Toy Soldiers: War Chest comes to Xbox One on the back of two successful iterations in the form of Toy Soldiers and Toy Soldiers: Cold War for Xbox 360. This, coupled with the addition of popular toy licenses makes this new entry an exciting proposition.
Excitement for the game, however, may be short lived upon noticing how War Chest is stuck in a very awkward place when it comes to pricing. The previous games were budget priced and came with the expectations that are attached to that. Whilst price doesn't usually work as a primary factor when assessing games, it's hard for it not to be in this instance. The standard game of Toy Soldiers: War Chest comes at the budget price of $14.99, but if you want any of the licensed toy sets (He-Man, GI Joe, Cobra or Assassin's Creed) you effectively have to stump up a second $14.99 either for the Hall of Fame Edition, or to purchase all the separate DLC. The joy that playing as childhood characters brings can't be underestimated but that joy doesn't warrant the price alone.
The game also somewhat disappointingly tries to nickle and dime players further, with the inclusion of loot crates containing upgrades for each of the unit types. Players will be rewarded with these for completing levels, but these upgrades can however also be bought with in game tokens which Ubisoft allows to be purchased in insane denominations. The upgrades are pretty much essential for getting S ranks on each level and - as with many micro-transactions - skews the game to make this easier almost to the point where it feels like it's punishing players who didn't cough up.
A way to justify the price jump would have been to make better use of the franchises. In-game customization menus show you all the units and provide a bit of a bio about each character. There's an opportunity here to provide far more than just a bit of text. Instead, some research could have been done to include genuinely interesting information on a character's toy line release. Another opportunity to really explore the toy would have been something akin to Forza Motosport's ForzaVista explode option. They've put enough detail into the toys with screws and joints visible that it would have been a fantastic treat to be able to explore the physical composition of your favourite action figures and truly see the inner workings of a classic twist waist. It's not all bad though, since the barrage meter returns from the past games, enabling players to build combos and drop their chosen hero onto the battlefield. It's extremely satisfying to romp around the battlefield as He-Man mounted on Battle Cat or take down enemies as Cobra Commander. The barrage meter can take some building up and is harder to fill on levels that don't have an abundance of foot soldiers attacking but this does help to make maxing it out all the more rewarding.
The licenses are not used to great effect when it comes to the single player campaign. No matter which toy set you select, you play through the exact same story. This sends you on a whistle stop tour of other childhood memories, minus the licenses; the Care Bears become the "Buddy Bears" in a level that looks like something out of Andy Pandy and Dungeons & Dragons becomes a level where birds drop 12-sided dies in order to blow up castles. There is a major flaw with this model of story mode. As mentioned, no matter which toy set you pick, the player still works their way through the tales of the Kasier, Starbright, Phantom and Dark Lord, the non-licensed toy-sets. This feels like a wasted opportunity with both GI Joe and Cobra present, since a campaign mode could have revolved around their ongoing conflict. The omission of Skeletor and his minions is also baffling and would have also been a great addition, again bringing more variety to the single player campaign. Having He-Man face off in Eternia with his arch nemesis would have been a fantastic clash that is largely underrepresented in gaming. The fourth licensed toy line - Assassin's Creed - doesn't fit in at all with 80's/90's orientated nature of the rest of the package. Whilst there may be people who one day will have nostalgia for a franchise that was born in 2007, this doesn't feel like the time or place for it. The designs for each of the Creed's unit types also feel particularly underwhelming and have a general lack of variety compared to the classics.
The campaign issues go deeper however; the levels flat out don't feel as inspired as those of past iterations. Unit types haven't changed at all with each toy-set just providing a different lick of paint. There's the usual ebb and flow with nothing new or different. Upgrades can be utilized in the same fashion as in the previous game but it all feels very uninspired and samey. Things are slightly mixed up with the addition of random loot boxes after each match but it's just not enough. Toy Soldiers: Cold War in particular had some excellent set pieces such as descending towards a battleship in a fighter jet to some bombastic Top Gun-esque-music. By comparison, War Chest has you swooping onto a small battlefield with a bird holding a dice. It doesn't generate the same excitement and coupled with a real lack of atmosphere, the campaign starts to feel like a slog.
The game's troubles also extend to the visuals. Despite the step up in platform, it doesn't look any better than the previous games in the series, with dull textures and jaggy edges present throughout. There's a nice range of multiplayer options with both couch co-op and competitive play available, as well as online matches. The only problem is with a lack of unit variety, matches can go on for as long as a MOBA albeit with none of the game flow or back and forth that games of that genre offer. This could have be countered if each army had its own strength and weaknesses and games could have become more interesting by the permutations of different match ups.
Toy Soldiers: War Chest could really be something great but unfortunately choppy performance, uninspiring missions and a repetitive single player experience put paid to this. The licensed properties present in the game aren't enough elevate the game to anything more than a very workmanlike version of your favourite childhood moments.