During my time at Gamescom 2023, I got to sit down with Ankama Studio to try out its free-to-play strategy title, Waven. And while I have some concerns around its business model, I walked away impressed by its charming art style, quickfire turn-based tactics, and heaps of customization.
Waven follows on from Ankama’s previous projects, including strategy RPGs Dofus and Wakfu. Where Waven differs is in its flavor of turn-based tactics, opting for a mobile-friendly, bite-sized mission design. That’s especially welcome as the game is coming to iOS and Android as well as PC. At present, Steam users can download and play an early access version of the game for free.
While somewhat basic at this early stage, Waven is shaping up to be a competent tactical romp for players who either don’t have bags of spare time or those who enjoy a larger selection of small tactical puzzles to test their brains at. In terms of its brisk pacing and a vast collection of tiny challenging gauntlets, there isn’t much on the market right now that’s quite like Waven.
Get your head in the game
Before you can start your journey in Waven, you’ll first need to pick a character and class. Characters, split between five aesthetically distinct races, are largely a cosmetic choice, so I’d suggest just going with whatever you think looks cool. Your class will play a larger distinction, however, as each offers various traits and skills unique to them. In any case, whether you opt for a more straightforward warrior or something a little more off-the-wall like a time mage, most are easy to get to grips with for first-time players.
A brief tutorial then runs you through Waven’s basics. A grid-based tactical RPG, characters in Waven can move and attack once per turn. What sets it apart, though, is your spell and companion loadout. Much like Slay the Spire or Hearthstone, your spells will be shuffled into your hand each turn and can be used so long as you have enough energy to do so. At the start, you’ll have six energy points per turn to play with, but more can be earned via upgrades later on.
Your spells come in various elemental flavors and cost differing amounts of energy. Typically, more expensive spells will deal more damage or provide buffs for your hero and their allies. By casting spells, you can also accrue elemental gauges that can be spent to summon companions that can aid you in a fight.
There’s really quite a lot here, and that’s before getting into additional customization like armbands and rings which offer further stat increases and perks for your character. It can be fairly overwhelming at first, especially as most quests will unlock new pieces of gear, companions and spell upgrades. But if you manage to get a feel for it, the act of upgrading, and swapping out companions and gear to best suit your playstyle is remarkably satisfying, especially when it all comes together on a particularly tough quest.
The general loop of Waven, then, revolves around these quickfire turn-based battles. As you sail between islands on your rickety boat, you’ll be able to chat with NPCs and initiate new quests, each of which contains one or more pint-sized turn-based challenges for you to overcome.
My favorite thing here, and for Waven in general, is that most battles have a unique quirk to them. An early example involves you protecting a bed of flowers from invading spiders. Another has you attempting to destroy a child’s teddy bear which multiplies into other versions of itself. Yes, really.
As such, you’ll find yourself needing to take different approaches to every quest, especially if there are ancillary objectives involved. Individual battles typically won’t last longer than a handful of minutes, making it easy to hop out, readjust your build, and hop back in if your current setup isn’t working out.
One trepidation I do have about Waven, sadly, is its business model. While the initial few hours do reward free players with plenty of rewards and upgrades, many more are locked behind its battle pass system, of which there are two premium tiers. Much like Genshin Impact and Honkai Star Rail, upgrade currencies are kept here behind a paywall. However, the upside is that the free track holds the lion’s share of equipment and spell chests.
While Waven doesn’t have a release date for its full launch, it’s already shaping up to be a competent, rapid-fire strategy affair that’ll feel right at home on mobile. It’s certainly a game worth keeping an eye on, particularly for strategy fans after something a little different, and faster-paced.
Interested in Waven and games like it? Have a look at our best free-to-play Steam games list for great titles you can play at no cost. Alternatively, our best RPGs guide gives you the rundown on top role-playing titles to play in 2023.