A charming but bloody tug of war
Developer: Skirmish Mode Games
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Release date: 29 Apr, 2021
RTSs can be a daunting genre to get into. Even if RTSs are, generally speaking, not as complex as their turnbased counterparts often end up being, you often need to be good at multitasking, balancing your economy at the same time as you’re leading your troops into battle and also try to keep an eye on what the enemy is up to and not forget to produce new soliders.
Tug of War-style RTSs are pretty much the exact opposite of this. Here you don’t have to micromanage your army, worry about scouting out the enemy or carefully balance your economy, instead you send your place your troops and they’ll make their way to the enemy base on their own, and you don’t have to worry about scouting the enemy base or carefully expand your economic operations. That might sound awfully simplistic, but there’s more depth to these kinds of games than you might think.
Warpips has a simple, some would say retro, aesthetic that does not quite invoke the look and feel of early 3D RTSs, though it might remind you of games like Return Fire. It’s a mix of 2D and 3D, with foot soldiers being flat objects, while vehicles and most terrain are low-poly models with blocky textures. Everything looks consistent and despite its somewhat simple look, Warpips is not a bad looking game, thanks to its consistent and deliberate art style.
In terms of sound, Warpips is not half bad either. The game has some nice sound effects that fit in well with the game and give good feedback, although some of the explosions could use a more oomph. As for the games soundtrack, it sounds like it’s taking inspiration from some of the work by Frank Klepacki (who worked on the Command & Conquer series, among other things), and while it’s good, it does not quite reach the heights of Frank Klepacki’s work, though that is setting the bar very high.
The gameplay in Warpips is straightforward, you send troops towards the enemy base, the enemy does the same to you and you need to push the enemy back into their base and destroy it, while preventing the enemy from reaching your base. Once your troops are on the field you have limited control over them, and they’ll mostly just do their own thing.
Every level starts the same, you and your opponent are on opposite sides of a small map, with no units on the field (though the AI can have defensive turrets, mines, barbed wire and such already), and you have a bit of money and a few slots for troops available. You can then call in troops, place emplacements and call in bombardments. The stronger the call-in, the more resources it costs. Basic soldiers costs 25 resources, but the more advanced units can cost upwards to around 150.
Resources will trickle in at a slow pace over the course of a match, which can then be used to call in troops. There are other ways to get resources though, you can extract oil, if you have access to that kind of structure, which further increases your passive resource gain as well as turn experience points into cash, though that of course comes with the drawback that you can’t spend it on things that increase your power more directly.
Speaking of experience, killing enemy soldiers earns you some, and after a while you’ll level up. The points you earn from leveling up can then be used on a few different things. You can permanently improve your units (which can only be done twice, though this costs multiple “levels”), increase the unit cap, unlock more powerful units and earn more money. You’re likely to earn quite a few points over the course of a level, so spending one in the wrong place is not crippling, but you can’t be too careless with these.
All of the above things probably sound somewhat basic. Beyond the experience system these are things that are found in a lot of tug of war style RTSs, but Warpips has a few things setting it apart. First of all is how its campaign is structure. Instead of a linear campaign you’re presented with a map where you get to choose what zone you’ll attack (which has to be adjacent to any zone you’ve previously taken over), and your goal is to reach a specific zone on the other side of the map. Here is also where you’ll decide what you’ll bring with you to the next level. You’ve got a limited number of uses for each unit and call-in, and you’ll get more uses of certain units when you beat each map zone. You’ll want to bring a good mix of cheap and more expensive (and powerful) units, and make sure that you have the right tools for the job on any given level, while also avoiding running out of any important troop types. Snipers won’t do you much good against tanks after all, and if you don’t have any cheap units you’ll just be overwhelmed early on. Also each zone you conquer will make the following zones tougher. Making a beeline for the final zone will make that fight have a weaker opposition, but you might not have the tools needed to beat it, so you need to find a balance.
Another major difference between Warpips and many other tug of war RTSs is how the enemies attack you. They don’t follow the same rules as you, instead you’ll see a bar near the bottom of the screen that shows the intensity of the enemy’s attacks, so you need to plan your pushes and defenses based on this. Finally you do have some minor control over your units. Fighting will fill up a bar that you can then spend on improving the offensive or defensive capabilities of your troops, for as long as you have energy left in the bar.
Beyond the campaign there’s a skirmish mode called “random battle” where you’ll be given access to a random set of units, and you’ll go up against a random enemy force. In this mode you do run the risk of getting a really bad unit composition which can make winning unreasonably difficult. This sadly makes the skirmish mode far less enjoyable than it should have been, but as long as your unit composition is somewhat reasonable it’s still a pretty fun mode, and a nice way to get out of a rut if you find yourself just sticking to the same units normally.
State of Early Access
Despite being in early access Warpips is in a really good shape. It’s not particularly buggy, the balance seems fine (even if it still needs a bit of tweaking) and it runs well. The only thing that it’s missing is really a longer campaign, something that the developers are working on. Right now you can complete the entire thing in about 4 hours. There are also plans for an endless mode, but that’s not been implemented yet.
Warpips might not be as deep as some regular base building RTSs, like StarCraft or Age of Empire, but it’s deeper and more involved than many other Tug of War RTSs. It’s also quite fun to play, and easy to get into. Warpips would be an excellent game for anyone who find the RTS genre intimidating and want something easier to get into, or just anyone who wants a strategy game that’s easy to pick up and play, and where matches don’t require much of a time commitment.
Beyond the short length there’s very little about Warpips that makes it feel like an early access game. It’s both stable and pretty much all of the mechanics seem to be working as intended. There’s minor things that might need to be tweaked here or there, but had Warpips been sold as a full release, with a few more levels but otherwise the same mechanics and balance, I would not have complained. It’s a really solid game.