THE BATTLE FOR WESNOTH / David White / PC

The Battle For Wesnoth is sort of like Heroes of Might and Magic meets Warsong. Fundamentally it's a hex-based strategy game, but with a modern interface (more akin to a console strategy-RPG, just with mouse support) and smoother movement and gameplay than the typical hex game meant for hardcore war nerds.

The game offers up a variety of single-player campaigns and online multi-player maps. It is also highly customizable; players can create their own maps, campaigns, or "eras" (which are basically replacement packs of units). All of this is conveniently tied into the game through an Add-Ons button off of the main menu; pressing it while connected to the internet enables you to browse the Wesnoth server for whatever user-uploaded content you desire. Those planning to create campaigns will be pleased to note that along with building your maps, you can also insert dialogue (with unique character portraits) and events.

The included game world and characters are basically generic Tolkien-esque fantasy; I don't mean this as too hard a criticism, though, as after all you can simply install other user packs or just create your own from the ground up entirely. There's a pretty hefty amount of missions and maps included, and of course people are generating more by the week.

A short (optional) tutorial familiarizes you with the unique mechanics of this game world. It plays a lot like what you would expect from a turn-based fantasy strategy game, but there is a strong focus on capturing towns and producing more units (which are recruited from keeps via hero characters). This lends the game a bit of a Warcraft tinge, and there is more of a focus on holding and protecting map territory than you usually see in the standard turn-based SRPG game. The computer AI is also fairly sharp and aggressive; it doesn't hang back passively and wait for you to charge it.

Wesnoth is an impressive project, a fun and solid freeware tribute to the 2D fantasy strategy classics from the 1990s. By itself, it doesn't really bring anything new to the table or have any dazzling qualities, but the open-endedness of the design and ability to customize imbues it with a lot of potential, and fans of the genre will find tons of material here to keep them happily occupied for a long time.

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