Vikings, Demons, and Persians, oh my
Swords and Soldiers, released in 2009 as Ronimo’s first game, was an underrated treasure. Although it was soon eclipsed by their subsequent release of Awesomenauts a few years later, it remained a staple in my house, as it was wonderously easy to pick up and play at any time.
Swords and Soldiers II builds upon that foundation and adds just enough depth to keep things interesting.
Swords and Soldiers II (Wii U)
Developers: Ronimo Games
Publisher: Ronimo Games
Released: May 21, 2015
This time around, the playable armies of the Chinese and Aztecs have been replaced by Demons and Persians. Although the former two will be sorely missed (I’ll never forget some of their sayings), the replacements have more than enough tricks up their sleeve to justify their inclusion.
The way Swords and Soldiers II works is strikingly similar to its predecessor. As a strictly “one on one” affair, players will opt to build and research units, sending them in a straight line against another foe. If one gets close enough your units will start attacking their resource accruing units, and just like a complex RTS, your days are numbered as your enemy whittles down your base for a win. It’s not just a “set it and forget it” style, as a constant array of diverse spells that can be used at any time keep you on your toes, and can change the tide of any given battle within a round.
My favorite part of this scheme however is how quickly everything goes down. After you have the gold, units can be built instantly. Other than the select few instances in a match where you need to erect towers, no real “buildings” need to be created. It’s all action all the time, but there is depth to it. While Soldiers does have a story mode, the heart of the game lies within its head-to-head versus and skirmish gametypes.
The campaign is basically table-setting for everything else, giving you a rundown of the strengths and weaknesses of each individual unit, some ideas for how armies counter one another, all set to the tune of a really goofy story that illuminates some background on all three armies. It’s not going to win any awards, but the jokes are occasionally laugh out loud funny, mostly due to the superb voicework that carries over into the other modes.
Where the sequel mostly succeeds is diversity between the armies. Vikings mostly focus on spells, Demons, towers, and Persians have a health mix of both with their own unique trappings. Every time I started to embed myself in an army I felt like I was playing an utterly different experience, which is definitely a positive. Over time I ended up gravitating towards the Persians, who have some really cool abilities on-hand. I really love the invisible units that are only seen while attacking, but they’re balanced, expensive to build, and have plenty of counters.
I also enjoyed the low mana-cost cannon structure, which does nothing on its own, but can fire a low-damage, tiny genie-summoning canon shot across the map. I quickly learned that Demons could counter my stealth units by building barrel riders — suicidal creatures that would explode and destroy them even if they were invisible, and were at a lower cost. In return I researched the bribe skill, which allowed me to take over specific units at a cost of gold and mana.
There’s hundreds of counters like that across the multitude of characters and strategies present in the game, and thankfully, it’s never too overwhelming at any given time. After seeing a new unit you’ll have an incentive to try out the army and use it yourself, which is really easy to do considering how open the research tree is at the start. If you want to spend all of your starting gold just to build one big unit — you can do that. Likewise, you can bunker up with a defensive-strategy at the start, or “Zerg” rush with some low-cost units. It’s surprisingly balanced and open-ended.
Another new layer of depth is the gold and mana drop mechanic. On every map, airdrops will occasionally fall down and litter the map. You’re presented with a choice — let your gold gatherers stay within the comfort of your base for consistent riches, or brave the world for a massive reward. This is on top of micro-managing your army, spells, researching, and building responsibilities. It gets even more intense on one map in particular, where the only way to any resources of any kind is to pick up drops.
Multiplayer is played by way of one mode — a local versus setup where one player uses the GamePad, and another, the TV. Although the lack of online play is a bummer, Ronimo really chose a perfect platform that caters directly to the dual army conceit. In short, it’s a perfect situation for my wife, who prefers the TV and the Wii U Pro Controller (though a Classic Controller Pro and Wiimote can be used), and myself, who vastly prefers the GamePad. I ended up plugging in some noise cancelling headphones so I couldn’t hear her unit sounds (and vice versa), and it was a much easier setup than we achieved with the previous game, getting two PCs together, logging into Steam, and hoping we consistently connect to one another.
There is one hangup though — you can set your tweak a few extra stats in versus like your starting gold settings or change up build and cooldown rates, but you need to do this every round once you quit out of a session. It will work if you stay the same armies on the smae level to “rematch,” but it feels like an oversight to have to switch it back every time. Your mileage may also vary if you don’t have a friend to play with, but then again, that’s where Skirmish comes in.
If you don’t have anyone on hand, you can opt to play with the AI. Surprisingly it’s actually challenging, though I will say that the CPU cheats from time to time, like when it throws down an area-of-effect (AOE) ability on the ground, knowing that your invisible units will cross over it. Still, I can put everything on random and play skirmish for hours, despite the fact that there wasn’t anyone to revel in my victories with on the couch.
Although Swords and Soldiers II has a limited appeal for those of you who like to only game solo, it’s a fine strategy title, and a perfect mix of brevity and depth. I’m likely still going to be learning the ins and outs of each army months down the line, which is a really great thing.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]