While wartime strategy games are one of the evergreen genres of both board and PC gaming, they’re much less of a presence on console; outside of steadfast staples like the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series, historical takes on the turn-based formula are particularly scarce. CIRCLE’s Conqueror series brought this concept to the 3DS eShop with releases such as World Conqueror 3D and European Conqueror 3D, and now it’s back for another round on Switch. Channelling board game classics such as Axis & Allies and Risk, with a World War II setting and fun, strategic gameplay, World Conqueror X is a solidly enjoyable effort despite a few missteps.
Once you get your boots on the ground, World Conquerer X plays similarly to Advance Wars or other grid-based strategy games: taking turns with your computer-controlled opponent(s), you’ll be able to move each of your units - from foot soldiers and tanks to cannons and submarines - across the map, and set them on any enemies within range. Rather than starting and being stuck with a set number of fighters as in Fire Emblem, here you can use your resources to recruit new units on the fly. You can also bolster defences by building bunkers, mines, or anti-aircraft guns, order airstrikes and missiles, and develop any cities you’re currently occupying to boost the income coming into the coffers each turn.
These basics are the basis for World Conqueror X’s two distinct game styles: Scenario and Conquest. Scenario is a mission mode, where you’ll choose between the Allied or Axis side (starting in Europe, with the Pacific Theatre available later) and proceed through a series of discrete tactical puzzles. These stages are based on actual battles, and so the victory conditions are accordingly diverse; winning might mean taking a certain city, repelling an assault, or holding on while outnumbered long enough for reinforcements to arrive. That variety, along with the relatively brief mission length - many take fewer than 20 turns - makes Scenario mode perfect for shorter play sessions or on-the-go conquest, and the focused nature of each stage keeps them feeling fresh and fun as you go.
Conquest mode, on the other hand, is a massive undertaking that sees you selecting a single country - from heavy hitters such as Germany or the USSR to smaller states a la Greece or Thailand - starting in 1939 or 1943, and simply trying to win the war. Your historically-correct allies will aid you during their own turns, and you have some stripped-down ‘diplomacy’ options (give money to allies or draw new opponents into the war), but other than that, it’s you versus the world. It’s an absolute slog, though that’s not meant as a criticism; it’s just an uphill battle fought on a dizzying number of simultaneous fronts, and it does an excellent job of driving home the enormity of the exercise. Handily, you can save and come back to your game at any time (though with only one save slot, you can’t hop back and forth between countries), and since it’s independent of the Scenario mode sequence, chipping away at Conquest makes for a nice change of pace from the main missions.
In both modes, World Conqueror X brings a few unique wrinkles to the otherwise standard strategy template. Morale plays a heavy role, for instance; units who are surrounded or flanked will lose morale, and have lowered defences as a result, while troops just after a decisive win might get a boost to their attack power. You can also raise spirits by building certain amenities in cities you control, or by calling in the big guns with one of the many generals available for recruitment.
After ‘hiring’ generals in the HQ mode through medals earned in the game, you can deploy them to a specific unit in battle to help turn the tide with their considerable strength. In keeping with the theme, these are real-life generals, and each general’s powers are generally linked to their careers - Nimitz and Yamamoto are strong in naval units and airstrikes, for instance, while Graziani and MacArthur are most at home on land. One big difference, however, is that their in-game avatars have no scruples about helping out either side; if your dream is to have Rommel pinch-hit for the Republic of China, you can make it happen here.
From the turn-based strategy to the potential for fan-fiction with its generals, World Conquered X is a lot of fun. That said, it does have a few issues that can get in the way. The first is that many of its mechanics are vastly under-explained. The included tutorials are a start, but they spend more time on broad concepts (such as movement and morale) than on the nuts and bolts, with the result that we had to stumble around for several missions before we figured out how to recruit new troops, build bunkers, or upgrade units. There’s also a notable lack of clarity on what exactly different actions accomplish - upgrading troops seems like a good idea, sure, but there’s no specific indication of what’s improved - and a general feeling that you don’t always have all the information you need. There’s no preemptive report on possible outcomes before you order an attack, for instance, and no indication of how troops, cities, or structures affect your incoming resources. For a genre built on stats and numbers, the obfuscation is disappointing.
The second issue we encounter is again related to a lack of information, and specifically on what goes on in enemy turns. Though game speed is adjustable, your options when you’re not in control are limited to watching the computer take its turn in full, or skipping it entirely with a press of the ‘+’ button. The problem is that a lot can happen in a single turn, and you either miss out on all of it, or sit through a long series of shuffles and skirmishes and try and remember all the relevant details. It’s particularly egregious in Conquest mode, where enemy turns can take upwards of five minutes (!) to play out — in one instance, we get up to make a cup of tea and came back to the AI still playing away. Some sort of highlight summary between rounds would be a huge help, but as it stands, it’s tough to keep strategic tabs on everything that transpires before you’re back in control.
Graphically, World Conqueror X is a notable update from the series’ 3DS days. It’s nothing fancy, but the colourful cartography built on softened hexagons backs up the board game gameplay with an appropriately tabletop aesthetic. Pleasantly copy-pasted details such as forests, mountains, and deserts give the feel of an unfolded paper map, and aside from a few text alignment issues, it’s a nice look. We would have appreciated a bit more visual variety in terms of troops and cities - Paris is thematically indistinguishable from Phnom Penh, which seems like a bit of a miss - but overall, the crisp, clean style is excellent.
The music - with themes and motifs returning from the 3DS entries - is similarly well done, with particular care given to dynamic shifts. Its martial drums, strings, and horns stay largely in the background for long stretches of time, so that when they finally do swell up into strong, foregrounded melodies, the morale boost is palpable. It’s a smart move that keeps the small soundtrack from ever feeling too repetitive, even in longer Conquest sessions.
Finally, it’s worth noting that while World Conquerer X isn’t exactly graphic in the usual sense of the word - there’s no blood or gore, and defeated units simply blink off the battlefield with a few frames of animation - it’s steeped in the actual atrocities of World War II, and certain images and historical photographs could potentially be uncomfortable. The swastikas and Rising Suns have been airbrushed away, but the intent remains, and it’s fair to say that many players may place gameplay objectives such as 'Invade Poland' or 'Deploy an atomic bomb' somewhere between distasteful and disturbing. Of course, if you have an interest in the period, this history (and alternate histories) may be appealing in itself, but World Conqueror X’s real-World War basis means that it’s harder to ignore (much less enjoy) the violence here than in purely fictional affairs like Advance Wars.
It’s not out to break new ground, but with enjoyable strategy gameplay and an appealing board game aesthetic, World Conquerer X is certainly a welcome addition to the Switch’s library. Minimal tutorials and under-explained mechanics make it easy to feel overwhelmed at the outset, but new recruits who stick it out will find plenty of strategic fun in both the bite-sized Scenario missions and globe-spanning madness of Conquest mode. A significant improvement from earlier games on 3DS, and a solid recommendation for war-gamers.