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Advance Wars Days of Ruin Review: War (Advance Wars, that is) Has Changed.

My journey to review all the Advance Wars games has finally brought me here to the final game in the series, Advance Wars Days of Ruin. It's definitely the most controversial game in the series, and got a lot of hate for drastically changing certain gameplay mechanics, unit balance, etc.. Most, if not all, of the changes were for the better. As such, this review will be a little different than normal. I'll directly address the complaints, and point out why they're wrong or entirely subjective. Aside from that, it'll be the same as normal.

Like the earlier games, Advance Wars Days of Ruin is a turn based strategy game. You have a variety of different unit types, and you usually try to win by obliterating the enemy forces or capturing the enemy HQ. In the campaign, there are occasionally special conditions for victory or defeat. While a few maps have your forces pre deployed, most give you factories to deploy more ground troops, and airports to deploy air units. Less frequently, you'll command naval forces, which are deployed from ports. You deploy units with money that you get from properties - cities, factories, airports, bases, etc. - at the opening of every turn. You capture them with with foot soldiers and a new unit, bikes, soldiers on motorcycles. 

In addition to the Story missions, you can play the Trial maps. After beating Story or Trial missions, you're scored from 1-150 on Power (what percent of the enemy you destroyed in a day), Speed (how quickly you beat the level), and Technique (how few of your units where lost). You then get an S, A, B, or C for that mission, and trying to beat your old scores gives you incentive to replay them.

 

You can play against humans, AI, or both on one DS in Free Play, or play against other humans locally in Multi-Card play. You can play against people online as well in "Nintendo WFC".

The first thing you'll notice when playing Advance Wars Days of Ruin, if you've played the previous games, is that the art style has changed. The other Advance Wars games were all very bright and colorful, whereas the colors in DoR are much more conservative. The unit and terrain design themselves are more realistic looking (now preparing for an argument with Mr. Turkey, lol) than the 'cartoonish', for lack of a better term, first three games.

On its own the change seems strange, but both art styles fit the tone of their respective games well. The first few Advance Wars games were lighthearted, especially considering they were about war, while Days of Ruin is a lot more dark. Everyone except the leader of the villains in AW2 survived throughout the first three games, while several characters die in Days of Ruin. The plot of Dual Strike (AW3) was about a giant machine stealing the continents energy; Days of Ruin is about meteors hitting the earth and killing 90% of the population, blotting out the sun and causing a strange disease to flourish. On top of that, armed bandits roam the wasteland, searching for survivors to kill and steal from, and other survivors have banded together and started a ******* war. That's only the first half of the game.

The shift in tone is a major complaint, and it's that "entirely subjective" part I mentioned earlier. There's no way to say which is absolutely better, but you can make the argument in favor of DoR that its tone fits a war game much better. The actual story and characters, whether you like the tone or not, are significantly better, and there is a greater focus on both than in the earlier games. Days of Ruin isn't entirely serious, it was actually more of a lighthearted game in a serious package. The "War Room", where you get strategies for mission, is pretty cheesy and silly; I liked it, but it does make the tone kind of inconsistent.

The level design is all good to great, and there are several exceptionally well designed and memorable missions. One takes place just after the main character angers his tyrant of a commander, and as such there are several points where he'll order you to not move a certain type of unit on that turn. The turn before you get a warning about which unit type it will be, which keeps it from being unfair. It can put you at a disadvantage if you are overly reliant on one type (which is playing poorly in the first place), and as well as being unique it does a great job of bringing together story and gameplay. 

There's also one where you're fighting in the wing of a giant plane, and your troops - as well as the enemies - are scattered about a fairly open battlefield. How you move on the first turn is critical, as you try to organize your troops into a defensive position and do as much damage to the enemy as possible. After wiping them out, a wave of fresh enemy reinforcements will come in from the side.

As far as difficulty goes, a veteran of the series or turn based strategy games won't likely have much trouble and it doesn't have a hard mode. It's harder than Dual Strike, but easier than Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2. If my reviews have made you remotely interested in the Advance Wars games, start with Dual Strike then play Days of Ruin.


A common complaint is that Commanding Officers (COs) don't matter anymore, because the way they work has been drastically changed. This is completely wrong, to say the least (the game with the most irrelevant COs was easily Dual Strike). The opposite is true; your CO influences your victory or defeat and general playstyle more than ever, but it's an understandable mistake. In past games, your CO affected all units on the battlefield day to day, and had certain strengths and weaknesses. In DoR, the mechanics relating to COs and CO Powers have been greatly changed.

To have your CO effect your units, you need to have your CO enter a unit; any unit works, but it can only be done on the HQ or a property used for deployment and costs 50% of the units value. Each CO has a 'CO Zone', a number of spaces ranging from zero to five away from that unit that affects friendly units, giving them a base 10%/10% bonus (to attack and defense) as well as an additional boost depending on the CO and unit type. Your CO Unit also immediately rises to Vet status. When a unit destroys an enemy, it levels up. At level 1 it has +10% attack, at level 2 it has +20% attack, and at Level 3 (Vet) it has +20% attack and +20% defense.

110/110 is the absolute weakest any CO zone unit can be, and in a past Advance Wars game that would have been good stats. If the enemy is attacking and is spearheaded by a force of CO Zone boosted units, odds are your 100/100 units aren't going to last long if you don't get your own CO Unit there or destroy the enemies CO Unit. After your CO Unit is destroyed, your CO can reenter a unit on the next turn. Losing your CO Unit causes the CO power bar to go back to zero bars filled. Your CO, if used effectively, is a decisive factor in battle.

