I’m not an RPG guy. Overall most RPGs require too much effort and time micromanaging. Too many things to worry about…people to talk to, items to collect, weight limits, spells…all that type of stuff. It has it’s place, but I need a little more thought and linear-ness for my RPG games. I don’t mind the strategy involved or that certain characters have special abilities, but there it stops. The Legend of Zelda is my ideal type of RPG game. It has a basic inventory system with very basic items/weapons to use. It’s play is simple and rather linear. There’s plenty to explore but not so much that you just throw your hands up and go “ah heck with it!”
The one thing Zelda (obviously) doesn’t have is a lot of strategy involved. You’re a lone hero in that game. Having a group or team of characters to control and manage is a good challenge for me. Kind of like a mix between RTS games (like Age of Empires) and Zelda. That to me is a fun RPG. Final Fantasy…I dunno…I’ve honestly never played through any Final Fantasy game because RPGs generally just don’t blow my skirt up. I’m guessing Final Fantasy is way overkill.
I was reading in the latest EGM about a game called Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. It’s series is the first self-proclaimed “tactical” RPG. Apparently tactical games are ones I enjoy. These games focus more on character placement and fighting strategy than it does questing and managing inventory. Conveniently enough, Fire Emblem is for the Wii, so my thought was to maybe rent it or see if it comes out cheap and give it a go. Thankfully enough, however, Jay is Games highlighted a game that follows in the exact same lines as Fire Emblem, that being tactical, but is entirely free (and open source). It’s called Battle for Wesnoth.
One quick (albeit big) download and install, I gave Battle of Wesnoth a try to see if it filled my RPG needs. After a good solid day of playing, I can safely say that it does fit the RPG bill. So tactical is where I like it.
Wesnoth is pretty easy to jump into and since it is an open source game, it has a ton of content (scenarios) to play through. It also has an online, multiplayer mode, although I have not yet tried that. The learning curve for Wesnoth wasn’t steep per se, but since I have no prior experience with tactical games it did take me a bit to get the hang of it – I’d choose beginner/easy if you’re new to the genre.
Every campaign is different and each has a different number of scenarios (missions) to complete before you complete the campaign. As of yet I haven’t completed any, even on easy. This isn’t a bad thing really, you don’t want it too easy, but on flaw of all RPG games (even RTS games) is that there is a lot of up front effort and time spent preparing for battles. Then those battles come and you lose a good chunk of your army, forcing you to kind of start all over again. I guess this is how it goes and is where the so-called strategy comes in…so maybe I’m just no good at strategy?
Battle for Wesnoth is a turn-based game, so every player (you and the computer) take turns moving your pieces around the board and fighting each other. The game has a very classic pen-and-paper RPG feel to it, although the graphics for this are not bad at all, especially considering they are all contributed graphics. Each turn consists of moving your men and then defending or attacking bad guys, all in an attempt to reach the goal which has been explained in sometimes tedious and lengthly dialog screens. There’s no voice acting here…all good old fashion talk balloons and cut scenes. You can actually skip through all the exposition if you want and get your goal easily from the menu.
The constraint and challenge in Wesnoth comes from managing your resources (gold), picking the right men for your army, and time. Since the game is turn-based, you are given only so many turns to complete each mission. If you don’t reach your goal by then, your game is over. There are also hero characters you have to keep alive or it’s game over as well. You are given gold automatically each turn (called income) and the amount you get is determined by how many villages you control, which are little house icons on the board. Good thing is, it is easy to control a village – just move any of your pieces on the house. The downside is every guy you control costs you money per turn, not just the cost of first purchase. I get burned by this a lot because I make a ton of guys up front and take my gold down to almost nothing. It can take time to reach villages to control so after only a couple moves you can actually have negative gold, making it extremely hard to get money to buy more guys. I would think just having zero gold would be punishment enough, but I guess not – how can you get negative gold? Did I get the gold on loan?
Fighting, however, is a shot in the dark. You can choose which bad guys you fight (sometimes), but the battle itself is all random. Each board is a hexagon grid so you can surround baddies and whoop up on them pretty good, but beware, the randomness of fighting can really get on your nerves. Your characters do gain experience and gain power as they fight and survive, but don’t be surprised if your level five knight totally whiffs when fighting a level zero thief. This happened quite a bit from what I’ve played, but I guess it’s just a dice roll at that point. It can be frustrating but I found the bigger challenge is moving forward while keep your heroes alive.
If you’re looking for a game that is more chess-like and less role-playing, then Battle of Wesnoth is a good place to start, especially considering the price. It seems like a very vast game and includes tools for making your own campaigns, maps, and even characters, so there is a bunch of user-created content available. I’ve only played two of the dozen or so campaigns that is included in the base download and it has enough challenge for quite some time thus far. If the almighty Fire Emblem is anything like Wesnoth then I’m sure I’d like it, but why pay $50 to play on my couch when I can play from an armchair for free?