Swords & Soldiers II: Shawarmageddon
Developer: Ronimo Games
Publisher: Ronimo Games
Release Date: 1 March 2019
Price: $14.99 / £13.49
Reviewed by Phil Myth
There are certain genres of games that rarely deviate from their stable formula. As a result, you often get the feeling that once you’ve played one, you’ve more or less played them all. Tower defence has that kind of vibe, and yet Swords & Soldiers II: Shawarmageddon elevates the genre through a combination of deep gameplay and a level of presentation that far exceeds what you’d expect from this type of game.
The premise is fairly straightforward. There’s an enemy base at one end of the map, your own HQ at another, and you unleash as many units as you can to try and turn their hideout into rubble. All your units march onwards the moment you’ve activated them, so timing your attacks right is crucial if you’re to avoid just churning out fodder for your enemy’s defences.
This tactical approach extends to precisely which units you select too. Should you purchase a handful of cheap yet feeble units? Or spend some extra gold and unleash a single brutal behemoth? Managing your resources is crucial to victory, and becomes an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop once a well orchestrated strategy pays off.
The resources in question are divided between gold and mana. The mining units you start with will bring in cash, which you can then spend on units, or unlocking more spells and soldiers in your tech tree. Again it’s fairly simple and straightforward - nothing to really write home about - but the sheer variety available makes your choices both interesting and important. There are three factions on offer, the Vikings, the Persians, and the Demons. Each faction has a selection of spells and units that are completely unique to them. For example, the vikings offer bearded axe throwers to counter the Persian’s Fakirs that float around on flying carpets shooting venomous snakes at everyone below. Meanwhile, the Demons can unleash spear throwing gremlins for ranged attacks of their own.
They’re all examples of some of the distance units on offer in each faction, and all of the unit types are balanced in similar ways. The club-swinging highlander of the Vikings for example, does similar damage to the dagger wielding snake that is the Demon’s Naga unit. But little idiosyncracies - the Highlander can hit multiple units at once, while the Naga turns into a stone statue when it dies, obstructing your opponents path - add extra variety and strategy that makes for really interesting bouts. Each faction even has unique structures they can place in certain designated areas to help turn the tide of battle. Defensive arrangements such as the Viking’s Guard Tower will boost a ranged unit’s damage, while the Demon’s crypt will spew out fighting skeletons every few seconds.
Who’s the mana?
This range of options also extends to the spells you can cast. Whether it’s the Viking’s lightning from above or the Persian ability to bribe enemy units to fight for you, there’s another handful of tools at your disposal that are unique to your chosen faction. Some are downright hilarious too, and turning your opponent’s powerful genie into a helpless sheep never stops being fantastically grin-inducing. Mana’s not as easy to come by as gold though, so these spells needs to be used sparingly at the most opportune moment.
This satisfying gameplay exists, naturally, in free play matches against both AI and human opponents. You can hand off a Joy-Con to a friend for what is always a raucous ebb and flow of battle, and there’s the option to jump online for a game too. As of the time of writing, the game was yet to launch on Switch, but once there’s a few more players around, we’ll update this review with impressions of the online experience. Update: Online play works just as well as it does offline. It’s a shame that there isn’t the option to use custom loadouts online - you’re limited to one of the three default factions - as that would have made for some even more interesting skirmishes. Still, the core gameplay loop is as satisfying as ever, and there’s certainly another layer of spice added to proceedings when you know there’s another person sending waves of units your way.
The longevity of the title will naturally be in this multiplayer mode. So being able to play with friends online, as well as randoms, is undoubtedly a welcome option. Offline multiplayer makes for even more interesting bouts, as you can mix and match your units from across all 3 factions to create a custom loadout. Yet again, the level of variety and challenge increases, with multiple fights giving you plenty of opportunities to create different setups. These modes can be played against an AI opponent too, and there’s a great selection of maps on offer - all with different branching pathways to your opponent - to keep things interesting fight after fight.
Single and loving it
All that said, the single player mode is every bit as good as the multiplayer - if not more so. Taking place over 15 main stages (plus a few bonus rounds) it tells the tale of Redbeard the Viking and his pursuit of a magic lamp. The whole thing is narrated by a fellow viking, and the writing is tight and funny throughout. There’s a bit of voice acting too. I’m not entirely sure why the vikings are all Scottish, but having one of your units shout “ow my beard!” in a Glaswegian accent when he gets attacked never fails to put a smile on your face.
The single player ultimately serves as a tutorial for each of the game’s factions and units. It’s brilliantly laid out, with the difficulty curving perfectly with your own knowledge and talent. There are a couple of missions towards the end that get ridiculously hard, but if you’re struggling to find the winning formula, you can also call in a favour from Thor and play the level with a reduced cost for units and spells. It allows you to see the end credits, but if you want to complete all the unique bonus objectives, you’ll need to play the big boy mode.
As mentioned though, the presentation is what really sets Swords & Soldiers II apart. Alongside the great writing and comedic voice overs, the bright and colourful visuals add a lovely sheen to proceedings, while the music is complementary if not particularly memorable (end credits theme song excepted). Every locale, from golf courses to deserts to the depths of hell, looks fantastic and each of the units are distinctive enough to make out in even the most chaotic of skirmishes.
There’s some replayability in the single player mode, thanks to the aforementioned challenges on offer, but it will be the multiplayer mode where this game comes into its own. Local play with a drink or two will make for some great evenings, but be warned that without tackling the single player campaign, some players may find the sheer number of different things going on a little overwhelming at first.
In adding an exceptional level of polish to a wide yet perfectly balanced mix of units, Swords & Soldiers II sets the standard for Tower Defence games. The myriad combinations of numerous unit types, all with their own unique characteristics, makes every bout a fresh and interesting one, and finding new ways to beat old friends and new opponents alike won’t get old for a long time. The single-player mode is the perfect tutorial, while also offering an entertaining - if not particularly gripping - story. There’s a lot going on that makes it difficult for friends to pick up and play alongside you, but anyone who spends even a little time with this game will find a lot to love.
Pros & Cons
+ Varied units make for deep gameplay
+ Superb presentation
+ Excellent single player campaign
- Difficult to pick up and play
- Difficulty jumps up several notches towards the end