I can remember a game where I was beginning to gain the upper hand, but made a mistake and lost my CO Unit; my opponent counterattacked and I ended up losing. I also remember another game where my enemy had managed to charge the CO Power of the person who it was the hardest to do it with (the resulting hard to charge CO Power does devastating area of effect damage), and I managed to save my army by destroying his CO and preventing him from using it.

For most COs, the CO Zone can be expanded by two squares in addition to the base number. You charge the bar by dealing damage with units in the CO Zone, five health equalling one tenth of the bar. Halfway there, the Zone increases by one square. When full, the CO Power becomes available and the Zone expands one more square.


In the first three games the person losing had their CO Power charge faster, and it was based off money; the more expensive the unit, the more it charged. Now, the attacker is the only one whose CO Power charges, and it doesn't matter how strong or weak the unit they destroy is. That means that if you spam cheap, weak units, you're allowing your opponent to charge their CO Power quickly; balancing a tactic that went unpunished in Advance Wars 1-3.

The COs themselves are excellently balanced; there's only two who are arguably overpowered (and one of them is Caulder, the absurdly broken boss CO you fight in the final mission, who is banned from online play. He isn't banned or nerfed in local play, but  he does cause people who use him to come down with a bad case of getting punched in the throat.) and a few who are underpowered, the majority sit in 'balanced'. My only complaint about the CO mechanics is that they're not utilized much outside of Free Battle and online play; you don't get to choose your CO in Trial missions or story missions, and only get to use your CO in the last third of the story.

The units have been drastically changed; all the new units from Advance Wars Dual Strike and the one from AW2 have been removed, which honestly isn't that great of a loss. Most of the new units just seemed like cool ideas that didn't really serve much of a purpose at best (Black Boat, Black Bomb), or were broken at worst (Megatank). They are replaced with a number of new units that all serve a purpose.

The Anti-Tank provides a comparatively cheap counter to the stronger tanks, which were once broken. The Duster gives you a cheap air based counter to bombers. Bikes, essentially more expensive infantry with a longer movement range, help speed up the pace of the game; which is much faster than AW1-3. The Medium and War Tanks (the new 'megatank') are both much weaker and much cheaper than in the past games, so the gap between two types of tank isn't completely insurmountable anymore. Missile units, one of two ground based anti air units, are no longer useless. Their range was slightly increased, making them a useful unit to protect your ground forces from air attack.

Naval combat has been drastically improved. There are new terrain types, and cruisers do greater damage against other ships. Battleships can move and fire in the same turn and have slightly reduced range. Since they can move and fire in the same turn, battling on the seas is much more fluid. Submarines deploy submerged, which makes it harder to maintain a blockade indefinitely. There's also a cheap gunboat unit, which would be a good addition were it not for its crippling 'only one shot before reloading' limit. It still suffers from being a very slippery slope, and once you've lost the sea you're unlikely to get it back, but it's many steps in the right direction. There are a few other changes, but you get the idea

Flares are a gift from the heavens, they allow you to illuminate an area of 13 squares (every square that's two away from the center) in Fog of War. Fog of War itself has been improved on hugely; captured bases provide greater visibility, and your units give you information from everywhere they have been in that turn. That may not all sound like a big deal, but it makes what was previously incredibly slow in player vs. player well paced, without sacrificing the extra layer of strategy that Fog of War offers.

Nintendo WFC allows for playing other people over the internet, either randoms or people you have added as friends. In random wifi you play against a random person on a randomly selected map with a randomly selected set of rules. Most of the maps are 'fine', few have serious problems, but less than that are really well suited to competitive play. On top of that, it's almost dead; I can occasionally find a game immediately and have had some great games on it, but usually you'll have to wait a long time or not find a game at all. If you do buy the game though, I'll play against you any time of day.

The Design mode might be my favorite part of the game, I've made dozens of levels in it and it's the best level designer I've ever used. It has every enemy type, terrain, and four armies available, just like Advance Wars 1-3, but a few major improvements. For one thing, you can now change the AI on individual units; you can make them aggressive, you can make them stay in one spot, you can have them defend an area, etc. It alone gives you a huge number of new possibilities. Second, you can adjust the size of the maps. You can make it anywhere from 5x5 to 30x30. There are countless possibilities for making single and multiplayer maps. Finally, they raised the limit of maps. It has increased from 3 to 50. There are a number of other, minor changes that make it more intuitive, and overall it's a creative persons dream come true.

There is a feature where you can upload and download maps from Wifi, but they are limited to being 10x10, and you can't browse the maps. You just select to download either a highly rated map, random map, etc. While there are some gems despite the 10x10 limit, most of the ones I've downloaded were rather poor.

Note. This is not a wifi map.

One other complaint that I just remembered is about the soundtrack, and how all the themes for the COs are "generic rock tunes". If you look at each of the 14 themes and compare them, you'll see there are seven rock themes and seven non-rock themes. The sound quality, in terms of bytes and all that technical jargon is greatly improved. And it's not as if rock themes weren't always a big part of Advance Wars soundtracks, out of the 27 Dual Strike COs 12 of them had rock themes.


Days of Ruin is the sequel Advance Wars needed; it fixes the imbalanced and broken aspects that had been getting worse and worse, and improves on what was already good. Despite all the change, it retains what made Advance Wars great in the first place. Being an easy to learn, hard to master strategy game, and it has more 'optional depth' as a multiplayer game than ever. Not only is it not the worst Advance Wars game as some people who are allergic to change would make you think, but it's the best Advance Wars game.

9.5/10

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*This review was not edited to address the punch in the throat mechanics

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