It was so barebones that I’d rather there have not been any voice acting in the game. Deep, thoughtful written dialogue that might be two or three sentences long often got reduced to being voiced as “HUH?” or “Wow!” or “Oooohhhhhhh….” It’s jarring and unnecessary.
If you played the first Wargroove game, your feelings about the sequel will be exactly the same, because it’s the same exact game. Whether that is good or bad is ultimately up to the player.
When compared to what I expect of a sequel, and when I think of all the good sequels we’ve been gifted with this year—Jedi Survivor, Octopath Traveler 2, Tears of the Kingdom, Alan Wake 2—Wargroove 2 missed the mark for me. To be clear, I do not expect AAA-studio quality out of Chucklefish, but I do expect certain things of any sequel: I expect introspection and revision of the original, to improve on both what was bad and what was good. Wargroove 2 didn’t seem to do any of that.
I had a good time with Wargroove 2, and it did scratch a certain gaming itch that I had been missing recently. However, as I considered my time with the game, I could not escape the feeling of being slightly let down. Wargroove 2 is just as good as its predecessor, but it isn’t any better. It left me feeling like it was a missed opportunity for Chucklefish to show us they have fresh ideas.
Wargroove 2 offers a great tactical strategy experience, even for beginners in the genre. With amazing visuals and good writing, the game offers dozens of hours of content to explore and conquer, and that’s not including the online and Conquest modes, which I’m sure people could get lost in for hundreds of hours. Despite my reservations, I give Wargroove 2 a recommend, especially if you’re new to the genre or if you want a quick fix for your tactical strategy itches. Even with the release of Advance Wars: Re-Boot Camp, Wargroove and Wargroove 2 remain among the top tactical strategy games in recent memory.
Copy of game was generously provided by Chucklefish
The Bottom Line
Wargroove 2 is just as good as its predecessor, but it isn’t any better.