I thought this day would never come.
Between Intelligent Systems shifting their focus to Fire Emblem, the lack of an Advance Wars entry since Days of Ruin in 2008, and the actual real-life war that delayed the game indefinitely I truly doubted we would ever see this thing materialize. I’m not joking when I say this piece has been in our drafts for the majority of our humble site’s life. Fortunately WayForward knocked it out of the park. Reboot Camp is an excellent redux of one of my very favorite franchises, and any review I wrote for it would just be waxing poetic about AW so I won’t waste your time. Instead I’ve written a really long character primer!
My experience is primarily in AW2. The others are good don’t get me wrong, and I’ve beaten all 4 games as well as played plenty of multiplayer (rip playing Days of Ruin with randos over wifi), but I’ve probably played more AW2 than the other 3 games combined. Am I an expert, then? No! These games have immense strategic and tactical depth and have been kept alive by a passionate scene of killers that can and have beaten my ass. The sky is the limit with this game and I am roughly at tree-level, but I have opinions anyway. I even have a tier list at the end!
I view Advance Wars as a game of investments. The goal is to squeeze as much value as possible from each and every piece you play. Obviously this is glossing over the actual strategies you employ to do this, but a lot of that is map and opponent dependent. As such I approach my evaluation of COs and their powers from the perspective of generating value. I’m not just doing math here, that’s not the be all end all as some advantages aren’t so quantifiable, but econ is the lifeblood of your army and maintaining it is critical.
There are a couple items worth noting for newbies: every character (Commanding Officer) has a CO power and a super CO power. Their power meter charges up as they deal and take damage, faster if they take it. Different characters’ meters take varied amounts of time to charge up depending on how powerful their powers are, though as we’ll see spammability is a quality all its own.
I’m also going to skip talking about Hachi and Sturm in detail. To summarize why: Sturm is stupid strong and ignores terrain entirely, and Hachi breaks the game’s economy over his knee. They’re both basically boss characters and not meant for multi. You can always throw them at each other if you’re feeling frisky, otherwise they’ll start at a gigantic advantage in every matchup. They’re both super fun, just not intended to be fair. Without further ado:
Andy has a reputation of being the average, unremarkable, newbie CO. This doesn’t paint the complete picture. His units are nothing special and he gets nothing cool day to day but his SCO power is obscene value. If you’re quick to retreat damaged units and hide them in fog to make sealing the deal obnoxious you can essentially get several turns’ worth of units for free when you pop your bigass heal. Couple that with +1 movement, 20% more damage, and the universal 10% defense buff that popping a CO or SCO power gives units no matter who you’re playing, and you have a character with incredible flexibility. Use it on the defense to completely negate an enemy push, use it on the offense to make huge pushes when no one else can. So is he broken? No! We’ll get to those characters later. He’s just rock solid. What he isn’t is a good character to learn the game with. Not because he isn’t easy to play, there’s a reason the game starts you with him, but because his particular brand of training wheels can lead to new players learning some really bad habits down the road. Andy can get away with tactics that no one else can along with hard countering a handful of other characters, and he softens or occasionally nullifies what would normally be a high risk or straight up foolish play. Basically what I’m saying is do play Andy, just don’t expect to play any other CO like Andy.
There are going to be characters that I rate very highly because of their ability to play the econ game in really powerful ways. Sami isn’t the best of these but she’s still reasonably strong, as well as possibly the most unique of her kin. The part of her kit everyone latches onto is how it enables the super cool hail mary play of 1-turn capping an opponent’s HQ. And like, yes she can do that, but will she? Probably not. Parking a decent piece on the HQ stuffs this plan pretty well and any player worth their salt will do so the moment they see Sami on the other side of the board. What her SCO power is amazing at is stealing loads of enemy properties when other characters would struggle to do so, thereby tilting the map’s economy in her favor. Her infantry, and more importantly her mechs, are obscenely good. She can play a fairly normal game elsewhere while also dominating everywhere a foot soldier can reach, which is even farther than usual thanks to her transport movement buff. This means her best units are cheap, capable of fast capture, and difficult to remove once they get established, making her more money than most COs so she can buy her way to victory via superior hardware. Sure her direct combat pieces are a bit weaker, but when you can dominate the capture game and hammer your opponent right in the bank account do you really care? I don’t.
Ah, the himbo king himself. One of my only complaints about AW2 is how Intelligent Systems did Max dirty. His greatest strength – punchier direct combat – isn’t nearly as good in AW2 as it was in the previous game. His weakness – shitty indirect combat – is unchanged. Piloting Max can sometimes feel like you’re playing with a handicap. He can still absolutely win games – his damage and mobility are crazy good when he uses either power – but he typically needs his opponent to make a mistake and then smash their defenses wide open with like 50 tanks and a bomber on top. Very simple gameplan with no real ability to pivot if things go sideways. He’s much better against the AI as it’s not great at establishing indirect killzones but just can’t keep up as well in multi against humans, even more so when fog of war is on. Still fun though.
