Dioramas were something I loved as a kid. I enjoyed making them for school projects and seeing professional scale models for movies or museums. When I got into pen and paper gaming our little group would build sets and paint miniatures. We reenacted battles in Dungeons & Dragons, Traveller, and of course Warhammer.
What if you could combine the realism of a hand-crafted 3D diorama with the complex real-time combat engine of a role-playing strategy game? Imagine combining strategy miniatures with role-playing elements, giving depth and customization to their roles. What if you combined that with a visually and aurally immersive backdrop staged in a brutal Viking world. That is exactly what Playwood Project has done. This is our Wartile review.
At its core Wartile is a real-time strategy game with role-playing elements. To leave it at that would be like saying a fine crafted ale is just fermented malt barley and hops. While, true it misses all the subjective appreciation a handcrafted artisan experience has to offer.
Wartile is unique blending of virtual tabletop and more traditional RTS gameplay. You control a warband of Viking figurine miniatures in strategy battles. At the same time the narrative frames each mission setting, as though being regaled with tales from the travelling skald. Your figurines have a back story and missions a plot setting.
The visuals and art excellently portray the experience of playing tabletop miniatures, but so much more. Every map offers details that would take tens to hundreds of hours to recreate if you were trying to replicate the scenario. The music in the background ranges from haunting to urgent in battles.
After starting a game from the welcome screen you’re greeted with a virtual gaming tabletop. This table has been specially made to play out miniature-based battles. On each side of the table are wooden shadow boxes and miniature cases that represent the various game systems. These systems include character customization, the tavern (where you buy new characters), the skill deck, the merchant, and of course your figurine collection. This is how you modify your characters and join missions.
The figurines in Wartile look like hand crafted and painted miniatures with round bases. The base is filled with a color representing the amount of health the character has. On the perimeter of the base is a thin white ring that represents your action and movement counter. When you move or perform an action through a card, the ring disappears and fills back up over time.
The abilities of each unit are represented by trading style game cards. Every unit has 3 signature skills they can unlock as they progress through levels. You can choose to bring one of the three abilities with you on your mission. Additionally, as you play through the game you will unlock Godly cards. These have different effects, from healing to control to area effect damage. At the end of missions, and at the merchant, you will find gear and tokens to arm, configure, and shape your figurine characters. There are an assortment of swords, axes, maces, shields, spears, bows, and other weapons with various characteristics and sometimes even special abilities. This variety allows you to create the character and party that plays to the other party members’ strengths and shores up their weaknesses.
Tokens, which are represented by small coin like runes, further allow you to stack attack, defense, armor, damage, and health. On top of that there are unique tokens with special powers you might find as loot drops on your adventures. Each figure can only slot one of these, but they provide distinct advantages adding a unique quirk to each hero.
True to the strategy aspect of its roots the figurines fill one of three basic combat unit slots.
- Frontline Melee – These are typically your sword and board types and frontliners that will take the hits. You can configure these units in a variety of ways depending on whether you want more raging barbarian or a heavy tank. My favorite is Hakon. He is equipped with a “Blessings of Eir” unique token that heals him for 10 points every time he lands a critical hit. Not all melee attackers with a range of one space are tanks. There are figurines that are designed for control or damage.
- Midline Melee – This is the spear toting unit. He stands behind the tank poking at enemy units 2 hexes away. Early on this is a powerful combo if position is used wisely.
- Ranged Damage – Thorhild is my ranger. She can hit 5 hexes away and has a barrage skill that reduces her action ring cooldown timer. In short, she fires like a machine gun for about 6 seconds. Used proficiently she can effectively devastate enemy troops.
The main campaign map is a relief of the northwestern corner of Europe. Each mission group is represented by a small cluster of hexes on the map. Selecting a cluster will zoom in to offer a short list of missions. Next to each mission name is a number representing the reputation requirement of the mission. As you successfully complete missions your reputation counter will increment. If the mission has a rep requirement equal to or less than yours, you should be able to complete the mission successfully.
Once selected you’re asked to choose your figurines. The number of figures you can take varies based on the mission. The first missions only let you take two units while later missions let you take 3 or more. This is a critical planning step where you need to customize and choose characters that complement each other and have the tools to accomplish the mission goal.
