In turn-based strategy games, characters often take a backseat to gameplay. While some games like Into the Breach use character portraits and snippets of dialogue to lend some personality to their casts, those characters are hardly designed to create any emotional connection. On the other hand, the Fire Emblem series is filled instantly likeable characters. But even then, I’ve always felt their appeal was more aesthetics than substance.
In Wargroove, not only have I fallen in love with the storylines Chucklefish crafted for each character, but I’ve also come to appreciate how those backstories align perfectly with how characters perform on the battlefield.
Throughout the game, I can control 12-plus commanders in both story and arcade modes. In each skirmish, I order my various combat units — from basic sword-wielding soldiers and archers to oddities like giants and dragons — around a grid-based battlefield. The goal of each encounter is to either wipe out the opposing commander or destroy their base.
While the satisfying turn-based combat would be more than enough to make me a fan, it’s Wargroove’s characters, and how their personalities fit so well with their battlefield functions, that really makes a difference for me.
All of the commanders have eye-catching designs that instantly express their personalities, competency and place in the world. For instance, the game’s main character, Mercia, is a queen and soldier who wears a scar — and smile — across her face. It wasn’t a surprise to me that not only is she one of the toughest characters in the game, but also her special ability (called a Groove) heals her fellow troops. Those mechanics fit perfectly with her personality: She’s brave, headstrong, and cares deeply about her people. On the other hand, Valder, the game’s main villain, looks wicked and brooding. He commands an army of skeletal soldiers, who take over Mercia’s kingdom, and unsurprisingly, his special ability allows him to raise even more skeletons to fight alongside him.
My favorite commander is Caesar, Mercia’s guard dog — and a commander of his own army. In one of the optional missions where I control the canine leader, he and his wards enter an abandoned stronghold, only to find that it’s been overrun by rogues.
I start the battle with a small party by my side, but as I explore the enemy’s fortress, I run across captured civilians. Inspired by the heroism of the dog commander, those captives take up arms and fight alongside me, bolstering my ranks. The fact that a dog can be so smart and powerful is central to Caesar’s character. As noted in his backstory, his presence on the battlefield inspires fellow soldiers to fight harder. Furthering that idea, his special ability utilizes his affect on others and allows units around him to take an extra turn.
By completing optional missions, like Caesar’s, or the battle-focused arcade mode, I got to unlock more backstory for each character in the game’s codex. The codex offers up just about every detail I would need to know about the game, but I have to play as each commander in order to unlock more details for them. This added time with each commander also familiarizes me with how they play, in case I want to use them in local or online multiplayer battles.
Turn-based strategy games don’t require interesting characters to be satisfying experiences, but Chucklefish has gone the extra mile by developing a cast of charming commanders worth paying attention to. While cutscenes accomplish this task in games like Fire Emblem, the short vignettes in Wargroove hardly do any heavy lifting. Instead, each commanders’ playstyle is a reflection of their character, and by spending more time with them, I’m rewarded with a deeper understanding of who they are. The investment I make in each character is not a byproduct of how the story develops. Rather, it’s a result of my understanding of why – and how – they fight.
Wargroove is available Feb. 1 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC via Steam.