This is a review of Warborn by developer Raredrop Games released on 12th June through Steam. The publisher provided the Welsh Gaming Network with a review key for the purposes of this article. The game has also released on Switch and Xbox One.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, there was a Gundam strategy game (on SNES? Maybe?). So long ago, in fact, that I can’t remember the name of it. A quick glance on Google suggests it might’ve been SD Gundam G, but I’m not convinced… Anyway, It was so cool to be commanding battles between giant robots back then. Warborn agrees, and brings turn-based robot strategy to a modern audience, on PC, Switch, and Xbox One.
What is Warborn?
Rise up and deploy for battle in the Variable Armour, a technologically advanced suit of war. As the political climate between factions is thrown out of balance and the solar system is engulfed in conflict, lead your strike force of deadly mecha towards victory in turn-based tactical combat.– Steam store description
Warborn gets a lot of things right. From the outset, it just looks polished – with a level of care that you don’t always get in indie games. You can see from the menus, the character art, the unit animations… There’s plenty of attention to detail here. The art is relatively minimalist, but it fits the game’s style really well. There’s also a fair amount of content – with a campaign, level editor, and cross-platform multiplayer, which is a big plus.
This polish stretches to the story, which has more than a few echoes of Gundam storylines. If you get on with Gundam, you’ll feel right at home here. There’s no voice acting – which I prefer, given that bad VA could’ve really taken some shine off the campaign. You get big dollops of the story between missions and it’s worth sticking with them. The game has you working as a mercenary for a rebel faction, fighting against an oppressive regime. Standard sci-fi anime-ish fare, but done well.
When you’re in battle, there’s plenty of colour, and cool animations for movement and combat. Everything looks pretty distinctive too. You can generally tell what you’re up against even without scrolling over enemy units. If I did have one tiny complaint, it’s that your unable to see how far an enemy unit can move/attack, as far as I could see. I might’ve missed it, but it would’ve been a nice visual aid for planning my attacks.
Defend and conquer
Really though, it’s the gameplay that sells Warborn. Units are varied and all have their place, and each one has several abilities. It makes you carefully consider not only your movement, but your attacks. These attacks also have different damage types that you need to match up to enemy defensive weaknesses for maximum damage. Adding to this, you have cover – buildings, facilities, and terrain all offer varying boosts to defence against the damage types. You call units down from space using CP, balancing the need to get units onto the field with saving up for the stronger mechs.
A lot of the game plays like hex-based Advance Wars, with some key differences. You can attack when it’s your turn, but you won’t receive damage back. The condition of your units doesn’t affect your damage output, either. This distinction affects how you play substantially. With Warborn, it’s where you finish a turn that matters. You’re not really trying to aggressively whittle enemies down like in Advance Wars. Instead, you try to keep your own units safe, ready to attack next turn without suffering losses. It’s sort of like giant-mecha-chess in this respect.
I felt like there were some slight balance issues with a few of the units. Some units are extremely powerful at long-range, meaning that enemies might not get close enough to take a shot, let alone destroy them. They’re somewhat offset by higher build costs, but not hugely. I can see multiplayer possibly being a more attritional affair than the campaign as a result. The special skills of your commander also didn’t seem to make a huge difference while I played. I ended up forgetting they were an option. These are minor complaints though – the gameplay was super fun overall.
Warborn does well then, taking inspiration from a few different places and mixing them together – which doesn’t always work. But here, the developers Raredrop Games seem to have gotten the mix just right. There’s a pretty good balance to the gameplay throughout, with big ticks for story and art style. It’s the sort of game that we see too little of, I think. I left Warborn thinking “yes, of course, that worked – why haven’t we seen more of this?” More giant-mecha-chess, please!