Living tabletop wargame Wartile sadly isn’t as elegant at its looks

wartile

Wartile‘s very much caught our eye lately, what with its environments which resemble ornate boardgame pieces carved out out of very expensive wood and hand-painted by master goblin craftsmen. Were this a physical game on Kickstarter, it’d surely have racked up $900,000 within about three hours. As it is, we’re looking at a strategy-roleplaying game which sits in a slightly awkward place between turn-based and realtime. Behind that appealingly diaroma-like look, it’s about a game about two things: where you place your viking units and how frequently you activate cards which trigger MMO-like special abilities. It’s a curious mix of timers, spamming and collectormania, rather than the elegant and thoughtful strategy game its oh-so-tactile, chunky hexes suggest.

On the face of things, I admire the ambition inherent in giving a real-time game the aesthetic of a turn-based one. In recent years, I’ve played so many games in which I take turns to move a small squad around a small map, mechanically bashing foes to knock off a few hitpoints each time, and right now I’d need one to blow the bloody doors off to really capture me. I’ve still got Invisible Inc and XCOM and the delectable upcoming FTL follow-up Into The Breach to keep me happy, after all.

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Wartile (which I forever hear as ‘Wart Isle’) is clearly determined to go against the stereotype those hexes and wee-small lads might imply. In practice, it’s more like a mutant action-RPG, a Diablo or Dungeon Siege, in which the basic act of attacking happens automatically and at rapid but fixed intervals once you’re within sufficient proximity of an enemy, while you trigger various special abilities to amp up damage or protect against wounds.

There’s certainly something novel to having to manage hex-based terrain in real-time – your chaps won’t attack unless they’re directly adjacent to a foe, or wield a big pointy stick that can lunge across two tiles. It is like playing Civ without the benefit of think’n’wait – you have to commit there and then, but equally you can withdraw one of your squad to elsewhere while a fight’s going south for them. A combination of being free to move your guys around and that, in the early missions at least, combat is fairly spamtastic rather than particularly tactical, means it’s not especially frantic in practice. But it does feel awkward and even a little arbitrary.

I don’t go into fights thinking “right, how can I handle this one?” but rather I just hurl everyone at everyone else and lob special abilities and hurling cards into the melee as required and as timers expire. There is a battle points system (replenished by kills and pickups) that discourage routinely activating some powers, and I imagine later missions will necessitate extreme caution about what’s used when. I’m not sure I want to trek through many more of its routine quests to get to that point, though. So far they’ve all take the form of “go to the end of the map and kill/retrieve x” with an optional objective of “collect y amount of z” in order to earn bonus loot. It feels so deeply familiar, despite the genre cross-pollination.

Part of this is that the viking theme almost immediately tilts into monsters and magic, leaving Wartile without a clear identity of its own. Mission briefings and plot are cursory, with no real sense of place or theme – just some dudes doing what fantasy videogame dudes do. Oddly, I find myself reminded of the 2015 adaptation of Warhammer Quest, which was turn-based but had a similar mechanical anonymity. Basically, I’m slowly murdering monsters to afford more loot to murder more monsters with, and that’s that. The viking stuff just evaporates – as, sadly, does the model-like look. I stopped noticing it about ten minutes in.

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The epic sense the trailers lend it, with their slow pans around frozen models, like the credits of an Avengers movie, does somewhat exist in-game, but a) looks much murkier in practice and b) to get it you’ll need to hit space to turn on slow-motion, which acts as a semi-stop for turn-based diehards. Once in a while it’s made dragging a Heal card onto my most-wounded unit a bit less fiddly, but in the main it just introduces more frustrating waiting around. I spam it on and off depending on when and if I need to use special abilities. I’m sure it’s going to be vital and potentially more thrilling in tougher missions, but I’m going to have to have a long, hard think about whether I want to put the hours in to get there. They seem like quite dreary hours.