Ya like gambling, kids? I sure do! Nell leverages the normally small innate luck roll to a ludicrous extent. To sum up luck in AW really quickly: it’s basically an additional amount of damage that may or may not happen on each attack. If it does trigger it deals true damage, meaning it ignores defense entirely. This is why the predicted damage % is sometimes wrong, but never less than advertised (unless you’re playing a bad luck character, put a pin in that for later). Enter Nell. Nell is luckier than everyone else and her powers let her spike several times higher than anyone else in the game on good rolls. Once she pops her SCO power she has the potential to win unit matchups that otherwise make no sense. Infantry VS big tanks? Sure, maybe! I mean probably not, but maybe! What this means is Nell is an above average CO most of the time who occasionally becomes hilariously bullshit. As you can imagine this makes her a ton of fun to play. Don’t pin your entire strategy on hitting big luck rolls because that’ll lose you games, but I guarantee you will enjoy all the extra damage she can generate over the course of a battle.
Olaf is 1/2 of the Weathermen – two thicc bois who like it when the sky makes water happen – and he’s the better half of the duo. Basically, he doesn’t give a fuck about snow unlike everyone else and his powers make it snow. That’s mostly it, aside from his SCO power also doing 2 damage to all of his opponent’s units. That’s what you’re going to save up for by the way, unless you desperately need to slow a surprise push in which case sure you can pop the CO power I guess. But that global 2 damage is a big deal, doubly so when your opponent can’t run from you afterwards thanks to the snow. This makes him a solid character to learn the ins and outs with as he doesn’t have any overt weaknesses aside from rain, which almost never comes into play. Playing Olaf isn’t going to blow your mind, but don’t let that sway you to thinking that you can’t crack open some boys with the cold one. This dude can be a menace.
No jokes here, Grit just owns. He shoots good, he wins games, and he makes people complain on forums because fighting him always feels like an uphill battle. He will outrange you, he will make unreasonable killzones, he will inch forward every turn, and he will kill off more of your units when you try to push than other COs can. This also makes him an absolute bastard to fight in fog assuming he can establish and maintain vision. That said if you manage to get your hands on him he crumples pretty hard, and he struggles if you’re playing with a limited # of turns as his traditional slow trudge forward won’t work, but the former is solved with careful play and the latter doesn’t make him bad, only less amazing. God forbid he can hide his pieces or tuck them behind mountains; every single map advantage he gets is more punishing in his hands than most COs, and those small wins add up fast. TL;DR, Grit is really really strong and will make your friends hate you unless they stick around long enough to git gud.
Oooooooh god, here comes the rich kid. Remember when I said AW2 is a game of investments and squeezing value out of your pieces? Colin represents the fullest extent of one side of that philosophy and is disgustingly powerful as a result. His units are 20% cheaper and 10% weaker offensively so he already starts above average. He can literally pull money out of thin air with his fast-charging CO power and potentially beat you to death with his fattened wallet thanks to his SCO power if the game runs long, but he’ll almost never need to because if he just keeps popping his CO power he will overwhelm you with sheer numbers.
Colin simply doesn’t play the same game as most COs. Where most force you to think about your build order and whether to rush or delay for stronger pieces, Colin looks at the unit menu and orders the whole page. He starts aggressive, ramps up steadily, and his advantage only grows the longer the game goes on. He’s one of the best COs in the entire game, full stop.
If you thought Colin’s polar opposite would be worse you thought as wrong as humanly possible. Kanbei’s pieces cost more than anyone’s so he starts out most matches slow, barely being able to afford to mount an offence. That may read rough, but it turns out that doesn’t matter when his pieces just don’t die and hit harder than anyone else’s: 20% more expensive, 30% stronger AND tougher. That’s some amazing math. And that’s without taking into account how his SCO power makes him nigh-invincible for a round and cranks his damage straight to wumbo. Don’t think you get a counterattack worth a damn either, because his defense is so high after popping Samurai Spirit that you may as well not bother. The only way to severely impact Kanbei’s momentum is to take his territories and hit him in the wallet but that can be extremely difficult to do because, you know, wumbo.
If I’m making this sound unwinnable that’s a bit extreme, but only a bit. Good infantry COs can do a lot to slow Kanbei down, and if you manage to hold that advantage games can absolutely be winnable, but you are not permitted any mistakes. Once he hits early game escape velocity Kanbei is absurd. If you’re playing Kanbei you’re favored to win, and if you’re playing against him you’ve got some serious work ahead of you. He’s the best “non-boss” CO in the game and a playable power trip.
You can’t talk about Sonja without discussing fog of war. If you’re not playing with fog Sonja isn’t worth considering. If you are, and I generally think you should in order to play a more satisfying game, Sonja’s niche is particularly spicy. Have you ever counterattacked for more damage than your opponent dealt? Would you like to?
