Transformers Battlegrounds might just be the perfect entry level strategy game to get budding young generals ready to command. Strategy games are fairly niche compared to FPS and sports games, and the mainstream nature of those genres mean that when little Timmy gets his hands on his first console, he’s pretty likely to hop into Fortnite or FIFA. Strategy games probably aren’t too high on the list of gaming priorities, which is a shame because more people should play them.
Battlegrounds plays a lot like XCOM, as you get a set amount of actions points per round to move your bots and perform various attacks. It’s a simplified system and much less intensive, which certainly feels like a design choice to cater to a younger audience.
Firstly, taking shots isn’t as RNG driven as the XCOM games, in which you could stand point blank to an alien and still miss. Here, as long as you are in range, your shot will hit. Secondly, you aren’t overloaded with abilities. Each character has three skills that can be equipped at a time: a basic attack, which for most characters is a blaster shot, a second skill which you can increase with power depending on how many action points you are willing to spend, and an ultimate ability which has two levels depending on your Energon meter.
Windblade gets to use her awesome turbines with her second skill, for example. The level one version pushes enemies in front of her back, dealing no damage unless they knock into something. Level two deals damage while pushing back the enemy and level three deals more damage and pushes them back even further. Level three’s are always great, but they leave you vulnerable, unable to spend action points on movement.
Unspent action points are converted into Energon at the end of a round, and once the Energon meter is halfway full, you gain access to your team’s ultimates. These do great things and generally grant you free movement, which can work really well if you can strategically pull off a combo. I did this to great effect in one game where the enemy kept hiding from me. I moved my Optimus Prime just enough to get him in range of the boss and used his ultimate to charge in, grab the enemy and throw them backwards a great distance, dealing damage in the process. Of course, I threw this hapless foe into the rest of my team who were able to whale on him until he was deactivated. Fully charging your Energon grants you the highest level of power for your ultimate, so it’s best to save up if you can.
There are a total of six Autobots to mix and match during levels, each with different classes and abilities. You have Optimus Prime and Grimlock as your brawlers, Bumblebee and Windblade who serve as your scout class, and then you have Arcee and Wheeljack offering support. All of their abilities can be swapped out for new ones that you unlock over the course of the campaign using the Spark currency earned from completing levels.
The story follows Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, and his band of merry robots as they chase after big bad Megatron and his evil Decepticons who are trying to get hold of the Allspark. It’s standard Transformers stuff and is modeled on the recent Cyberverse series with characters having slightly more human faces (and Grimlock sounding somewhat intelligent). You are actually playing as a human, believe it or not, who manages to get caught up in the middle of things and ends up commanding the Autobots actions from a safe distance inside Teletran X.
The campaign is a fair length, spanning four acts and twenty levels with a bit of a difficulty spike coming during the later levels. Objectives are generally quite simple, like reach the end of the level or defeat all the enemies on screen. It’s only towards the end of the game that you start to get more interesting objectives, which is a shame because it does suffer from some repetition early on. Then again, viewing this from the eyes of a younger player, that might not be a bad thing.
The AI is also fairly forgiving, but still clever enough to make for a light challenge. I often found enemy robots using action points to run in, shoot me for damage and then peace out to go hide behind safe cover. It was infuriating, but tactics that only a shifty Decepticon would use. It forced me to place somewhat aggressively until I learned how to bait them out by standing at certain distances so they couldn’t just hit and run.
There’s also repetition from facing a lot of similar enemy types until you encounter bosses. They seem to get the majority of the cool gameplay mechanics. Shockwave, for instance, spawns small drones who can actually be a right pain to deal with. He is also a pain himself, causing high damage with his stomp attacks. Once again though, I found that I was quite easily able to draw in the boss and then deal with them on turn one through clever placement of my guys and savvy use of abilities. After they went down, it just became about dealing with the spawning minions who were not a problem to deal with.
There are additional game modes to play after the campaign. Capture the Flag, Energon Capture, Last Stand, Destruction and Decepticon Grudge Match, which lets you play as the Decepticons. All of these are short arcade games with simple mechanics. Energon Capture, for instance, sees your team defending Energon Ore Deposits over ten turns. It’s also worth noting these are not played online but as local multiplayer. That’s nice, but it’s a slight shame not to have online multiplayer support.
Hardcore strategy fans might be left wanting after playing Battlegrounds. It’s actually quite good, but it’s not setting the world on fire by evolving the genre. That’s fine when considering that it’s aimed at getting younger people into strategy games and in that vein, it feels like a great jumping on point. It helps that it’s a Transformers game and that’s sure to be pretty popular amongst the young folk.
Older members of the fandom might feel a little let down, however. It’s been five years since the last Transformers game and this might not have been the best way to appeal to a mass market of budding Cybertronians. Yes, it’s got a lot of fanservice with famous lines from Transformers lore being quoted left, right and centre, but when you walk in the shadow of the War for Cybertron games, you have big shoes to fill.