Even in the wake of the release of Ravensword, the massive action-RPG from Chillingo, The Battle for Wesnoth stands as one of the largest, most epic games yet released on the iPhone. It has its fair share of issues, but you wont find a better value. With around 190 missions that generally take at least 30 minutes apiece, often running an hour or longer, it could easily take well over 125 hours to fully beat this game. Whether or not you want to buy this product will depend largely on whether or not you’re willing to invest that amount of time into a relatively standard turn-based high-fantasy RPG.
Full disclosure: Though we strive to complete every game we review, sometimes exceptions have to be made. It’s impractical for us to set aside three full work weeks to dedicate to full completion of one game. In this case, we played around 25 missions over the course of about 15 hours which comprised three separate campaigns, and assorted missions from other campaigns.
The magical land where winter meets spring.
Of course, 125 hours is the amount of time it would probably take if you played every mission flawlessly without dying or having to restart. However, that’s extremely unlikely. Not only is the game hard, but dying often means a restart of the entire mission. What’s more, death usually comes as a result of one of your hero characters being defeated in battle, which can happen rather quickly if he gets overwhelmed. It’s not that this is unrealistic, but the problem is that this forces you to relegate your very best units to little more than latrine duty as you push forward into enemy territory. It’s simply not worth it to send them into battle.
Mission variety in Wesnoth is fun, especially for the often static turn-based RPG genre. However, the sheer difficulty can put a stranglehold on how much fun you have with these missions. Even in the very earliest stages you’ll need to pay close attention to your tactics, because just a few miscalculated moves can leave your army in ruin.
Wesnoth includes a welcome feature that helps speed up the otherwise deliberate pace. When choosing where your unit will travel, you can tap anywhere on the map, and it will tell you how many turns it will take that unit to get there. If you set that course, the unit will automatically travel to that spot over the next few turns. It helps alleviate some of the boredom of having to manually direct every unit on every turn, but this can get you into trouble quickly. Players need to be very careful when plotting out courses, because the circumstances of the battle can vary widely over the course of a just a couple turns.
Swim with the fishies.
One of the biggest issues with Wesnoth is its current frame rate. Scrolling the map is often a big hassle because the game can’t process the information quickly enough, and it will constantly stutter or skip you to a place you didn’t want to go. It can take multiple tries just to get the camera to view the area of the map you want. This also may be what leads to a slightly irritating delay in the responsiveness of the controls. When you touch anything in Wesnoth (menus are the worst), there is a slight delay of maybe a half-second before the click is registered.
In general, Wesnoth’s controls aren’t very good. The delay in response time just adds to a control system that is often hard to deal with. For example, when selecting the route a unit should take, you must first click the unit, then scroll to the spot you want it to go, and then tap the location again to confirm. But if the second tap comes too quickly, then it registers as a double-tap which deselects the unit entirely, at which point you have to scroll back to select the unit (remember that scrolling is a bit of a pain) and try it all again.
A lot of these small nagging issues may wear on your patience after a while. That said, if the developer can fix some of these technical issues with a patch, then this could be a very good game. There are better turn-based RPGs on the iPhone, but if you can get over some of the problems in Wesnoth you’ll find no better value.