For the past few years, The Battle For Wesnoth has been one of the grand pillars of PC freeware/open-source gaming, but a quick poke through our archives here shows that we’ve not said anything of note about it – clearly an egregious oversight to be rectified. What better time for it, too? A major new release is looming and a release candidate is available now for the public to pick over, so put on your robe and your wizard hat; it’s time for some hex-based strategy RPG’ing.
There’s a very good chance you’ve at least heard of this game. It’s been out for years, after all. A grand open-source, community-driven project to produce a professional and polished turn-based strategy RPG on every available personal computer format (Mac, Linux and even OpenPandora are natively supported) and in every language they can translate it into. It’s moddable, it’s huge, it’s deep and involved and one of the better games in it’s genre, if you can stomach the occasional dice-roll deciding combat success.
Most reminiscent of the Fire Emblem series on Nintendo systems, Wesnoth is an absurdly hefty package. The current development version (a release candidate for the long-awaited V1.10, so it should be perfectly stable, barring the last-second discovery of any major bugs) contains no less than 16 story-driven campaigns – many of them full-length, weighing in at 15-25 linked scenarios – as well as skirmish, random map, online multiplayer and mod support downloaded direct from a central community content hub.
As in the Fire Emblem series, units are limited and death is permanent. Aside from a few key heroes that you need to keep alive each mission, everyone else can – and sometimes will – die in the line of duty. Such casualties are expensive, as an experienced soldier that has evolved Pokemon-style into a better class is a much more powerful and efficient unit than a fresh recruit. Good play involves knowing when to cut your losses and pull back to recover, and cycle fresh and exhausted units. There’s quite a lot of depth to the gameplay, and a lot of scenarios to test your skill in.
While there’s an enormous amount of content to see here, there hasn’t been a huge amount added to the game lately – this is because the past year or so of development has focused strongly on polishing and refining the presentation of the game. Some of the map tilesets looked fairly rough, some sprites were bland and amateurish, and much of the character/backstory art was very cheaply done. A recent drive to bring in a group of professional artists has really paid off, and aside from a few old placeholders left over from previous builds – they stand out like a sore thumb compared to the excellent core art now – the game looks easily worthy of a retail release.
With the core game constantly being refined in both gameplay and presentation, and an active community providing both multiplayer opposition (there’s even a remarkably solid iOS port, although several versions out of date – any systems running the same build number can play against each other) and new mod content, there really is no end in sight for this project. Wesnoth has been growing for years now, and will likely continue to do so well into 2012 and beyond. With the latest major build just about to be finalized, now is a better time than ever to give it a look – just download the latest development build- it’s good for your ‘elf.