Review: Swords & Soldiers II

There are some games that release, and for whatever reason, fly under the radar. We usually consider these titles ‘hidden gems,’ and they often go on to garner a cult-like following. We can see this being the case for Ronimo Games’ Swords & Soldiers II. As a follow up to 2013’s most underrated real-time strategy game, S&S II builds on the systems put into place by its predecessor in intelligent, refreshing ways that may allow other studios to rethink the genre’s typical formula. The final outcome here, then, is a 2D RTS with both style and substance, creating one of the more interesting endeavors on the Wii U eShop.

Those who played the original will know the general flow of Swords & Soldiers II. As a sidescrolling RTS, Ronimo’s title is a strategy game in which players never actually control the movement of their own troops. Instead, they make choices — and a lot of them — which comprises most of the actual gameplay. Upgrading units, reinforcing those already in combat, activating troop skills and of course building structures is all part of the experience despite that lack of movement control. By enacting this kind of gameplay, one may assume that this is a less robust RTS, but Swords & Soldiers is anything but simplistic. In many ways, it’s more tactical the the average game of its ilk in that so much comes down to making effective choices in response to the battlefield situation. It also means that combat and matches occur at a much faster pace, leading to one of the few RTS games on the market that feels frenetic and intense from the start. With the goal being to merely get to the other side of the playing field so as to topple a foe’s command center, Swords & Soldiers II is a no-nonsense adventure that isn’t afraid to make real-time strategy a bit more break-neck.

Swords & Soldiers II borrows from its more traditional brethren is in its use of factions. Here, players have the ability to play as Vikings, Demons or Persians, all of which play differently than the others. Each faction have their own unique units, way to acquire resources and money and attacks. Just as the Demons and Persians are new additions to this second installment, so too is the mission structure. Gone are the 30 missions spread out over three separate scenarios, and in their place is a single campaign which ties in all missions to create a seamlessly huge world. Though there are actually only 15 missions this time around, there are open battles and additional challenges to promote longevity.

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For those who played the original game, open battles will be brand new. This feature allows folks to make their own armies out of the different factions, allowing for an experience far more customizable than in the last game. This is a great attempt at making up for smaller amount of content than what appeared in the first title, though it doesn’t achieve the goal entirely, as going from thirty missions to only fifteen is hard to compensate for no matter how neat the added feature to do so is.

Fortunately, local multiplayer has made the cut again, which does account for something in response to the shortened campaign. Better yet, Ronimo has included multiplayer-specific maps that require different tactics than those seen in the story mode. Like in open battles, players can create their armies how they see fit, using units from any of the factions, allowing for greater depth of strategy. While players can face off against the AI in this way, the real fun is in going head-to-head with a buddy. This is especially well-executed due to how one combatant uses the GamePad for play, while the other handles business on the TV via a Pro Controller. While the GamePad-user feels like they have a slight advantage, what with the excellent implementation of a touch-interface for order issuing, the Pro Controller still holds its own competently enough to allow for competitive matches. It’s a shame, then, that there’s no online play. This game screams for it, and its absence is sorely missed as a result.

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Speaking of control, that’s probably one of Swords & Soldiers II‘s strongest points. Its clever and effective use of the GamePad and its touch-screen capacity show how RTSs are meant to be played on a console. Because of the sidescrolling nature, and the design decision to not involve itself with movement issuing, the game never feels like a chore to manipulate, nor does it feel overly nuanced to the point of being inaccessible. Just tapping a button to build a tower is perfect for this kind of real-time strategy experience. If you’ve ever been scared off by the complexities of typical RTS games, then Swords & Soldiers II is the ideal entry-point.

The presentation is also top-notch. It’s bright, stylized, unique and runs without any hiccups. We literally never noticed even a single instance of the FPS dropping; so not only does the game practically pop off the screen thanks to its vibrancy and hilarious animations, it runs silky smooth. The interface is also cleaner, sleeker and more applicable than what was seen in Swords & Soldiers. The audio aspect is equally impressive, with a varied OST (that borrows some from the past game, but also introduces it own tunes) and downright amazing voiceover work. The acting just brings to life the cartoonish characters and fleshes out not just the game world, but the overall experience. The amount of charm it adds to everything is immeasurable.

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Closing Comments
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Swords & Soldiers II has something to offer RTS veterans as well as those with zero experience with the genre. It’s accessible without sacrificing depth, and varied without being needlessly intricate. It controls like a dream, has a presentation style that is chockful of charm and hosts single- and multiplayer options that are sure to keep players busy for hours. It may lack a much needed online component, and its content is less than what was in the first title, but this is the better and definitive Swords & Soldiers experience on the whole. Those with the means should probably pick this baby up.