Each set of missions have objectives loosely wrapped in a thematic plot. You may need to rescue someone or save villagers from pirates or even the undead. In order to do that you may need to destroy 4 boats, collect 10 golden frogs, and retrieve a trophy from a boss all the while fighting foes and avoiding traps and pitfalls. After the mission is complete you will be scored and rewarded based on your score. The mission score is comprised of how many battle points you accumulated, how many enemies, defeated, how long it took, and how many objectives were successfully completed.
Playwood describes their combat system as cool-down based strategy. This is really another way of describing real-time strategy but puts the emphasis accurately on how that works. Your figures have an action movement ring and so do the enemy units. Whenever you move or use an action card the ring resets a timer and when that cooldown is over you can move or use another skill card.
Thankfully there is a game pause. It pauses everything and lets you go attend to real life. While there is no combat pause, there is a very effective time speed toggle. The time toggle slows the rate of in game time progression letting you rotate the map, choose cards, and make tactical decisions. There is a still pressure from the clock. The enemy is slowed, not stopped, and with a frantic battlefield scene and enemies closing in the you will need to make quick decisive choices or you will end up overwhelmed or flanked.
You can fully rotate your view of the mission map allowing you to size up the map and form your strategy for each encounter. Maps are hex based, and your character can only move on an open hex tile. Often terrain and structures will obscure how wide or narrow a pathway is, if not hiding it outright. Getting a full view of the map is important as you progress, and challenges get tougher. Positioning is very important and choosing your place of battle, leading foes to chokepoints, and setting up your vantage points is as important as what Godly cards you bring.
Combat itself is executed through a combination of auto-attacks, positioning, and skill cards. The dioramas are three dimensional and occupying a hex above a foe can give you offensive and defensive bonuses. Flanking also provides bonuses. Your figure will automatically start attacking if it is moved within range of an adversary.
Every figure has an attack range. The melee characters can attack one space away while the archer can attack 5 spaces away. The spearman can attack 2 spaces out. As foes move in for attack you will need to move your figures around, in closer or further away, to find the most advantageous position and avoid damage. If the action ring is full you could even move your figure out of the way before the enemy damages them. In this way you can keep your ranged and less armored figures healthier and in battle.
In addition to a basic attack each figure has a signature skill representative of their archetype. Hakon can drop a rallying banner. The archer has her volley. As characters gain power they can unlock up to three signature skills. You can play these or your selection of Godly cards at key moments to heal damaged figures or poison your foes. Character skills only need a full action bar to function, but Godly cards require battles points. Battle points are awarded during missions after victories and defeating enemies.
The Wartile team has combined elements of real time strategy, role-playing, and story-telling in an amazing way that evoke feelings of a tabletop gaming session. The strategy and combat mechanics are satisfying and feel fresh even when replaying a map. You can develop strategies and tactics with figurine combinations, but the battles never play the same due to the importance of positioning and the randomness of the Godly card deck.
Nothing is perfect so where does Wartile struggle and where could it improve? The main thing Playwood needs to focus on is character balance. Right now, the archer is extremely powerful. It’s not an easy figurine to manage, but when you do it right the results are devastating. These small imbalances affect gameplay at the more challenging levels. The developer has been actively engaging the community concerning these sorts of issues and taking in feedback to help adjust these issues.
The visuals are beautiful, but the depth of field effects sometimes blur too much in the background and it looks awkward. Sometimes the visuals look blurry or muddy as a result. I think it detracts from the overall beauty of the texture and world building details. The team needs to provide a more polished consistent look and get rid of the occasional blur.
This game needs two things – multiplayer and a level editor. Why isn’t this game multiplayer? I can guess an answer at that. It’s an indie team that has kept their focus where it needs to be, delivering a solid core experience. That said, this game is perfect for multiplayer. Right alongside those lines, community driven maps and rulesets could set a game platform like this on fire.
If you’re a fan of real-time strategy and role-playing games or a lover of miniatures combat immersive dioramas, then I think this would make a great addition to your game library. You can find the game on their Steam store page or follow them on Twitter for more information.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on Steam with a code provided by PR.
Final Wartile Review Score: 8/10
- Solid strategy gameplay
- Unique tabletop setting
- Beautiful visuals and sound
- Depth of field is too much sometimes
- Character balance
- No multiplayer or map modding