Warborn: Variable Armour Command stimulates long-forgotten memories of a 90’s pop culture phenomena that swept over Japan and the Western Hemisphere. Giant mechanized robots fighting to the death has been a staple in the animated entertainment industry for decades, as the rise of Transformers, Voltron, and the legendary Gundam series captivated the minds of children and adults alike. Warborns’ salute to the fanbase is a refreshing experience that compels you to appreciate a genre that felt lost, but ultimately falls short as a holistic turn-based strategy game.
Warborn is a traditional turn-based tactics game by Raredrop Games, a small Indie team based out of the UK. Players command one of the four unique commanders in their struggle to defeat tyranny across the Auros system. Other features include a 40 mission campaign, an offline Skirmish mode, multiplayer support, and a limited map editor that could provide a lot of long term potential pending updates. Warborn brings just enough meat to the table to keep it interesting.
90’s Mecha Anime At Its Finest
In 1956, Mitsuteru Yokoyama created the popular Manga Tetsujin 28, in which a young boy controls a giant robot. This would later be adapted into an anime known by the same name that featured the very first giant robots facing off against one another in combat. Yokoyama’s inspiration would go on to pave the way for the titular titles that we know and love today such as Mazinga Z, Super Sentai, and popular Gundam series that would become a staple mark for Japanese pop culture.
Warborn isn’t ashamed of who it is and for good reason. 90’s mecha anime is painted all over the place, with detailed unit visuals and character animations that even Yoshiyuki Tomino would be proud of. Units bear an uncanny resemblance to those in the Gundam series, and do a decent job of depicting what a modern mobile mech suit would look like. The graphical style chosen by Raredrop is simple by today’s standards, but works well when you complement it with a stellar soundtrack.
The campaign is broken up between four playable factions where you control a strike force of Variable Armour units tasked with completing their mission. The story was longer than expected for a title of this size, taking just over twenty hours to complete at a casual pace. Here lies the biggest problem – each mission’s objectives hardly vary from taking a specific outpost and finishing remaining units on the map. Sure, there are narrative situations spread throughout, but the only context given is through conversation during vague mission briefings resulting in slow character development. Luella, Vincent, Aurielle, and Izol all struggle to overcome personal conflict, but Warborn fails to provide players with any sense of empathy or consequence for your decisions.
Warborn compensates for its lack of story with fleshed-out gameplay, which was the highlight of my twenty-three-hour playthrough. Maps are set up of multiple hexagonal tiles littered with different types of terrain, each with their own defense ratings and effects. Movement is as simple as it gets, requiring you to select your units and move to a tile that is within your designated range. Once you reach your destination you will then have the option to use one of your Variable Armours attacks, given your opponent is within range. Certain unit types will additionally be able to capture resource outposts that will reward you with Strategic Points (SP), the currency you will use to purchase additional troops. Complemented with terrain movement effects and buffs from ally units, you are given situations that will test your skill and patience.
With a competent lineup of different variable armour and damage types, Warborn allows for fluid, strategic gameplay. Building a good ratio of snipers (Insights), medical units (Aegis), and basic foot soldiers will give you enough firepower and utility to handle most of the opponents you face. Even in moments when you feel outgunned and outmaneuvered, swift action from your commander will swing the battle in your favor. Super-Mech units are piloted by your faction commander and are equipped with special powers and bonuses that apply to your units. It’s all good and fun blasting three enemies down at once, but halfway through the game, it becomes a repetitive sequence of dominating the map with no real consequence. There is no doubt that enough pieces are here to allow for high-level strategic gameplay, but the AI won’t satisfy any itch of competition you might have.
Warborn supports multiplayer functionality that allows you to play as any of the four factions included in the main campaign. You can challenge your opponents to the pre-made selectable maps, or create custom maps through the map editor. My experience with the skirmish mode and map editor was brief, but it’s easy to see with the limited terrain and outposts options there could be some issues for long term applications without further updates.
Warborn: Variable Armour Command is a fleshed-out, turn-based tactics game that is limited by its overall simplicity. Varying unit types and commander traits offer an intriguing experience when utilized properly to subdue enemies on the map. Warborn has limited replayability in the campaign once completed, so any long term potential would rely on future updates to the multiplayer and customized map editor. This is a title that has all the workings of a popular turn-based strategy game, but ultimately doesn’t live up to its potential.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A review copy was provided by the publisher
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