40 people found this review helpful
16 people found this review funny
Not Recommended
0.0 hrs last two weeks / 4.7 hrs on record
Posted: May 5, 2018 @ 11:10am
Updated: May 18, 2018 @ 12:06pm

Wesnoth is overrated, and here's why.

I'll give it credit for being an open-source strategy game available on Linux. Unfortunately, the game itself is an unfair mess with awful writing. You may think "Hey, I don't play a freeware strategy game for the brilliant story", and I respect that, but the writing is still bad. Suffice to say that ripping off Tolkien is perhaps one of the easiest things to do in the world of writing, and yet Wesnoth manages to screw it up.


The gameplay on its surface is like if Civilization and Fire Emblem had a baby. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but Wesnoth's primary sin is that its combat revolves around insidious attack odds. You cannot be sure of any of your strategies working to any realistic degree, because you can do every move completely right and still lose because the dice said so, and there's basically nothing you can do in terms of preventing that. What this ends up meaning is that luck is more than an enjoyable factor, but a frustratingly deciding factor, especially in multiplayer.

In fairness, one thing I do like about Wesnoth's combat is that unit alignments factor into the time of day for damage modifiers, which gives it a neat rhythm. It doesn't save the game though; the fact that there are only arguably two factors for whether attacks hit at all still makes fighting very tedious.

As for the campaigns... Units in Wesnoth earn XP, and if they earn enough, you can upgrade them to better, stronger units along various promotion trees. To stand a chance of finishing most campaigns, you must carry over a number of promoted units, and a stockpile of money, through each mission. Actually getting them promoted and then having them survive over multiple missions, however, is an exercise in tedious masochism because of the nature of combat. You also acquire much of your gold by beating missions early, yet in many cases you're playing too cautiously to really get enough because you're going in blind. It's worse when you realize that you almost always have to be attacking, so no camping or grinding, and that the AI gets free units that grow in strength because the campaigns assume you're continuously bringing veteran units despite no guarantee you'll have them.

If you didn't play optimally enough, too bad, hope you enjoy getting stonewalled by unbeatable elite armies. Not to mention some missions outright assume you have a certain army composition, and if you don't, you can either go replay entire missions to fix that or get slaughtered because you don't have the right comp for the mission. Now, Wesnoth is open source, so surely someone could go and change these murderously unforgiving attack odds a bit, right? Not so. The developers claim that gameplay revolving primarily around luck...as opposed to, say, good mission design, or strategy one can master...makes for a more tactical and enjoyable experience. Okay then.


The gameplay isn't strictly the worst thing, though. It's not great, but there are plenty of not great games out there. No, the worst part of Wesnoth is the writing. It's largely a ripoff of Tolkien, and while it means the majority of the campaigns are derivative pap, it's not a grave sin by itself. The blatant elf fetishism - even elf supremacy - and utter disdain for orcs in the flavor text for the human, elf, and orc factions is another story.

To see what I mean, here's the description for the human Lieutenant, a versatile level 2 unit that boosts lower-level units around them:

Originally posted by Wesnoth:
Lieutenants are some of the more respected commanding officers among humans and are often seen leading smaller-scale incursions and managing the battlefield. Trained both with sword and crossbow, they excel at neither, and are somewhat less resilient than the warlords of other races — this is more than made up for by their superior knowledge and training in military strategy.

And here's the description for the Elvish Captain, a level 2 unit that is almost the exact same as the human Lieutenant:

Originally posted by Wesnoth:
Elves, unlike many other races, will quickly acknowledge and follow any of their peers who have experience in combat. In this they differ greatly from humanity, for whom leadership is often a matter of coercion and intimidation. The combination of their willingness to accept the wisdom of their leaders, and the tendency to choose leaders of merit is one of the quiet strengths of the elves.

The only appreciable difference between these two is that the elf Captain has slightly more melee attacks that each do less damage. With that in mind, the description's a bit much, no? The human Master Bowman, a level 3 unit that represents the peak of their faction's ranged capability, is more or less summed up[units.wesnoth.org] as "Yeah they're not total noobs with their sword. And they're almost as pro as an elf. Almost. Totes jelly."

And to compare, here's the level 1 Elvish Archer, their version of the bog standard ranged unit. Emphasis mine:

Originally posted by Wesnoth:
Elves have always had a reputation for archery, a skill that, for many reasons, comes naturally to them. Even the frail of body can be deadly with a bow in hand, and in times of war, many will take up this weapon. Though their relative inexperience with combat leaves them somewhat vulnerable, their natural grace ensures that they can best any of humanity’s fresh recruits.

