Getting into a new turn-based strategy game such as XCOM or the Civilisation series can be a bit daunting, with a lot of unique mechanics to learn and tactics to consider. How, then, to make this genre of games appealing to younger players? Transformers Battlegrounds is how, and the game very much delivers on this promise.
I’ll say right at the start that if you’re a seasoned, adult gamer who has spent a lot of time playing these sorts of games, you’re likely to find Transformers Battlegrounds as a fairly dull experience. This game is firmly aimed at newer gamers or young fans of Transformers and both the gameplay and the storyline have been greatly simplified down to match that target audience. If you’re hoping for a challenge with a lot of new and exciting mechanics to explore, this is not the title for you.
That being said, if you are a fan of the long-standing Transformers franchise or you’ve been thinking about getting into turn-based strategy games for a while and didn’t know where to start, then this game is a perfect choice.
A lot of Transformers Battlegrounds’ success lies in its visuals. The game is filled with bright, vibrant colours and a cast of characters that are all clearly distinct, but the true victory is the HUD display, which may seem daunting at first, but very quickly becomes indispensable. Fringe elements reveal what tools the player has at their disposal, while the map overlay makes it very clear what each action will do and how it will affect any of the Transformers involved. As random chance elements – such as a character missing a ranged shot – don’t appear in the game, the result is that player can weigh up their options quickly and easily and start to strategize on a broader scale.
And strategy is important in this game. While most levels are relatively short and straight forward in their objectives, completing them can require a surprising amount of forethought. One mechanic in particular that encourages such forward planning is the ability to trade a character’s actions, of which they are given three each turn, for Energon, a resource that builds up over time and is used to power Ultimate Abilities, extra powerful moves that are unique to each character. For challenging missions, players will need to weigh up the risk of giving up their action points for the sake of a payoff that may come much later in the round.
Furthering this need for strategizing is the inclusion of friendly fire, which means players will have to be aware of all their characters at all times, or else risk putting them in harm’s way when you want to set off a large AOE attack. This, like many other features in the game is cleverly demonstrated to the player in an early mission when you are spawned out of a cutscene with a new ability that you are obviously meant to use on the enemies around you. However, when you go to do so, you’ll notice that your ally is also in the path of your attack and if you trigger it, they will lose a substantial chunk of their health. While many new mechanics are explained in clearly defined tutorials where one or more of the characters explains directly to the player, several more are introduced in this understated way. As a result, you can learn a lot about the game without having to sit through continuous, slow tutorials.
Gameplay itself is satisfyingly punchy, with an impressive array of thumping and clanging sound effects to add weight to the Transformers’ movement. Each attack has its own animation and characters visibly react when hit, making it feel as though each shot really is connecting. Similarly, the Ultimate Abilities typically have impressive animations that make them worth the wait – watching a house-sized mechanical dinosaur charge into a cluster of enemies and breathe fire over them is going to be exciting no matter how old you are.
The gameplay can feel a little slow at times, particularly when you have a lot of characters in play, but it’s more a result of the genre itself than a failing of the game.
One factor that some players might find disappointing is that the storyline of the main game is relatively short. Where Transformers Battlegrounds makes up for this, however, is in its Arcade, a series of individual VS. matches that can be completed solo or in local multiplayer and which pad out the replayability of the game considerably. None of these minigames are particularly innovative in terms of their structure and they’re fairly easy to win, but with six different game modes, each with multiple levels to unlock, there’s plenty of content to keep you going.
The one flaw I did find genuinely frustrating during my time with the game was another of those simplifications designed to lower the skill floor: the inability to determine a character’s path. When you wish to move a character, you select the square you would like them to go to and they’ll walk, drive, or fly to it depending on the character in question and the distance you’re asking them to travel. The issue, however, is that you have no control over the path it takes to get there. While this is generally a good thing as you don’t have to get bogged down in route mapping, it means that there are occasions where the automatic pathfinding leads characters into zones where they will take damage, when they should be able to go around the danger without a problem. The only real solution is to use multiple moves in a turn to carefully lead them where you want them to go, which not only slows the game down to a crawl, it can result in an entirely wasted turn. While it isn’t a game breaking issue, it is frustrating and could easily be fixed by some basic improvements to the pathfinding system.
Overall though, these complaints are minor. Transformers Battlegrounds is a brilliant little game for younger players and Transformers fans, and is well worth a look if you’re thinking of investing some time into turn-based strategy. And since we’re all staying home anyway, what better time could there be to get in some local multiplayer with your family?