PC, Nintendo Switch
October 5, 2023
Wargroove, Chucklefish’s 2019 loving homage to Nintendo’s Advance Wars franchise, finally has a sequel of its own. Wargroove 2, not unlike Advance Wars 2, is not so much a major overhaul from its predecessor, but instead a massive expansion of what was already good about the first game. This includes new characters, units, maps, and a fun new game mode. While those looking for a more substantial graphical facelift or new gameplay features might not be completely satisfied, fans of the first Wargroove looking for more of what worked about that game will certainly have a good time.
In Wargroove 2, three years have passed since the events of the first game. You initially play as the Faahri, a race of mouse people who have ventured to Aurania to unearth more Cacophony relics, one of which threatened the world during the previous conflict. Once you have completed the prologue, you have the choice of several different campaigns of varying difficulty levels. The easiest campaign, which continues the Faahri’s storyline, is recommended for new players, as it drip-feeds new units and gameplay mechanics and reintroduces the setting from these outsiders’ perspectives. More experienced players can instead opt to go straight for the harder campaigns focusing on different characters and locations right off the bat.
The choice to have multiple smaller campaigns instead of one big one has upsides and downsides. On one hand, it gives the plot a wider scope and better spotlights some of the lesser-focused characters who only got a few side adventures in the main campaign of the first game. On the other hand, it does make everything feel a bit less cohesive as the storylines don’t really connect together until the very end, and many of the main characters of the original game, such as Mercia, Caesar and Nuru, are either barely featured or show up only as antagonists.
Although the game doesn’t take itself that seriously, there was an effort to have a darker tone which I quite appreciated. The new characters are all quite compelling, from the mad scientist Madam Pistil to the feisty flamethrower-wielding freedom fighter Nadia. These characters are aided very much by the detailed and fluid pixel art character designs and animations. I also loved many of the details in the in-game codex, which provides a tonne of flavour text for each unit type and other lore elements of the setting and characters.
Regarding gameplay, things will feel very familiar if you’re coming to Wargroove 2 right after playing the first one. The game’s turn-based tactical gameplay is still as good as ever, with Commander units now able to store up to two tiers of their special Groove abilities. Sure, it is a mechanic taken straight from Advance Wars 2, but it’s still an enjoyable risk/reward feature that now makes weighing up whether to store up for my most powerful ability or use the cheaper one a fun gamble.
New unit types have been added, such as Ostrich units which combine flying and ground movement, or the Kraken and Frog units which can move enemy units around. These add a fun new layer of strategy when it comes to repositioning units to set up critical attacks or free up my units to retreat to safety. The new Riverboat unit is also a rather nice addition as a river-traversing naval unit which can damage and capture structures.
Many of the campaign maps are bigger and more complex than ever, with many of them featuring multiple Commanders and sub-armies simultaneously. Fortunately, there are also some new structures added to aid in navigation, such as Portals to teleport your units across the map to buildings that convert your land units to sea units of the same value and back. It’s a neat addition that makes me more willing to invest in otherwise limited naval units, knowing that I can convert them to land again after I’ve secured whichever lake or sea area I had created them for.
“While not too impactful, items are a clever new feature which made me rethink how I saw my usually disposable non-Commander cannon fodder…”
The other big new feature in Wargroove 2 is items. They are often placed around the battlefield and can be equipped by most non-Commander units, and can provide pretty substantial buffs. These can range from armour which reduces incoming damage, to a weapon which greatly increases your attack power at the cost of now being unable to counter-attack. While not too impactful, items are a clever new feature that made me rethink how I saw my usually disposable non-Commander cannon fodder, with certain item-equipped units now being much more important to keep alive. This also plays into a new additional feature where you can rename any of your regular units during combat, which is a fun enough little detail if you want to give a bit more significance to a specific unit.
