Robot Wars meets RTS gameplay
In the not-so-distant past, I was tasked with reviewing Trailer Trashers by Sakari Games, and I found their brand of violent (and yet relaxing) couch multiplayer refreshing – so much so that I immediately shot my hand up when the opportunity to review another game of theirs arrived. Alas, here we are: Rover Wars slid across the internet and into my Steam Library, where I have routinely whipped my robotic foes into submission for several hours.
So, spoilers – yes I enjoyed this game. But please, allow me to explain further. There’s a lot more to love than meets the eye, even if “Robot Wars meets RTS gameplay” had you hooked.
Conquering Mars, One Rover At A Time
Rover Wars, as its subtitle aptly explains, pits you in a struggle for the red planet. You’ll make some pit stops elsewhere, but Mars is the prize. One can imagine the brainstorming session went a little like this:
“Hey, remember the Mars Rover? That was pretty cool huh?”
“You know what would’ve been cooler… if there were more rovers.”
“You know what’s even better? If they all blew each other up.”
And those two people, whomever you are, were completely correct in their assumptions. The mechanical manslaughter (although, I’m still not sure if any actual men are harmed during the playing of Rover Wars) loosed by your rover engenders both the visceral satisfaction of a Michael Bay explosion and the mental stimulation of a checkers game.
The game self-advertises as a “MOBA meets RTS,” and in retrospect, this seems apt. While building your army, ensuring production lines, and unit placement are all keys to success; you’ll find elements similar to LoL and Dota like:
- Farming Minions
- Playable “Hero”
But, these mechanics are much more abstracted and present in simpler ways than the often overwrought MOBAs we all know and (occasionally) enjoy. Instead of a daunting hero roster, you square off against your mirror image. The opposing drone marshalls the same sorts of abilities as you. Victory is attained by your skill, not a rock-paper-scissors game of counters.
Similarly, the minions are mirrors. Spider-like drones crawl towards your base, and once you plop down a few factories – your own army begins its steady march. These tiny drones attack any hostile being before them, including:
- Production Buildings
- Opposing Minions
- The Main Base
These little guys can bowl over foes for hours, but the onslaught doesn’t stop until the main base is destroyed – much like in MOBAs and many RTS titles. You, and the feller across the screen, determine how this war of attrition plays out through positioning, combat, and the occasional death ray. Yes, we’ll get to that.
Death Rays and Weaponry
Your Rover has anti-drone weaponry attached, allowing you to silence their little electric lives. While I’m sure they have a cooler name in-game, I just call them my swipers. They have a short range, but fan out 360° and deal a tidy sum of damage. It takes a couple of strikes to take out minion drones, but 10 to kill you or the enemy Rover. Bear in mind, if you sneak in a couple of swipes here and there but fail to finish the job, Rovers can return to base to get repaired
Killing that dastardly rover will only delay their advance. Rovers, including your own, respawn rather quickly and return at full health. Destroying them or their drones, however, does provide you with the energy and material needed to build your own factories or deploy your death ray.
This number, tracked in the lower right of the screen, represents a very simplified and abstract economy. Essentially, the less you die – the worse their production, and vice versa. Much like League of Legends, if you “feed” the Rover early, you’ll face a steep uphill battle later in the match.
Thankfully, the death ray functions as a sort of reset. Its strength and range depend on how many points you have banked up, once you have a sufficient number plow behind enemy lines and prepare to ruin that Rover’s day. The beam wipes everything off the map, factories, drones, Rovers, you name it. It does take some big batteries to pull off though, as you are equally obliterated. Still, it’s a sacrifice I found myself willing to make often, especially when the score needed some evening.
All In all, it wasn’t the moment to moment gameplay that kept me enthralled while playing Rover Wars, though it certainly kept me entertained. I discovered that the seemingly fast-paced mechanics evolved into a sort of trench warfare, with buckets and bolts in lieu of bullets and trench foot.
Entire matches hinged on the defense of a salient of factories, as the reduced travel time caused myriad problems for my opponent. Often, this lead to a counterattack in my rear, and a hastily constructed defense, and this lead to… you get it. The emergent sense of strategy and positioning ultimately raised Rover Wars above a jolly hoot to a bonafide multiplayer experience.
Colonies, Caveats, and Conclusions
First, a small warning. I ran into this same issue with Trailer Trashers and it seems persistent across these kinds of multiplayer games. The control scheme is not optimized for keyboards. If you want to play this game with some faculty and not have to rewire your mind-muscle connection, use a gamepad or pick it up on Switch. Now that we got that out of the way…
Like most of my reviews, I picked this game for a reason. I feel it’s a tad unfair to the reader not to confess the biases, so I’ll put it out there – I like space games. Even average ones. You’re talking to a guy who sunk dozens of hours into Mission Humanity (just look it up) and Tonka Space Station. If there’s a gene for “rabid desire to colonize space,” I have it. When I heard that Rover Wars had you piloting bots to vie for control of the fourth rock, I was in.
And you should be in too – not just for the aesthetic or the cute drones, but simply for the well-rounded mechanics and polished game feel. The graphics are simple, the story is one step above irrelevant, and none of that matters too much. You don’t play chess for the medieval court roleplay (maybe some of you do… just download Crusader King 2 guys), and you don’t play Rover Wars to LARP as a Martian space commander. You do it for tense matches, insane wins, and death rays.
ROVER WARS IS RECOMMENDED
Rover Wars can be purchased digitally for PC on Steam. It can be bought digitally via the Nintendo Switch store.
Many thanks to Sakari Games for the review copy.
If you enjoy indie games such as this one, why not check out our Indie section?
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Content Writer, Amateur Poet, and Occasional Dungeon Master. I’ve published in literary journals and gaming sites, and suffer from an excess of interests.
No longer a member of the NookGaming team due to other commitments, but find more writing from him on Medium.