Next week, Nintendo will answer fans' cries for a new Advance Wars game with Days of Ruin, a grittier installment in the hallowed portable strategy series from Intelligent Systems. Yesterday we took a look at Days of Ruin's darker tone and art style, and today we're back to examine how the game will play, including the changes made to the interface and controls, new types of units, major changes to the commanding officers and their abilities, and more. To start with, the fundamental gameplay here is 100 percent classic Advance Wars. The look and feel may be different, and there may be new units on the battlefield, and so on, but the core turn-based tactical combat that has been the heart of the series is still fully in effect. Veterans of past games will already be intimately familiar with the movement and offensive and defensive properties of the various tank, artillery, infantry, support, air, and naval units.
Luckily, Nintendo has improved the stylus control in Days of Ruin considerably, making stylus-only play a perfectly viable alternative to the traditional D-pad-and-button combo. In fact, you can play the game entirely with the stylus, never touching the other controls. All movement and attack functions are accessible with a tap of the screen or two, and you can scroll around the battlefield by dragging the stylus to the edges of the screen. Even more advanced functions are easy to pull off--viewing an enemy unit's movement and attack ranges, for instance, can be accomplished simply by tapping or holding on that unit, respectively. It's telling that we've played almost halfway through the single-player campaign now without ever touching the traditional controls, and we haven't missed them.
No strategy sequel would be complete without some new battlefield toys to play with, and while the ones we've seen so far in Days of Ruin have provided some nice new functionality, we haven't seen anything totally game-changing. There's the bike unit, which has exceptionally long movement range and can capture buildings just like an infantry unit. As a wheeled vehicle, though, it can't traverse obstacles like mountain ranges. The flare unit is handy for defeating the fog of war, since it can project a flare remotely to reveal an area of the map for a limited time. Watch out, though--its armor isn't very tough.
The old armored personnel carrier has been replaced by the rig, which serves the same function--it can transport troops long distances--but it can also be turned into a "temporary airport" over the course of two turns, making it a supply point for your various aircraft. Then there's the antitank unit, which is sort of a mix between traditional artillery and a tank. Like artillery and rockets, this unit has a firing range covering multiple spaces but is limited to moving or firing (but not both) in a single turn. However, it can also counterattack when fired upon directly by an adjacent unit. And as the name implies, it's especially good at killing the various kinds of tanks in the game.
There are even some new terrain features in the game. Some of them are mostly cosmetic; new tiles like wastelands and city ruins are similar to existing terrain types but fit in more closely with the postapocalyptic theme of the storyline. There are some remnants of the global disaster that actively play a role in battle, though. For instance, jets of flame shoot up from the ground on some maps, and these can illuminate the area around them when fog of war is active. There are also fragments of the meteorites that have ravaged the planet in some maps. These will actually fire jets of destructive plasma between each other, which is of course lethal to your units. Luckily, you can destroy these fragments to nullify this effect.
The revamped commanding officer system is perhaps the biggest change to the gameplay in Days of Ruin. In the past, your choice of commanding officer would provide a specific passive benefit across the battlefield, and you could also invoke a special CO-specific ability that was often powerful enough to change the outcome of the battle in a single stroke. This new game limits the CO's influence pretty drastically from what we've seen so far; Nintendo has said in the past that this change was meant to more strongly emphasize general battlefield strategy and clever use of tactics without letting players lean too heavily on the overwhelming power of the COs.
Commanding officers aren't disembodied overseers anymore; now they're units on the battlefield. You can load your CO into any unit while it's still located in a factory (and doing so will take that unit's entire turn). Once the CO is in a unit, he or she has a specific range of influence inside which other units receive a bonus. For instance, Brenner provides a buff to the defense rating of units inside his relatively large zone. Lin's zone is smaller, but she increases both defensive and offensive capabilities of units directly next to her. Most of the COs' passive abilities seem to be balanced between the size of their zone, the degree of increase to offense and/or defense, and in some cases the kind of unit (land, sea, or air) that receives this buff.
When a unit causes damage to an enemy within a CO's zone, the damage point value will be added to a meter underneath the CO's portrait, and when this meter is full, you'll get to bust out a sweeping special ability similar to those in the past Advance Wars games. But again, these abilities seem less powerful than before. Brenner's power adds three hit points to all units on the map, for instance. Isabella can give all units an extra two units of mobility and two units of range to indirect attackers. Lin's ability increases each ground unit's range of sight by two spaces. These CO abilities are effective in the right situations, but they certainly don't seem to be battle-winning on their own merits alone. You'll still need a solid underlying strategy to get through each mission.
On top of all these new additions and changes, Intelligent Systems has finally taken Advance Wars fully online with Days of Ruin. Tomorrow, we'll be looking at the game's head-to-head multiplayer (including voice chat) via Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection service, as well as the map editor and online map-trading capability. Come back tomorrow for more details on these features.