It's fair to say that Wargroove has been near the top of many of a Switch owner's 'most wanted' list for quite some time; it was initially revealed way back in February 2017, the same month the console was launched. Right from the off, its eye-catching visual style and turn-based tactical gameplay caught our attention, largely because we're massive fans of Intelligent Systems' Advance Wars and Fire Emblem franchises. However, to say that it's merely a clone of these esteemed series would be doing Wargroove – and the compact but incredibly talented team behind it – a massive disservice; it has plenty of ideas of its own (as you'll know if you've read our review), and when we were offered the chance to visit the company's London HQ to speak with the developer, we understandably jumped at the chance.
It's amazing to note that despite Chucklefish's stunning success as a publisher (it released Stardew Valley and also collaborated with developer Eric "ConcernedApe" Barone on that game's multiplayer mode), Wargroove is the first console game developed solely by the studio itself (Starbound, the firm's only other home-grown release, remains PC-only). "This is a game we’ve been wanting to play for a long time," smiles Finn Brice, Chucklefish founder and lead designer of Wargroove. "When we found that a modern turn-based strategy game of this style wasn’t really out there, we had to jump in and make one. It’s important to us that we make games we’re truly passionate about."
Brice is quick to confirm what we all suspected – that Advance Wars and Fire Emblem are key influences, which bodes well. "We’re huge fans of both games," he says. "For many of us, Advance Wars was our introduction to turn-based strategy as a genre and it holds a special place in our hearts. It’s fair to say that a great many other titles have also influenced Wargroove: Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Wesnoth, Disgaea, amongst others."
He's just as quick to point out that Wargroove isn't a slavish retread of past franchises, however. "We feel we’ve succeeded in moving the genre in a new direction. Wargroove introduces hero units to the field in the form of Commanders, incredibly powerful units that build up special moves through combat. However, should your Commander fall, the battle will instantly be lost. This risk-reward mechanic keeps matches from becoming stale or turning into a grind when one player begins to win. It also allows for creative strategies and explosive comebacks."
The meat of the game is a solo campaign which lasts between 20 and 30 hours and focuses on Mercia, Princess of Cherrystone, who is forced to take to the road after her kingdom comes under attack from evil forces. The narrative is enhanced by a surprisingly fleshed-out cast of characters, both good and evil, and this helps to propel the story forward and maintain player interest. Once the solo mode is finished there's an Arcade Mode which allows you to explore the motivations of each Commander, and a Puzzle Mode where you have to figure out how best to overcome the opposing army in a single turn. Finally, there's a Skirmish Mode which allows you to set up custom battles against an AI rival. These three modes alone more than double the amount of play time on offer, Brice claims.
However, it is the game's multiplayer mode which could well become the focal point for competitive players, with up to four participants taking part in both local and online battles – there's even an asynchronous option, so you can take your turn, put your Switch down and do something else for a bit before returning to the console to see how your opponent has responded. It's sure to play host to some thrilling contests. "In multiplayer, the thing that sets Wargroove apart from other games is the focus on recruiting armies of units," Brice explains. "Throughout a standard battle, players will race to capture structures that generate income, build up their armies, power up their Commanders and unleash their strategies, reacting to the enemy as they attempt to do the same."
For many turn-based tactical games, all of this would be enough, but Chucklefish wasn't content with merely offering a solo campaign and a bunch of predetermined modes – it wants players to get creative, and it's this aspect of the game that is largely responsible for the prolonged delay (Wargroove was supposed to be out in 2017). "Wargroove started out as a small project but once we actually sat down to play our prototypes we realised just how fun the game was, and it demanded to be fully developed," explains Brice. "Throughout development, we aimed to provide a massive package that did the genre justice and we didn’t stop until we were satisfied. Sometimes that means going (way) over your deadlines, but in the end, it’s worth it."
That certainly appears to be the case; the game's mission and scenario building tools are utterly incredible, allowing you to do something as small as make a single-map mission which can be finished in seconds to something as grand as an overarching campaign complete with multiple objectives, branching side-missions and challenges. You can even create your own dramatic cutscenes which play out in-between each mission, just like in the solo campaign.
What's perhaps the most exciting thing about all of this is that Wargroove's creative tools are supported by a Super Mario Maker-style sharing system, where players can download missions and scenarios made by others and rate them accordingly. This is expected to prolong the lifespan of the game dramatically. "We have editing tools and content sharing, so you’ll be able to download nifty singleplayer campaigns and scenarios from other players," Brice explains. Chucklefish is basically giving players the same tools the team used to build Wargroove itself.
But how complex is this system? Brice is keen to stress that it's as complicated or straightforward as the player wants it to be. "The good news is setting up a basic PvP map is incredibly simple, you can paint the terrain and units in a couple of minutes," he says, before adding that the tools allow people to be as committed as they personally feel comfortable with. "For players that want to go further, there’s an incredible depth; players can use the event editor to make custom rulesets, RPG maps and quests, whilst the cutscene editor allows them to play out just about any scene they can imagine. We can’t wait to see what players make with these tools."
With an inevitable abundance of user-generated content on the horizon, you'd assume that DLC wouldn't be needed to maintain player interest, but Brice says it's on the cards regardless – although he's not able to talk about it just yet, for obvious reasons. He's also keen to stress that the team at Chucklefish are massive fans of the Switch, and the aim is to have as many of the studio's games – both those that are internally-developed and those which is it publishing – on Nintendo's console. We already know that Inmost is on the way, but it would seem that Chucklefish's other projects – such as Witchbrook, which looks like a cross between Harry Potter and Stardew Valley – also have an excellent chance of coming to Switch in the fullness of time.
For now, we imagine that Wargroove will keep most Switch players happy. It may have taken its time getting here, but the elongated development period (a luxury no doubt afforded by the fact that in the best-selling Stardew Valley, Chucklefish has something of a golden goose) has delivered a game that goes way beyond its initial promise.
Wargroove launches on Switch on February 1st.