I can’t think of the last turn based tactics game I played that I did not enjoy, so I went into Transformers: Battlegrounds with higher expectations than I had hoped. Though I’ve occasionally enjoyed the Transformers property now and then, I’ve never really been a big fan, but the idea of duking it out with robots that can transform into everything from dinosaurs to sports cars in an XCOM style game was an appealing one.
And though I did enjoy my time with Transformers: Battlegrounds, I was also disappointed with some of its issues. This is a game that’s specifically geared toward younger audiences, and those who fall in that demographic will probably have a great time with it. At the same time, its bid for accessibility clashes with the strategy genre’s inherent need for complexity and challenge, which means anybody who is looking for a layered and nuanced tactical experience is going to be underwhelmed by what’s on offer here.
“Transformers: Battlegrounds’ bid for accessibility clashes with the strategy genre’s inherent need for complexity and challenge, which means anybody who is looking for a layered and nuanced tactical experience is going to be underwhelmed by what’s on offer here.”
Transformers: Battlegrounds’ core gameplay loop will be familiar to anyone who’s played XCOM. You control a team of characters across a grid based map in turn based battles, using up your limited number of Action Points to move, use abilities, and make attacks. The usual balancing act of playing offensively while ensuring that you don’t get too reckless is present and accounted for here, and, if nothing else, keeps you engaged enough in the moment to moment gameplay.
Every character has a special attack, for instance, but you can choose to spend more than one (or even all) of your available Action Points to use more powerful variants of those abilities for greater damage and even additional effects, such as knocking enemies back into walls or exploding objects to deal additional damage. Doing so, however, would mean that you can no longer move your character, and leaving them out in the open without any cover could prove to be costly in the next turn.
Each character also has an Ultimate ability, using which requires Energon. Your Energon meter, in turn, fills up every time you move or attack, while you can make it fill up faster if you decide not to use some Action Points and end your turn early, which makes for a nice risk/reward mechanic. Meanwhile, there’s also new abilities to unlock and equip with the currency known as Spark gained from battles, status effects to consider, and different classes of units to make use of during combat.
On paper, Transformer: Battlegrounds has all the basics you need for a solid turn based tactics game, and for the most part, the execution of these mechanics is good enough. It is let down, however, by a lack of complexity, and an even greater lack of challenge. For instance, accuracy isn’t a thing, which means there’s no danger of missing your shots, which tends to make things a bit too straightforward.
“On paper, Transformer: Battlegrounds has all the basics you need for a solid turn based tactics game, and for the most part, the execution of these mechanics is good enough. It is let down, however, by a lack of complexity, and an even greater lack of challenge.”
Enemies also have a knack for taking potshots at you and then hightailing it out of the area and getting behind cover out of reach, which means battles often boil down to you cornering them with multiple characters from different directions, lest the whole affair turn into a frustrating game. It doesn’t help that the AI isn’t particularly smart either, and too often you’ll find enemies that seem to be all too happy to miss out on obvious opportunities for attacks, or stand out in the open and leave themselves vulnerable to attacks.
Missions variety is also a bit of an issue in Transformer: Battlegrounds. Most missions either task you with dispatching all foes, or with reaching a particular area, and this bland objective design, coupled with a lack of any real challenge, leads to a feeling of repetition setting in pretty early on in the game. There are some boss encounters, sure, but once again, most of them don’t provide much of a challenge, which means they just end up being longer versions of regular fights. That said, the bosses you fight against do have some interesting abilities that they use against you, so fights against them feel at least a little special.
Transformers: Battlegrounds suffers from technical issues as well. Visually, the game is mediocre at best. It uses plenty of colour, so it can at least be sort of pleasant to look at every now and then, and it’s never not fun watching large robots transforming into trucks and cars and pummeling each other, but there’s a distinct lack of detail, and many environments end up looking a bit too plasticky at times. Bafflingly enough, however, Transformers: Battlegrounds also suffers from frame rate issues, with the game’s performance dipping below acceptable levels quite frequently, even when the action on the screen is far from hectic.
From a narrative perspective, the game’s central premise will be familiar if you’ve had any engagement with the Transformers property in the past. The Autobots and Decepticons are at each other’s throats again, and locked in a race against each other to get to the AllSpark first. As always, Earth is the backdrop for this war, with the planet and its denizens getting caught up in the crossfire between the two robotic races. Transformers fans will feel at home with the narrative here, which is a good thing, of course- but the shoddy, clumsy writing and bland voice acting are letdowns, which means the story, too, is a bit of a mixed bag.
“Visually, the game is mediocre at best.”
Something that I mentioned earlier in this review is worth keeping in mind though- Transformers: Battlegrounds is very specifically made with younger audiences in mind, who will probably find the story more satisfying than I did, and who will probably not be as bothered by the lack of challenge as I was. If you’re in the game’s targeted demographic, or if you’re looking for a breezy, enjoyable experience, Transformers: Battlegrounds actually has plenty going for it.
The part of me that was looking for an engaging turn based tactics experience is disappointed in what Transformers: Battlegrounds has on offer though. It’s too bad the game doesn’t deliver a moderately higher level of challenge or complexity, because it does have the basic elements in place that it needed to do just that. In its current state, it’s a moderately enjoyable but largely forgettable game.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Solid core mechanics; Moderately enjoyable.
Lacks challenge; Can be a bit too simplistic; Repetitive mission design; Clumsy writing and voice acting; Performance issues.
Transformers: Battlegrounds is a moderately enjoyable but largely forgettable game.