Strategy games are no longer as popular or important as they used to be. Where once the genre was a staple of every LAN, these days it is the domain of the truly hardcore fan. Having said that, the genre can still produce hits. Just look at any Paradox game or the granddaddy of all 4X games, Civilisation (with Civ 6 even getting a good Switch port). Punk Wars seeks to build on this reputation, but blends some of the aspects of the RTS genre with the more thoughtful turn-based mechanics of the 4X genre.
Punk Wars imagines a post-nuclear war earth where four factions, each inspired by a retro-futuristic philosophy, vie for domination of the barren wastelands. The Steam Punk faction relies on the generation of steam to power their cities and armies. Their aesthetic is the obvious – Victorian London gears and cogs designed with a leather fetish. The Diesel Punks are typically grimy and mucky as befits an oil-based faction. The Steel Punks mine iron ore and base their economy on steel. By far the most interesting is the Atom Punks, the mad scientists seeking to dominate via experimentation on both willing and unwilling subjects.
Each faction allows you to experience and hone in on a different play style. The Steam Punks reward the adventurous spirit, those who love exploration. As an example, their Combat Zeppelin allows you to zoom across the map opening new avenues. The Diesel Punks are an inexorable mass, slowly conquering the map with their soldiers who can also exploit the scarce oil they find. The Steel Punks are the almost Swiss-like faction. They just want to be left alone and, if you favour the adage the “best defence is a strong defence”, this is the faction for you. The Atom Punks race along the science tech tree, making them formidable early in the game and their starting unit, the Watchmen, have a range advantage that no other faction possesses.
Each faction’s resource is unique to them, so an Atom Punk cannot use the Steel Punk’s iron ore deposits, who, in turn, cannot use the Diesel Punk’s oil reserves. This removes one aspect common in the RTS genre – competing for the same resources. However, as befits a post-apocalyptic world, resources are scarce. Exploring and finding your own resources on the map is vital, but conquering and holding a rival faction’s resource will win you the scenario as you starve them of the currency to expand their base or race up the tech trees.
Due to the scarcity of resources, managing your spending, just like in real life, is vital. The late-game stage requires massive amounts of resources to purchase the powerful units and upgrades that you will require to make a final push for victory. A careful balance of exploration to expand and deny your opponent resources, coupled with careful spending and upgrade planning, are the keys to victory.
The game has you manage two tech trees – a combined science and civilian tree, and a military one – and each faction campaign starts you in a different position. The Steel Punks, for instance, start with no scientific production – a huge disadvantage that should have you prioritising that tree as soon as possible. Each tech tree will also force you into the occasional dilemma, with some upgrades offering the choice between upgrading a unit or gaining a small economic or stat boost. It makes for an interesting if frustrating upgrade path.
Luckily, you can take your time to make these decisions and weigh all the options. Like any good 4X game, each turn has weight and consequence. You can send units to explore, others to occupy territory, all while building a new structure and advancing along your tech tree with a good long tea break in between.
The turn-based strategizing follows through to combat, allowing you to find the optimal path to skirmish glory. Taking a cue from the Total War series, as your units win battles they gain experience, making them more valuable as they become capable of tearing through lower-level enemy units. However, keep them on the front lines too long and you risk their ranks depleting to the point no amount of experience will enable them to win. After all, even a few Navy SEALs are unlikely to win a battle against hundreds of inexperienced troops.
All the aspects combined make the gameplay feel like a turn-based/RTS hybrid. Contradictory, yes, but the best way to describe it. Expanding your base, racing up the tech tree, and using your army to gain territory are all staples of the RTS genre, whereas 4X relies equally on more civil pursuits like developing trade and diplomacy.
Unlike an RTS, and more like a 4X game, the game does give you civilian units like scientists, who can gain you a science boost by assigning them to research or sending them out into abandoned and ruined cities to find something that might take you tens of turns to research yourself. Another nod to 4X staples is a happiness stat for your population. Building entertainment structures will keep your people happy and stave off an insurrection. However, this mechanic is a shallow implementation that the devs seem to have acknowledged in the tips screen. They suggest it is more efficient for you to just put down the occasional rebellion, rather than spend precious resources on keeping people happy.
When it comes to the presentation, the maps are visually unappealing bland brown – I guess it is a nuclear post-apocalypse after all. However, the units and buildings are each beautifully designed and rendered. Even when fully zoomed, they are easy to distinguish when standing on a tile by themselves. Once in your base, occupying the same tile as structures, units tend to disappear into the background and if you don’t click directly on them, or use the “next unit” button, you can sometimes forget they exist. Luckily, you can zoom in and pan around to get the best view of these models. For those with the hardware, Punk Wars also runs great at ultra-widescreen resolutions.
Punk Wars is a welcome addition to the strategy genre, whether you deem it more of an RTS or 4X game. It may not be as polished as a Paradox game or as balanced as Blizzard’s venerable Starcraft, but it is worth the asking price and will keep you entertained for hours.
A review code for Punk Wars was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher.
Punk Wars (PC) ReviewPunk Wars (PC) Review
Gameplay8/10 Very Good
Visuals8/10 Very Good
Ease of play6/10 Normal
- Meaty campaign
- Distinct factions
- Blends RTS and 4X gameplay well
- World is somewhat bland
- Progress is slow