Raredrop Games’ Warborn is a traditional turn-based tactics affair that takes the thoroughly tried and tested gameplay of the likes of Advance Wars – and, more recently, Wargroove – and adds great big sexy Gundam-esque mechanised robots and a generous dollop of ’90s-style overwrought anime backstory to the mix.
Fans of the genre will find absolutely zero surprises with this one; it plays it safe and straight down the line in terms of how its tactical warfare evolves over the course of a hefty 20-hour campaign and, although ma-hoo-sive robots are always undoubtedly awesome and the game competently covers all the expected bases, in the end, the whole thing comes off as feeling just a little bit too safe and sterilized.
In Warborn you assume the role of four different faction commanders – Luella, Vincent, Aurielle and Izol – each in charge of their very own strike forces of Variable Armour mechs, who have been caught up in a war that’s engulfed the Auros system in political strife and turmoil. Each commander controls the same ten mech unit types, but brings to the table their own set of (rather underwhelming) special skills and buffs that imbue troops with a variety of perks on the battlefield and are unlocked as you play through the ten missions that make up each commander’s contributions to the interweaving storyline.
Battles here play out on hexagonal tiled maps littered with various terrain types that you can make use of to protect your troops from enemy fire. Sticking a unit into a city block, dense foliage or rocky ground, for example, will give them a defensive boost, and there are also a number of resource outposts to capture in order to gain CP – the in-game currency that allows you to deploy one new mech per turn from any bases you capture along the way.
Movement around the map is straightforward stuff and each unit can move a set number of squares per turn in any direction that isn’t impeded by terrain or an obstacle. Your lumbering Farside artillery mechs make slow progress at just two tiles at a time, while dual sword-wielding Pathfinder scouts can dash six squares per go, making them perfect for moving rapidly around the map and using their radar to search for hidden enemy mines.
Each of the different units you take control of has their own set of special abilities that give things a welcome boost in terms of strategic choices. As mentioned, Pathfinders can search out and destroy landmines, snipers have great range in their shots but can also grant nearby allies an accuracy boost and those Farside artillery mechs can pound distant areas with heavy ordinance – perfect for keeping your enemy’s production of dangerous units under assault as you move around the map taking over resource points to ensure you’ve got the upper hand when it comes to troop numbers. Vanguards excel at close quarters combat with their huge plasma swords, Prospects can lay hidden mines and fire off excavator rockets and Aegis units provide vital medical and repair powers; it’s wise to keep at least one of these close to your most valued mechs in order to patch them up as and when it’s needed.
Alongside all of these various mech types, your commander has their very own specialised Variable Armour that can be deployed once your CP bar maxes out and, as expected, this particular mech can absolutely turn the tide of battle once they’re on the field with quick movement across the map and a bevvy of powerful attacks at their disposal.
As each of the four campaign chapters play out, however, the game does interfere quite annoyingly with your access to this specialised mech. In the first commander campaign, Luella may sometimes be deployed in her mech from the start of the mission, saving you the hassle of waiting for CP to build up, but other times she’ll be suffering from illness and unable to take to the battlefield at all. It’s obviously an attempt to force you to switch up your tactics and introduce some variety, but we’d much rather the game tried something a little more clever or stuck to its own rules and allowed you to access the commander mech at all times.
And really, that’s all there is to say about the combat in Warborn; it’s almost stiflingly straightforward stuff at times and doesn’t pull out any big surprises over the course of its campaign, never managing to feel gritty, desperate or exciting no matter the dire situation described in certain pre-mission cutscenes. Mission objectives are always either simply ‘destroy all enemies’ or ‘capture all bases’, there are no major switch-ups to keep you on your toes; once you’ve played the first handful of hours, you’ve really seen all Warborn has to offer mechanically.
It’s also perfectly competent, performs without a bug or a hiccup and is a good fit for dipping into for sessions in portable play. We happily blasted our way through the whole campaign and the relatively uninspired and unsurprising nature of the flow of combat actually adds an almost relaxing quality to jumping into this one for some handheld couch time.
The slightly uninspired blandness of the gameplay also carries over to the game’s chosen art-style. There’s definitely an attempt to inject proceedings with an exciting ’90s Gundam-esque vibe here and the overly-dramatic story cutscenes that top and tail missions certainly nail the OTT angst of a lot of these old TV shows, but the graphics themselves just feel far too sterile during actual missions.
Maps and mechs all look like they’ve just been shipped in fresh from the production line, there’s not a scrape, bump or sign or action to be seen anywhere, and it just adds to that sterile feeling that we get from how the core gameplay avoids taking any risks whatsoever. Even battle animations, which play out as you attack and destroy enemy units, feel oddly limp, perhaps on account of the fact there’s only actually one attack animation and one death animation, no matter what weapon you’ve used or how a unit dies. In fact, we pretty quickly hit the settings menu and turned these animations off completely, and the game flowed much better as a result.
Overall then, Warborn certainly doesn’t do anything wrong; if you’re a fan of turn-based combat games in the vein of Advance Wars and most especially if you like great big shiny anime Mechs, you’ll definitely find plenty of content to enjoy here, with the lengthy campaign accompanied by a skirmish mode which can be taken online to play against other humans as well as a map editor which – while quite basic – is a fun enough diversion that allows you to create your own battlefields and use them in online face-offs. It may not be the most exciting game of its type we’ve ever played and it does absolutely nothing to move the genre forward in any way whatsoever, but Warborn does what it does well enough, and is a safe and solid addition to the Switch’s current selection of turn-based titles.
Warborn takes the tried and tested Advance Wars formula, adds a bunch of huge Mechs, some overwrought ’90s anime-inspired cutscenes and a story that sees you take control of four different commanders as you seek to restore order to the Auros system. There’s nothing inspired or unique here; Raredrop Games is playing it safe and straight down the line, but fans of the genre, and most especially fans of massive Gundam-esque robots, will get a solid (if unspectacular) experience out of what’s on offer with this one. Just don’t expect any surprises.