What do you get if you throw together Vikings, Persians and a horde of Demons? Armageddon. More specifically, Shawarmageddon, in what is the first of many, many puns in Swords and Soldiers 2: Shawarmageddon. Adding a bit of levity and color to the usually stoic and serious-business real-time-strategy genre, this is a unit- and resource-management experience with a side-scrolling twist. But does it work?
The mechanics here are fairly straightforward and well-communicated in the early tutorial stages. From your home base at the left side of a map, you train soldiers and gathering units alike, sending them respectively to wage war or to gather gold and mana items littering the battlefield. Aside from a variety of optional objectives in each mission, your goal is the same: make an army better than your opponent’s and use it to annihilate everything that comes your way.
At first glance, the left-to-right playing field may seem simplistic, but there is more nuance and strategy involved than is initially apparent. Once trained, a unit is mostly out of your control; they’ll head towards the enemy base and engage any threats they meet along the way. There’s no telling them to stop so you can gather a solid force together, so you have to be sure you’re sending out a force strong enough to hold its own.
Once the tutorials are over and each stage lets you have free reign over the mechanics, Swords and Soldiers 2: Shawarmageddon follows similar beats as bigger RTS classics. As you accumulate gold, you can research stronger and more deadly units, buildings and spells. Each faction has its own distinct assortment of goodies to unlock. The Vikings, led by muscly and bearded folk, have as you might expect the brawniest of units, capable of dealing heavy damage whilst also sporting lots of health points. The Persian faction is faster but less durable, relying on tricks and self-healing to get by. Third and final faction, the Demons, plays like a middle ground of the two, incorporating swift ranged attackers and explosive suicide units.
The story, as you might expect from a game with the subtitle Shawarmageddon, isn’t the most serious of tales. It follows Redbeard and his Vikings as they find, to their great dismay, that the sheep from their favorite shawarma joint have been stolen. On their quest to retrieve them, they’ll tangle with the Persians and Demons alike, and the occasional incident along the way ensures there’s never a shortage of people to fight and maps to conquer. Loud-mouthed and flippant as it is, the story exists mostly to add a certain flavor to the combat, which is the real meat of the game.
The plot, shawarma-focused and full of violence, is mostly conveyed to you by two people. Outside of missions, wheelchair-bound Brokenbeard sets the scene for you, whilst you’ll hear plenty of Redbeard shouting in your ear once the fighting starts. It’s silly in both narrative and dialogue – intentionally so – to the point that some of the first characters you meet come with names like Sir Loyn and Miss Chief. Then again, no one is playing Swords and Soldiers 2: Shawarmageddon for a gritty, realistic experience. If you go in expecting to be amused, you’ll get your wish, though there are times when the whole thing comes across as a little too on the nose with its playfulness.
The highlight of the story mode for me was the Open Battle matches. Unlike the majority of missions that restrict you to a specific toolset, these are more like free-for-all boss battles. You’re free to assemble your own assortment of spells and units across three tiers, ranging from low-level grunts and weak spells to the game-changing hero units. These missions are where Swords and Soldiers 2: Shawarmageddon is at its best; axes fly and lightning singes the ground as you pit your forces against the relentless AI.
If gritty, blood-soaked battlefields are your thing, you might want to look elsewhere. This is a strategy title full of cheer and mirth, with an art style to match. Units’ features are bright and exaggerated, with each stage and the world map itself designed to match the game’s lighthearted tone. From the steady arc of a thrown axe to the steady lumbering of a gatherer encumbered by gold, the style is lovely and smooth, reminiscent of Castle Crashers and the developer’s own Awesomenauts. An impressive amount of depth and details has been packed into each battlefield, and none of it goes to waste.
It would be easy to dismiss Swords and Soldiers 2: Shawarmageddon as shallow and silly based on the trappings of its style, but a surprising amount of nuance is waiting just below the surface. The campaign isn’t the longest, and despite regular attempts, I never could find anyone to play against online, but this is an impressively dense and content-rich experience packed into a small, unassuming package. It’s unlikely to scratch your itch if you’re looking for something more akin to the biggest names of the genre, but this is the product of a developer who knows what they’re good at and sticks to it. Just be ready to shake your head at the barrage of puns.