The original Swords & Soldiers was released on WiiWare back in 2009. That game immediately took over my household as my son and I played it all the time. The game had an irreverent humor, solid gameplay and some really cool visuals. All of that was packaged into a game that was just plain fun to play, even if you weren’t a fan of real-time strategy games. I hoped back then for another game with more factions, but one never came and Ronimo Games moved on to other projects.
If you’re unaware of just what Swords & Soldiers is, let me explain it for you. It’s a side-scrolling real-time strategy game. You control one of three factions. In this case the Vikings (the only returning faction from the first game), the Persians (a well-balanced team with access to devastating spells late in the game) and the crafty Demons. In battle two armies line up opposed to each other, one coming from the left, and one coming from the right. You select units to deploy and when chosen they begin moving in a straight line from your base towards the enemy. Once released you can’t stop them. They’ll only stop to encounter enemy troops or once they’ve reached the enemy base. The only real control you have over your army, aside from choosing when to deploy troops, is the spells that you have available.
Most of the time the goal of a battle is simply to wipe out your opponents army and destroy their base. Other times, though, they have other objectives like collecting all of the sheep in a level, destroying a giant chili pepper or escorting a particular unit to one part of the battlefield. Each of the game’s multiple maps have branching paths you can take. The path you want to choose is simple as pointing a sign on the screen towards the direction you want to go. Army resource gatherers will simply move on their own from your base to the gold mine. You can, however, order them to move and collect supplies that are air dropped onto the battlefield by parachute shaped sheep.
Proper timing and selecting the right combination of units to deploy is crucial to winning the game. There will be different strategies for each map or objective. Keeping a keen eye on troops you’ve deployed and selecting units can be a little hectic at first. You’ll soon learn how best to keep an eye on things, deploy troops, cast spells and organize resource gatherers. Each army also has various strengths and weaknesses. They all play similarly, but subtle differences between them can be exploited to your advantage. The Vikings, for example, are much sturdier than the demon army. They can take a little more punishment. The Persians are very adept at stealth and using magic.
The first game had a single player campaign that sort of segregated each faction into their own mini-campaign. Swords & Soldiers II, however, weaves the three factions into an overarching story that involves all three fairly equally. It’s not very long. Most players will be able to get through it in four or five hours. It does have a nice difficulty ramp and varying mission structure that keeps it feeling fresh throughout. As you play new units unlock that can be used in the two player versus mode or skirmish mode against the computer. The game’s story is filled with just as much humor as before. It’s ridiculous and silly, but it’ll make you laugh and it’s just fun to experience.
The two player mode is the best part of the game. Playing against another human opponent gives you the chance to play a great chess match. After you’ve finished the single player hop in with other people and test your skills. The army selection has been updated in a really nice way. Previously you simply chose one of the factions and just went at it. You can still do that if you want, but there’s a better way to pick your army.
When you select the two player mode (or skirmish mode) you can choose from any of the units/spells unlocked through the single player campaign. You’re given three tiers of units to choose. Each tier allows you to choose four units for a total of 12 units/spells/heroes for each army. You can choose them all from the same army or you can mix and match your favorites from each of the three different factions. That part of the game alone could make or break a match.
The game’s default controls use the GamePad with sticks moving your camera and buttons to select things from the upgrade tree. After the first few missions you can switch to the more natural touch controls using the screen on the Game Pad. You also have the option of using the Pro Controller or the Wii Remote if you choose. All of the controls work, but the touch screen or the Wii Remote are more natural to choose things on the screen.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the original game, but that time spent between 2009 and now has given people a chance to reflect on the first game. The developers used that time to upgrade the game in meaningful ways that make it a much better experience. It’s got a similar foundation, but the changes layered on top feel natural. They’re not change for the sake of change. They make the game better in just about every way. The one noticeable thing missing is online multiplayer. Should we get a Swords & Soldiers III (which I sorely hope we do) that will be the most notable new addition to the game.