The main campaigns are reasonably formidable, although as in the first game, there is an impressive degree of customisability in how the player can tweak the level of challenge. One new element that I very much liked is the implementation of optional objectives during campaign battles. Unlike the first game, where you are awarded 1-3 stars at the end of each mission based on speed and damage output, now you get one star for completing the main objective by default, and additional stars for completing specific sub-objectives during the fight. These might include abstaining from using certain units, keeping a specific unit alive, defeating the enemy Commander within a specific number of turns, and more. It feels like a more organic scoring system that also presents a good amount of replay value, incentivising players to return and try and complete each mission with these optional parameters enabled.
Wargroove 2 also comes with a more refined version of the first game’s map and campaign creation tools. There are some new features thrown in here, like shortcuts that allow the player to quickly mirror your map vertically or horizontally to more quickly populate a battlefield, as well as additional tools for editing cutscenes. I do wish the game implemented some sort of tutorial for this system, however; the in-game tutorials don’t cover the map or campaign editor modes at all, and it can be quite complicated to navigate the different unlabelled menu icons or understand what about the map I plonked onto my custom campaign is “invalid”. A short in-game walkthrough or at least an in-game glossary explaining the fundamentals of campaign and map editing would do wonders towards making the tools more user-friendly for less-experienced players. At any rate, if the quality of many of the player-created maps and campaigns in the first game was anything to go by, I greatly look forward to what the player community will come up with in the coming weeks.
Finally, the main new addition to Wargroove 2 is the Conquest mode. Replacing the first game’s Arcade, Conquest is a Slay the Spire-esque roguelike mode, where you choose a Commander, a specific passive buff and starting army, and then go through a progression of short skirmishes until you reach the boss. Inbetween fights, there are different encounter types you may find, such as merchants, places to recruit new units, and mystery events which might have positive or negative effects.
I like Conquest a lot; the small army sizes ensure that the pacing is maintained, and it spotlights many of the Commanders who were left out of the story campaigns. The different Conquest-exclusive passive effects, like more powerful Soldiers, Rangers with increased firing ranges, or Mages who can heal more cheaply, mix up combat in a way that the old Arcade mode never did and provides a fresh experience after completing the main campaigns.
While Conquest has an impressive amount of content, with multiple Conquest campaigns to unlock through currency you collect during previous runs, it can also feel a bit grindy. Admittedly, I can appreciate gating off some of the more complicated mechanics until you have mastered the entry-level campaigns. However, the Conquest mode starts rather barebones and I feel like it only really reaches a good level of variety once you have unlocked many of the item and encounter types, which can take several runs to accomplish depending on the difficulty setting.
I also love the game’s presentation. Wargroove 2 does reuse a lot of assets from the original game, although the addition of two new factions added a good amount of adorable new unit designs into the mix. I was disappointed that one of the animations from the first game, that being the little cutscene which plays when you capture a neutral structure and your unit runs in cheering and hanging a little flag on the wall, has been removed. It’s possible this is for pacing reasons considering how large some of the battles can be and the introduction of new unit types capable of capturing, but I felt its absence considering how chock-full of amazing animations the game is otherwise.
- Fun new Commanders, factions and storylines in each of the game's campaigns
- Loads of new units, structures and Grooves to provide new strategic options
- New optional objectives provide replay value and new difficulty options for campaign battles
- Conquest mode is a lot of fun and provides a varied experience, at least once you've unlocked much of its content
- Complicated campaign and map editor tools could really do with in-game tutorials
- Conquest mode can feel a bit grindy if trying to unlock everything
Even though Nintendo has now come out with a modern Advance Wars game of its own, Wargroove 2 stands as more than a mere homage. With a grander scale and more units, Commanders, and other gameplay features than ever, Wargroove 2 is an excellent strategy experience. The new Conquest roguelike mode feels like a complete experience packed within an already feature-rich game. Even after the campaigns are over, the Conquest mode, missed optional objectives, and future custom content will ensure plenty of reasons to stick around. If you enjoyed Wargroove or Advance Wars and want another fantastic strategy offering, Wargroove 2 is not to be missed.