Growing up, I have distinct memories of rushing to a friends’ house after school to watch cartoons. This was the age of Toonami with the likes of Dragon Ball Z, Ultimate Muscle and, importantly for this article, Gundam Wing showing constantly. These shows were my gateway into anime and while I love Dragon Ball Z, it’s a very silly show about space monkeys shooting lasers out of their hands. Whereas Gundam Wing was far more sensible with its space robots shooting lasers out of their guns. Jokes aside though, Gundam Wing is a much more sombre story than Dragon Ball Z and it sparked a lifelong love of the Gundam franchise and giant robots in general. And so we have what on paper sounds amazing – a turn-based tactics game where you battle mechs across space. It sounds almost too good to be true and, well, it is. While Warborn isn’t awful, I doubt it will be anybody’s spark.
Warborn is set in a Sci-Fi world where people ride mechs and there is war. The campaign is split into individual missions and is further split by leading characters. After you finish one character’s story, you move onto the next and see where the overall tale takes you. No matter which character you are playing as though, the missions are roughly the same. You take control of some big robot pals, who each have a variety of special abilities, and the game tasks you with defeating your opponent. This is generally blowing them all up or capturing locations where they produce their own mechs. Each turn in Warborn you gain a certain number of resources depending on how many points you hold and that lets you build whichever mechs you have available. And that’s the game, you get some story, do a mission, get some more story. And it left me feeling as empty as the void, that’s a space pun.
My issues with Warborn became apparent early on. My first and main problem is with the story and writing. As a parallel, Gundam Wing and other Gundam stories can appear dry on the surface but they tackle deeper issues beneath. I’m not talking Nietzsche levels but things like colonialism, pacifism and the cost of war on those fighting and civilians – to name a few. And it built those themes within the wrapper of a cool mech show with laser swords and epic space fights. The problem with Warborn is that it confuses a lot of that with angst. Not that Gundam is without its angst, its main cast is teenagers after all, but that was never the appeal – at least not to me. The story feels like it only moves between bland and angsty and never reaches for anything else. And this feels like such a shame considering where clearly draws influence.
My second issue is the visuals. This might not bother you, or you might like it, but I found the art style didn’t help me enjoy the game. While it’s harkening back to shows like classic Gundam, it apes it with this flat emotionless style. While character cut-outs in dialogue show different faces, in battle there is a single person you can identify and the waves and waves of faceless nobodies. And the mech designs might as well be people in armour. Only the special mech for your commander (the person whose story you’re following), looks remotely distinct. Nothing else has any flair or personality, which is such a shame considering Gundam has iconic designs like the Zaku. This isn’t helped by the fact that when an attack happens you are moved off the battlefield for a Fire Emblem/Advance Wars style animation. I’ve never been a fan of these, so turned it off promptly, but it only served to make this game even more of a slog.
My third and most glaring complaint comes from the battles themselves. While I don’t need to have complex objectives, having every fight reduced to beat up the enemy got boring fast. This is partly because you can keep throwing more and more units at an enemy until they cave. After all, you keep getting resources each turn. However, it was also because beyond a drip-feed of slightly different units as the game progresses, nothing else really changes. That means you’ll probably be using the same tactics in mission 4 and mission 40. The units might look a little different but what you’re doing won’t.
That is aside from your character’s signature mech. The one shining beacon in this game. After charging up a meter, you can summon it to the ground and they are amazing. You feel like a badass stomping around blowing up normal units with ease. It’s the closest this game gets to the feeling of a Gundam show. And you can’t use it on most missions. Either you finish the mission before the bar charges or you flat out cannot use it. For me, there should not be a bar. You should have this cool mech every game and you should fight an opposing cool mech every game. In a game that’s meant to be about cool mechs, you see remarkably few of them. Instead, you’ll use that one basic mech with a normal gun a lot because it lets you capture locations and throw grenades over hills.
I feel like I’ve been quite harsh to Warborn, but that’s only because I wanted this game to be more than it is. And perhaps that’s unfair. This is a straightforward turn-based tactics game that happens to include mechs. The story is so bland it might as well not exist and if you love the genre, then you’ve played better games than this. In the words of Heero Yuy: “In that case, I’ve got one warning. It hurts like hell”. I’m not sure that quote works to end this review, but it’s the one I’ve picked.
Thanks for reading. If turn-based tactics games are your jam, check out my review of Fell Seal: Arbiters Mark. It has a silly name but it’s worth checking out. Alternatively, for less RPG mechanics but more angry beefcakes you should look into Space Hulk: Tactics.
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