“Battle Worlds: Kronos is a hard game,” reads an ominous opening message. “But if you can’t beat it, that’s not because it is too hard.” That warning might sound a little cocky, but there’s truth to it, too. Because beneath its wonky CGI cutscenes and well-worn sci-fi setting lies a turn-based strategy game that operates like a cross between Advance Wars and the classic era of Command & Conquer. It's a challenging experience with enough accommodation for less savvy players, even if it does have a few issues to boot.
Developed by King Art Games (which has previously produced everything from point-and-click titles to tactical RPGs), Battle Worlds: Kronos comes from a successful Kickstarter campaign way back in 2013, but while it’s taken the long route to get here, those six years have enabled the German studio to make some well-received updates and introduce some much-needed extra content. The result is the promise of 60-plus hours of gameplay, with two campaigns, a DLC expansion and a new local multiplayer mode for some ad-hoc battling (complete with bespoke maps).
While it does share some similarities in both UI and perspective with the good old days of Command & Conquer, in practice Battle Worlds: Kronos often plays more like classic hex-based hit, Battle Isle. In that regard, it’s a tactical experience less about base building and resource farming (although both do play their part) and more about the moment-to-moment action of combat. Because, like that opening warning says, this is a ‘hard game’ that will punish even the smallest of misjudgements with total failure and abject shame.
Set in a distant corner of the galaxy, Battle Worlds: Kronos' story isn’t its strongest suit. Following 200 years of peace, two rival political factions are now vying for control of a vacated throne – so, of course, that means war. Lots and lots of war. It lacks the narrative chops of so many other turn-based strategy games out there, but it’s a good enough plot to serve as a backdrop for the game’s tactical battles. Because most of the time you’re not going to be concerned with the nuance of fake political treaties while you’re getting your backside handed to you because you failed to place your units in the right position. Thankfully, there is the option to call in reinforcements should things go against you, but purists will want to avoid such trivial notions.
Each unit at your disposal (the campaign enables you to play as both sides of the conflict) comes with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. The explorer, for instance, is ideal for revealing new parts of the map and covering large distances at speed, but it’s weak and not built to take much punishment. On the other hand, the meteor can be loaded up with explosives and used to cripple larger units and collapse structures with a kamikaze strike. There’s real creativity to how each unit as part of the wider meta, although being able to distinguish them on the field with their red/blue markings can be a challenge in itself.
The campaign is broken down into broad missions which slowly introduce land-based vehicles, boats of various sizes, and aircraft. There’s quite a bit of variety to mission structures – with objectives often changing as the conflict progresses – but keep in mind missions can often be considerably longer in length. That big 60-plus hour figure King Art is using to promote Battle Worlds: Kronos is only really that high because of how chunky each individual mission is. Failing to properly resource your units or place them in the best strategic position (for instance, units have increased firepower if placed in an adjoining hex) means a quick game over, which can be very frustrating if you’ve sunk a lot of time into it.
There’s a rewarding sense of ever-changing tactics at play, and you’ll often need to act in the heat of the moment as much as you act on well laid-plans. Buildings (such as docks and reinforcement structures) can be conquered by attacking them, but only with infantry bots. Containers can sometimes hold new and fresh units, so exploration sometimes warrants unexpected rewards (or equally unexpected enemy encounters) and repair pads enable you to quickly heal heavily damaged units. However, for all that choice in tactics, you can only select one unit at a time, so there’s no group movement or attacks. It’s a design choice that makes every turn a little too slow at times.
Based on the PS4 and Xbox One ports from 2016, the Nintendo Switch version of Battle Worlds: Kronos does benefit from some platform-specific improvements. Switch’s display doesn’t quite work with more complex battles, mainly because of how little screen real estate it has to work with, but this is offset by the introduction of touchscreen controls. Being able to double tap to bring up a contextual action menu for each unit – or shift the map for a greater view of the battlefield – is always going to trump the less intuitive alternative of using analogue sticks and face buttons. Those physical inputs are functional, but having more agency makes a big difference to a game like this.
Rounding out the Switch version is a local multiplayer offering designed for ‘hot seat’ couch-play sessions. Whether you’re playing in docked mode or handheld mode, up to four players will pass the controller/console around in an attempt to outdo one another on a series of themed maps that were designed specifically for this mode. There’s no support for online play, which is a step down from other versions of the game, but with its simple controller sharing setup and small maps, Battle Worlds: Kronos’ multiplayer offering is easily its most accessible mode for players looking for something a little more casual.
While ultimately less accessible than the likes of Wargroove (which taps into that Nintendo-centric DNA of Advance Wars far better), Battle Worlds: Kronos does a decent job of bringing a more complex and challenging take on turn-based hex strategy. The reinforcements system makes this far less ‘hard’ than its tutorials would have you believe, although it’s a much purer experience without them. The lack of online multiplayer support stings, but it’s balanced out by a hotseat local version. Its overly long mission structure doesn’t lend itself to short bursts of play, but for those looking for something suitably meaty in the strategy department will find plenty to enjoy.