Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC, Nintendo Switch
Release date: October 5th, 2023
Plotting and devising are crucial to success in turn-based strategy game Wargroove 2, a challenging sequel that doubles down on tactical troop management and mythical questing. Taking place three years after the first game, Wargroove 2 introduces a carousel of characters with new agendas and mythical, musical weapons that add tension and intrigue to every sword swipe and bullet shot.
Before diving into one of the three interwoven campaigns, I spent my first few hours in the prologue, learning Wargroove 2’s combat controls and meeting the troublemaking Faahri faction. In the wake of the violent power struggle seen in Wargroove, we’re thrust into the vibrant land of Aurania as it has settled into a newfound peace. That calmness is short-lived, though, as the Faahri seek to steal forbidden artifacts hidden across the world, sending its inhabitants into disarray.
I quickly became acquainted with the unlikely Faahri commander Lytra, a rookie mouse mage whose fighting spirit elevates the first two legs of Wargroove 2’s story. This meek and magical buccaneer becomes the first of many controllable captains you’ll wield across the campaign. Lytra captured my heart immediately with their underdog energy and pure heart, as they come to question their orders while on the warpath.
To round out the worldbuilding, a handy integrated Codex helped a newcomer like me to get up to speed with the history of Aurenia and its multiple warring factions. Wargroove 2 has a surprisingly rich backstory that develops as you progress through the campaigns, rewarding you with tidbits as you complete its turn-based missions.
However, while I appreciated the tutorials at the start of my journey, Wargroove 2’s hand-holding extended a little too far into its campaigns. The game's tutorials lasted much longer than necessary and messed with the pacing of the narrative. I would rather have made mistakes on my own terms and learned by reading the How to Play section in the Codex rather than enduring several tedious scenarios. Thankfully, the lessons are integrated into the story so it doesn’t feel like it’s for nothing, but I could have done with a little less parenting over the course of my career as an army commander.
Scheme and slash
Wargroove 2’s combat is top-down, turn-based, and tactical, similar to games like Fire Emblem Engage and Advance Wars. Facing off against an army of foes, you’ll take turns positioning units, engaging in combat, picking up resources, and capturing landmarks. While it might seem a lot to juggle at first, Wargroove 2 is surprisingly approachable in its design and felt intuitive to control. I relished the opportunity to create killer combat formations that could sweep out my opposition with efficient calculated strikes.
Terrain formations add an extra consideration, bringing environmental effects like mountains and fog to the game’s animated landscapes - all of which burst with pixelated detail. This led to difficult flashpoints, as my army’s numbers dwindled. During a particularly difficult battle, I had to choose between funneling my swordsmen across a bridge or taking a different risk; sending them through shallow water that would hurt their defense but lead to a quicker attack. While pond walking paid off on this occasion, there were plenty of times where the dice didn’t roll my way, leaving my sweet warriors to take overwhelming damage in swampy riverbeds.
Wargroove’s adorably lethal character designs summon a sense of accountability in battle that makes losing your soldiers a painful process. Every spear-wielding mouse, puppy warrior, or intergalactic flower fighter that falls is salt in the wound of your miscalculations. Your cutesy companions will be avenged.
Learning to keep a level head and make wise choices as the triumphant music boomed was a persistent impulse check, and it consistently pushed me to think laterally about my forthcoming plans. Lytra and the other commanding officers each have a unique Groove weapon, which draws its power from defeating enemies and capturing buildings in battle. Groove attacks have the ability to shift the combat narrative, and were particularly useful in a pinch when I needed to save my commander.
As I progressed through the story, I found myself frustrated at the tight nature of certain maps which bottlenecked my movement, leading to some painfully slow engagements that I was glad to see the back of. Even if I was more patient, it would just be a case of waiting for units and constantly resetting rounds rather than setting up careful plans.
Fire in the hole
Wargroove 2 has a distinctly polished pixel art style that is best seen across the varied animations of its sprites. Central characters interacting with magical ruins would cause them to flicker and come to life with a neon aqua glow. Each geographical area in Aurania has a unique color palette that helps put the vastness of the continent into perspective. Snowy regions are doused with cool-toned greys and purples, while the coastal areas are full of sandy browns and turquoise blues. I was almost always delighted to see new structures as I explored the realm - every pixel had clearly earned its place.
Wargroove 2’s sleek style extends into its battle units, with unique visuals depending on a warrior’s faction and archetype. Flying attackers across all factions have their own idiosyncrasies, such as the science-minded Faahri’s steam-powered jetpack-wielding Flight Engineers or the forest-dwelling Floran troops who use flying Leafwings with fern feather appendages. The technical capabilities of the units remain the same, but the faction differences keep cutscenes fresh as you move between Wargroove 2’s campaigns, grounding each army in its own ambitions.
I would also be remiss not to mention one of Wargroove 2’s best assets: its soundtrack from Dale North, which sets up dramatic and comedic scenes with awesome heavy brass arrangements and intense percussion. The intensity was maintained as I battled my way through a rogue’s gallery of adversaries, with many songs tailored to the environment or character I was facing up against. Wargroove 2’s whimsical pirate tunes wormed their way into my head quickly, and have taken up a residence - I don’t see them forfeiting anytime soon.
Swashbuckle to success
Once you’re finished taking on the story, you can jump over to the roguelike Conquest mode, which speeds up the action. Here, you choose a commander with an associated starting bonus and soldier formation before working through a league of challenges. Failure in this game mode results in permadeath - no matter how far you get, you’ll have to start over if your commander goes down. If you succeed, you’ll work along the nodes of a combat spiderweb, choosing perks as you go to bolster your army. These perks do cost you gold, so early successes are key to completing the extremities of the web.
Conquest is an exciting change of pace from the exposition-heavy campaign, and it was brain-teasing to grapple with the procedural options and attempt to curate a perfect run, or explore new tactical approaches.
Wargroove 2 also features a map and campaign creator that enables players to use the game’s catalogue of assets to build bespoke narratives. The process can be a little finicky to navigate (especially on the Steam Deck), but it’s a fully-featured and hopeful inclusion that signals a future full of player-made content, an enticing prospect for those who wrap up Wargroove 2’s story and are looking for more challenging fights to sink their teeth into.
Wargroove 2 is a moreish strategy game that repeatedly put my best-laid plans to the test across the linearity of its campaigns and the chaos of its all-new roguelike mode. Even with the handholding and some awkward maps to contend with, the call of "one more battle" was hard to ignore.
Chucklefish has included a range of features players can use to tailor their experience in Wargroove 2, including difficulty sliders that modify offensive and defensive stats. The accessibility menu has further settings like a colorblind and photosensitivity mode, as well as the ability to toggle vibration.
How we reviewed Wargroove 2
I played through Wargroove 2’s trio of campaigns and Conquest mode between my Steam Deck and PC. Across Wargroove 2’s missions, I modified the difficulty settings to see how I fared in different circumstances and against certain factions. In Conquest mode, I used a variety of commanders and formations, and tried my best to take new paths where possible. When testing the custom content creation tools, I switched between handheld and mouse and keyboard to see how easy it was to put together a map on a portable controller-mapped device.
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