Even outside of slo-mo, basic character movement lives in the grey space between real-time and turn-based, which in practice means you have to wait through a short timer before you can move a unit again, but the world and any enemies keep moving during this. It’s a nice idea, in theory encouraging you to think rather than merely react, but in practice it’s a drag. So often, for instance, my guy’ll wind up one tile short of whatever thing I need to click on next, and I just have to time-out fruitlessly before a few seconds before I can get on with it.

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An age-old comment this, but I kept on wanting to like Wartile a lot more than I did, because so much about it feels like a game made for my tastes. Hexes and cards and armour upgrades that appear on your character when you equip ’em, and yeah, that living-wood aesthetic. I’ve got no complaints about the fact it’s not turn-based – and the slow-mo option would render such grievances near-redundant anyway – – but I do think its real-time battles, mission structures or movement systems haven’t been realised with much verve.

My sense from a few hours with Wartile is that, sadly, it’s a competent but forgettable action-RPG combined with a competent but forgettable squad-strategy game, overlain rather a unnecessary skein of CCG. But boy-oh-boy do I want to see this dream boardgame visual style used again.

Wartile left early access last week and is available now on Windows via Steam for £15/$15/€15.

12 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I really don’t get why it’s real time. It’s practically begging to be a combat engine for a turn based tactics game.

    • AlienEyes says:

      Yeah that’s the thing I asked to the devs back when it was just released in early access. They kept going in the wrong direction since, in my opinion.

      It could have been an interesting story about vikings-like people and a mysterious curse, with a hybrid combat system, but it ended up being this. A shame, really.

    • 111uminate says:

      Indeed. I patiently waited for its full release before I planned to purchase, and oh my am I glad that I did. I mean, the notion of it being turn based is in the title itself; they use the word “tile”. When gamers see that word, they think Strategy, board game, and some type of turn system.

      I really don’t understand the decision ..

  2. NailBombed says:

    WARFAC…… hang on.

    WARF… nope, still not getting it.

    ….. WarTile?

  3. phroggiepuddles says:

    Ive spent a couple hours with it now and I really want to like it… but something I still haven’t figured out is lacking. Having to manually shift my 2 Vikings across a cleared map for that last collectible was quite tedious and bought down the pace for me. Still want to give it more time

    • Menthalion says:

      You didn’t miss the popup saying you could move your whole group with one shift-click, did you ?

      And a couple of hours and you still have two vikings ? I think you get the third one in mission 3.

  4. incus says:

    “AS” it looks?
    If not I can’t for the life of me understand that heading.

    • Slazia says:

      Typo! +5 RPS points for pointing that out. If you get a million, you get a special digital badge.

  5. pookie101 says:

    This could so easily of been THE game for me but no.. Back to fields of glory 2 for me !

  6. Captain Narol says:

    I had high hopes for this game when I saw the amazingly beautiful dioramas in the trailer, but after informing myself about the game systems I was totally desenchanted as the game seems to not be much more than a visually glorified action romp.

    I understand that the Devs wanted to try something different but Real-Time for this game is a nonsense and an heresy in my book so I have kept my distance so far while watching how it was evolving.

    Anyway, I still have “Expeditions : Vikings” and “The Banner Saga 2” waiting in my backlog that seems much more rich in interesting content and much more fitting to my personal taste.

    TLDR : All flash but no substance. I’ll pass.

  7. Erroll the Elder says:

    I am about 5 hours in now and 6-7 scenarios. This game is great fun even as real time. I definitely felt the Norse theme in all the levels I have done thus far (especially the awesome tree level!). I generally agree with RPS reviews but I think this one is a bit off. I mean.. this is a $15 buy, not a $60 buy. The review felt a bit cranky.

    Anyway, don’t let the real time put you off. It all works, and it is easy to pause to super slo-mo. I prefer turn based games but I never felt the kind of pressure I get from playing more traditional real time strategy games.

    I do wish I could get this on my iPad but likely if it was on tablet it would be destroyed with IAP, something the Steam game is blissfully free of.