It’s said that war changes a man. Fresh-faced and eager, he works his way through training, and before long, is shipped off to battle – carrying boyish dreams of valour and glory alongside his new helmet and rifle. Then, he loses something. Midway through the fighting and bloodshed something is broken off from him. He returns home a hero – a cynical, bitter hero.
Advance Wars is the best example of this. After serving for over a decade solely in Japan, it was thrust into international conflict. Now seeing millions of battles in the West, a few campaigns saw its unique, fragile and bright spirit crumble.
Days of Ruin is the new man, the returning hero.
Previously the series seemed rather pleased with the war; it was the opportunity for everyone to get out in the fresh air and shoot at each other. Now it seems the game has realised that those bullets hurt. War is beautiful no more. This means that the colourful depictions of the series are now gone and have been replaced with a darker, grittier look.
It’s a post-apocalyptic nightmare where mankind is nearly all-dead. What’s left is the charred remains of earth and a roster of gritty veterans – a sadly soulless re-imagining of a series that formerly boasted a light, approachable visual style.
Really, though, this is an unimportant aesthetic change. The game’s back story was an often-skipped diversion and the graphics quickly become unnoticed as you wage war –any tactically-minded anticipators of this sequel will be interested in the latest version of the addictive battle system.
The core remains as it was; the same turn-based strategy with a focus on exploiting weaknesses and employing strengths. But there’s a key shift in emphasis: tactics over power. Now the focus is on elegant advanced planning, with many of the previously overpowering (and perhaps damaging to the game’s balancing) units have either been removed or reduced.
So you must forget about the Neotank, it’s a casualty of refinement. Now you must befriend the Flare, capable of illuminating the dark covering seen in fog-of-war contests and uncovering the enemy position. There’s a distinctly pleasing absence of the Pipe Runner – the enemy of balanced, tactical play that spent its time frustrating players.
Your Commanding Officer is now a more influential and consequential presence in battles. The chosen authority figure now rides with the forces of one unit and gradually progresses towards the activation of his power with each conflict. Officers also have an area of influence which grows as they battle, in that units within this zone receive a slight boost defensively or offensively.
The eventual CO power isn’t as all-conquering as the tag powers seen in the previous DS incarnation, which granted the enemy an infuriating extra turn, or the player a cheapening shortcut to victory. However, it is a welcome change once it’s accustomed to, leaving tactical skill as the only road to victory.
The package has lost volume since the last sequel, with many game modes dropping away. Combat Mode has gone, but it was a weak and pointless part of the game anyway. Rather saddening though is that dual-screen usage has been abandoned. Having two, often vastly different conflicts to focus on, was a pleasing variety from the normal style of play.
What’s been anticipated, and delivers, is online battling. Surprisingly, voice-chat is available even when battling a randomly selected opponent. For personal vendettas the friend code system is available, but either way the contests run without issue.
This game doesn’t mark the ruin of what is a classic portable game franchise. Like the rest of the Advance Wars series, Days of Ruin is a campaign of addiction and satisfaction, as well as being one of the most accessible strategy games available.
Yes, the man has changed. He’s lost his innocence and realised the truth of his struggles: wars are ugly and crippling – but the Advance Wars have never been better.
What does this score mean? Check out our review scoring breakdown.