[Review] Battle Worlds: Kronos
Posted on June 8, 2019 by Campbell(@CampbellSGill) in Reviews, Switch
Release date: June 11, 2019
Developer: King Art
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Nintendo has always stood apart in the games industry for its dedication to creating games that can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels. Brilliant titles like Super Mario Odyssey can spark joy in players regardless of whether they’re five or fifty-five years old. However, there are also developers who adopt a contrasting mentality. Their games aren’t designed for everyone – instead, they’re created for very specific audiences with very specific preferences. Battle Worlds: Kronos is a prime example of this. This turn-based strategy game is designed explicitly for longtime fans of its genre, featuring hardcore difficulty and massive scale. Its sprawling complexity is sure to please its audience, but it doesn’t do much to appeal to anybody outside this demographic.
The “Battle Worlds” in the game’s title isn’t just a catchy phrase. Instead, it’s a reference to the nature of the game’s world, which could truly be described as a world of battles. The planet of Kronos is constantly embroiled in warfare, and when the game begins, you’re put in the shoes of a young commander working during the 120th consecutive war. In the opening cutscene, a motivational speech from your superior tells you all you need to know about yourself: you’re young and inexperienced, you “come from the gutter,” and you’ve come to the shocking realization that war is bad and that you should keep our soldiers from dying too much. That’s effectively all the character development you get for your own character or for any of the game’s other characters. It’s unfortunately indicative of the story’s larger quality: its narrative of a warfare conspiracy is stereotypical, predictable, and full of paper-thin characters. The writing doesn’t do it any favors, either. The game takes itself far too seriously, and its well-worn plot could have done well with some much-needed humor or personality.
Battle Worlds: Kronos is a strictly traditional turn-based strategy game that features the hexagonal maps of genre representatives like Civilization and Battle Isle. It’s a sprawling game that will frequently have you managing dozens of units at a time across expansive maps in each turn. Most units are able to perform two actions per turn – these may be used for moving, attacking, or a combination of both. There’s a huge number of different units to operate, ranging from heavily armored military vehicles to swift but weak infantrymen. Each of these units has a specific duty and unique characteristics that make them feel distinct from one another – for example, some units pack a heavy punch but have little mobility, some weaker units don’t hit as hard but can capture enemy territory, and others can’t fight at all but are excellent at reconnaissance. Working these diverse figures together into a cohesive strategy should be engaging for players who love to extensively think out each of their moves.
You’d best get familiar with these different mechanics and units, because Battle Worlds will test your skill constantly. There’s no getting around it: Battle Worlds is brutally challenging. By its very nature, it’s an intensive game to play. You have dozens of units to manage during every turn, as well as dozens more enemies waiting to exploit your every mistake. These enemies also pack a punch. The vast majority of them will take out half or more of any of your units’ health in a single hit, while your own units can’t deal enough damage to retaliate effectively. Even at the lowest difficulty, the game is still a challenge for all but the most seasoned strategists.
Battle Worlds takes obvious inspiration from its genre’s classics like Advance Wars and Battle Isle, and for players who loved those games, it should be a quality package. Its gameplay is a distillation of the mechanics that made those games so special. It’s stuffed to the brim with content as well – there’s two complete single player campaigns that contain a combined total of thirteen missions, each of which took me at least two hours to complete. The Switch release even includes the game’s previous DLC pack, a set of single-player challenge maps, and a hot seat multiplayer mode. If you’re looking for a meaty title that features the gameplay of classic strategy games, then Battle Worlds should come through in spades.
But what about potential players who aren’t already expert strategists and need help understanding and enjoying the game? To them, Battle Worlds: Kronos has a firm answer: “Too bad.” Battle Worlds is an unfriendly experience that apparently doesn’t care about easing its players into its myriad of complex systems. There is a mass of tutorials tossed at you during the game’s first mission with little regard as to whether you’ll actually comprehend them all or not. I understand that this game is aimed at serious strategy fans, but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be smoother accommodations to allow players of many different skill levels to enjoy the game and persevere through its crushing difficulty. As it is now, the game is hardly a welcoming prospect to anyone who isn’t vastly experienced with its genre.
That said, Battle Worlds suffers from a larger issue that could affect all players regardless of their history with strategic gameplay. Simply put, Battle Worlds is bland. It takes all the beloved mechanics from genre classics but forgot to add in any personality of its own, leaving the whole experience feeling almost unbearably dry. Battle Worlds references games like Advance Wars, Panzer General, and Battle Isle as its inspirations, but it features none of the distinct visual style, catchy music, loving animations, or unique scenarios that distinguished those games. Instead, Battle Worlds features basic 3D graphics that strongly reek of last-gen visuals, with some rather poor-looking character models. Battle Worlds also suffers in the music department – or specifically, its lack thereof. There is almost no music in the moment-to-moment gameplay, leaving swathes of your detailed tactics in complete silence. Music will occasionally decide to show up, but even then, it’s always the same track. It’s a decent song with a nice cinematic orchestral flare, but it gets heavily monotonous when it’s intermittently replayed over and over for fifteen hours. Battle Worlds focused so hard on being a tribute to its predecessors that it couldn’t create its own compelling identity.
Like many games in its genre, Battle Worlds was built for PC first and foremost, and this shows in its controls and interface. An effort was clearly made into optimizing it for consoles, and the controls feel good enough for the most part, with the Switch version receiving special treatment with new touchscreen control support. Unfortunately, even though this could have been the best method of playing the game on console, it never feels precise enough. Maps and menus are a nightmare to navigate with the touchscreen – I could tap on one tile to move a unit, and my touch will either not be registered, or it will instead select the tile three spaces away from where I wanted. When playing with a controller, things are generally a bit smoother, although there’s still issues to be had. For instance, some actions are mapped to the same button depending on the context. Holding X will end your current turn, but if you’re in a storage depot, holding it will release any units you’ve stored inside it. More than once this led me to prematurely end a turn when I’d only wanted to move my units out.
Performance is likewise a mixed bag. For the most part it’s consistent, but there were a few points where the frame rate tanked significantly. This was particularly noticeable whenever I loaded a save in the middle of a mission, where the frame rate plunged to a constant 15 or 20 frames per second and stayed there, making for a choppy experience. There can also be significant lag when selecting an action for your unit. You could tell your Hunter to move five spaces ahead, but it may take it as long as ten seconds before that action is performed. Enemy actions take even longer. After ending a turn, it can take up to thirty seconds before the enemy units begin moving. Of course, turn-based strategy games certainly don’t require flawless performance for quick reaction times, but the shoddy performance brings down what is otherwise a fairly solid console conversion.
“There are enough easy games out there,” Battle Worlds: Kronos proudly declares in its opening tutorial. “Battle Worlds is meant to be a challenge.” And while it certainly provides a hearty challenge, it does little to make itself appealing to anybody but the most devoted strategy fans. The game as a whole provides no unique gameplay or personality to attract longtime fans of its genre, nor does it provide anything to invite less experienced players with its obtuse tutorials and cruel difficulty. It’s a fine option if you’re searching for a sizable strategic experience reminiscent of genre classics, but for everyone else, it may be best if your plan of attack leads you elsewhere.
Battle Worlds: Kronos review copy provided by THQ Nordic for the purposes of this review.