But what about the orcs? The description for the level 3 Orcish Slurbow is more about the unit's weapon than the unit itself[units.wesnoth.org]. You know, a level 3 unit who is doubtlessly a skilled veteran of many battles. Also, no description in the Orcish Archer line mentions their incendiary arrows. No other faction makes use of them, and they are very handy if you happen to be playing as the orcs.

The description for the Orcish Sovereign, a level 3 unit and one of the few orc units that has the Leadership skill, advocates killing them off[units.wesnoth.org], lest they become equal to the humans, let alone the elves!

Wolf Riders are a goblin cavalry unit, goblins being a subset of orc in Wesnoth lore. These are some of the most vicious cavalry in the game, and if you happen to promote any, they're downright scary no matter what upgrade you choose. How does the game describe them[units.wesnoth.org]? "Haha LOL, look at the stupid goblin riding that wolf like an idiot, how funny!"

Here's the worst one, though. The Goblin Spearman is a level 0 unit; level 0 units are meant to represent untrained militia and rabble like that. Every faction has a few of them, but how do the goblin spearmen fare? Again, emphasis mine:

Originally posted by Wesnoth:
In any litter of orcs, several are born much smaller and weaker than the rest. These runts are called ‘Goblins’ and are looked down on by the rest of their kin. In battle, these are given the most meager of equipment, and are used as a soak-off force to give the Warlords time to prepare the real assault.

Some speculate that the existence of these creatures is the beginning of a failure of the orcish bloodline, though no one knows enough of their history to state anything conclusive.

Eugenics. Nice. And may I mention that the Elvish Lady[units.wesnoth.org], a level 3 elf unit meant to represent a leader, has no attacks whatsoever and still has over twice the HP of a goblin spearman? Miss me with that, thanks. I know lore isn't perhaps the most important part of a game like this, but this is so bad it can't be ignored. If you really need a free strategy game that runs on Linux, find a copy of X-COM and play it with OpenXcom instead.

(Also it has no Steam overlay and that's stupid.)
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21 Comments
wavemode Sep 12, 2018 @ 3:07pm 
While I disagree with your conclusions, I can agree that storyline is not a particularly strong suit of the game, nor is learning curve. But as green_ghost08 mentions, you CAN get good at Wesnoth. With proper strategic foresight, RNG does not really decide your fate in this game as much as it might seem on the surface.
green_ghost08 Jul 15, 2018 @ 4:33pm 
How can you do that in warhammer?
Doctor Whomst'd've Jul 15, 2018 @ 4:06pm 
This isn't a tabletop game. In a tabletop game, you can improvise and skirt around bad rolls and they have entertaining results. Here you just die.
green_ghost08 Jul 15, 2018 @ 12:53pm 
To people talking about RNG you all should be some tabletop miniwargames like warhammer. You will know what real RNG is. This game is more for tabletop players than people used to how easy most video game strategy games are.
green_ghost08 Jul 15, 2018 @ 12:51pm 
All I can say about campaigns is get good son. Once you learn the game it isn't hard to get tons of veteran troops by the end. My advice? never return all your veteran troops. your army comp should be 1/3 veteran to 2/3 level 1s. You need low level units to take up damage and level. If you take all veterans they will die and you will lose the campaign.
Talekith Jun 4, 2018 @ 1:23pm 
Have you sent feedback yet to the original creators of each of the campaigns?
Doctor Whomst'd've May 30, 2018 @ 11:15am 
If every campaign was like UtBS, I might almost like the game. Alas, it wouldn't make up for combat being so luck-based in a game revolving around combat , or the bad unit descriptions.
Aiua May 30, 2018 @ 10:59am 
The gameplay was super solid too, they added some cool things like during the day in the desert your unit would lose 4 hp but in the night heal 2, I don't remember very well, but it was very difficult (in the good way that other wesnoth compaigns never achieve) and rewarding.
Doctor Whomst'd've May 30, 2018 @ 9:58am 
I read the mission transcript a little while ago. I agree it's heads and shoulders above all the other campaigns.
Aiua May 30, 2018 @ 9:44am 
Did you try "under the burning sun", it's one of my few positive memories about the game, I remember thinking "wow I wished every player would play that campaign instead of the shitty ones from the dev", the mission were much more interesting, and if I'm not sure about the story (was a while ago), it was at least original.