With so many mobile games coming out every day, it’s just not possible to catch them all. Nevertheless, older apps can still turn up hidden gems, such as the turn-based, role-playing strategy title The Battle for Wesnoth HD. Available for both the iPhone and iPad, the open-source project ported to the iOS by Kyle Poole is easily one of the best $4.99 one can spend.
Similar to a previously reviewed application, Highborn HD, this strategy RPG takes a much more serious stance on its fantasy storytelling. With complex rules that are presented along a beautifully increasing difficulty curve, it’s a game that comes with a surprising amount of depth and breadth for an iPad title. Wrought with choice and tremendous amounts of strategy and tactics, the game only loses points in the form of some frustrating combat systems and somewhat weak failure mechanics.
Currently, Battle for Wesnoth is up to version 1.5, so there is a tremendous amount of content to be had. Just the single player alone has a dozen different campaigns, many of which have very different stories to them. From undead to orcs, players attempt to complete a set of objectives (usually getting to a certain part of the map or killing a certain enemy) in order to save the land of Wesnoth.
Players start out with one, or a handful (depending on the mission) of hero units. Scattered around the map are a number of keeps and camps, and from these, the lead hero can use gold to recruit or recall units (more on that later). Without getting into the vast depth behind each unit, they are classified by varying types of attributes, stats, special abilities, and attacks.
Every unit has different elements of these, and there are a metric ton of them. Attributes consist of passive bonuses such as intelligence (leveling up faster), quickness (greater movement), or resilience (more health), while stats are more basic in the form of damage, defenses, and movement speed. As for special abilities, they include stealth, healing, and regeneration. Like the attributes, there are a tremendous number of these as well.
Attacks are a little more trimmed, consisting of ranged or melee. Of course, the type of attack can, and will, affect the amount of damage one gives or receives, and different types of attacks have a greater or smaller chance of hitting entirely.
These chances are actually one of the more frustrating elements of combat for Wesnoth. Each unit has a percentage chance to avoid being struck. On average, a unit will try to hit the target three to four times (with stronger attacks swinging less). With that in mind, it’s entirely possible for the enemy unit to hit every attack while the player goes on missing streaks. For the most part, it’s a matter of luck, making it incredibly annoying to lose units in this way.
Houses also play a significant role as more than just defensive structures (as a side note, they also heal units stationed atop them). Every unit costs gold to upkeep, that takes away from revenue earnings, and depending on how many houses one has, the greater that income is each turn. Unless the user controls enough houses, they will be unable to summon or purchase new units.
In the campaign, earning gold is also critical, as it rolls over from mission to mission. However, choice plays a tremendous role here as well. This is the RPG aspect of the game, in that as units fight, they gain experience and level up. In many cases, this means more than just more health and damage, but gives the player an opportunity to often choose what type of unit they become — defensive, ranged/melee, caster, and so on. Couple this with in-game choices on how to best complete a mission (e.g. help one guy or the other), and one gains the ability to very drastically affect both game play and story.
Unfortunately, while Wesnoth’s unit leveling system is pretty cool, it’s also the source of another frustration. This is the fact that high-level units are almost a necessity in later levels. Should a user have enough houses to pay the upkeep (which increases for higher level units), these units can be recalled from previous missions. It helps, but the enemies in late missions are so dangerous that it becomes almost impossible to level up new ones. Along with the luck-based combat system this feature can become incredibly obnoxious.
From a social perspective, Battle for Wesnoth does quite well. Integrated with OpenFeint, the game comes with as many achievements as there are strategies, but the game also allows publishing of these to Facebook. Of course, this is still basic from a social perspective, so the game has a synchronous multiplayer mode that allows users to connect to one of the Wesnoth servers and join a game against other, live players. In fact, the community appears pretty active with the Wesnoth homepage allowing users to create their very own scenarios.
As a final note, the game has a means of downloading saved games on other devices via WesnothSync.com. There is even more longevity to the game in the form of a custom skirmish mode against computer opponents.
If you can overlook the iPhone version’s smaller screen size, Wesnoth marks one of the best $5 apps you can get for either device. It is a game that provides hours – not minutes like most mobile games — of game play, and most of it is done extremely well. Granted there are a few frustrations with luck, but for the most part, this is easily overlooked.
So the lesson here is two-fold: (1) Never forsake an older game. (2) You should probably buy Wesnoth.
[thrid image via TouchArcade]