Sonja is a master of intel and obfuscation. She sees farther through fog, she hides her units’ HP totals, her counterattacks are beefy to the point where she’d rather not first strike sometimes, and if she pops her powers she can spot units hidden in forests and reefs without being adjacent. Whether she uses this to rain hell with rockets or rush down a blind foe she gets a ton of value in a less numerically-evident way. Her SCO power in particular comes with a really brutal trick that’s poorly explained in her tooltip: while it’s on she strikes first no matter what, even when counterattacking. What that means is you absolutely, positively should not attack Sonja on the following turn or you will get fucking obliterated. This means she typically gets to take an entire turn to attack and reposition with better vision and no reprisal.
So that means she’s great right? Ehhhh, kinda, assuming you can mostly play defensive. Sonja is one of two characters that suffers from a bad luck modifier that can occasionally ding her offense. Think Nell’s day to day, but bad instead. This means she can often struggle to push, which I’m guessing was intended as a counterbalance to her increased vision but often feels unnecessarily punitive. Don’t let that scare you off of trying her though. With a bit of finesse and experience you’ll find that Sonja’s advantages far outweigh her downsides.
Sensei is my favorite AW2 CO. Maybe my favorite CO across all the games, though it’s a close race with Grimm from Dual Strike. Please understand that going in because I’m not going to approach this fairly.
Sensei only knows 2 things: soldiers and choppers. Those are the only tools he needs to turn every single fight into his opponent’s personal Vietnam. His infantry and mechs are powerhouses (+40%!) and his battle copters are –dis-gus-ting-ly– strong (+50%!!!). His transports, an important part of any troop-focused plan, move farther. When he pops either CO power his battle copters rise to nearly double damage because sure, why not? But the most important piece of this already delicious pie is the difference between his powers: his CO power drops a 9hp infantry on every captured city, and his SCO power drops 9hp mechs.
This is not OK. This is the farthest thing from OK. They turned mech spam into a character, only better because you airdrop them everywhere! There are very few problems that a map full of mechs can’t solve. Need to kill things? Mechs are good at that! Need some extra spending money? Consolidate them all for a quick cash infusion! Need defense? Mechs take up space and shoot hard! Short on captures? Mechs do that too! MECHS. Sure he’s bad at naval combat but nobody cares about naval in AW2. Copters can fly over water, it’s fine! The only real weakness Sensei has is anti-air since it’s effective against soldiers and copters, but you can solve that problem with some other pieces or by attacking them first. Just throw a mech at it or something. You’ll be fine. Sensei is just a blast to play, gimmicks and all.
Eagle is a one trick pony with a really, really good trick. He’s supposed to be an air specialist but his planes aren’t anywhere close to Sensei’s copters or Kanbei’s…anything. His CO power is irrelevant, you’re here for the SCO. Eagle’s “thing” has always been popping his power to take an extra turn and in AW2 he doesn’t even get a damage penalty on turn 2, making him extremely dangerous. However – and this is a big however – his SCO power takes forever to charge. It’s worth it of course, because squeezing out an extra turn is potentially an absurd amount of value, but it means you’ll only get to fire it once or twice a game depending on the map and how your opponent plays. Ideally you’ll fight on a couple fronts to build meter, hitting and running with air units to avoid big losses, dealing with your opponent’s power when it pops because it will almost certainly happen before you get yours. Then you haymaker them and press the advantage to win. It’s not a bulletproof plan – a lot of people overrate Eagle’s effectiveness – but it is a good one.
Member 2/2 of the Weathermen, the raincloud to Olaf’s snowstorm, and about as threatening as an actual raincloud. Drake just kind of sucks. His theater is the sea, the least important one in any Advance Wars game and especially in AW2. He doesn’t even hit harder, it’s just defense buffs for units you’ll barely be able to afford in multiplayer. The one saving grace in his kit is his excellent SCO power which makes it rain, does 2 global damage to all opponents just like Olaf, and halves their fuel. Don’t get me wrong this is a hell of a button, especially on larger maps where fuel can actually matter, but it isn’t enough to make him work day to day. Drake is only happy when it rains but it never rains quite hard enough.
I am sad about Jess. Have been for years. On one hand she represents Green Earth’s ground division and is decent enough with anything on treads or wheels, and her weaker areas don’t matter much. She’s also just got a really cool design and I personally like playing her a lot. But on the other much more significant hand, she’s just not good enough at her specialty to make her day-to-day play feel especially effective. She gets much better when she pops her powers – more vehicle damage, movement, and a fuel top-off – but she’s so limp the rest of the time that I’d struggle to recommend her unless a map was exclusively ground. She does offer an even-handed approach to a gameplan like Max’s and her preferred theater is the one you’ll typically use the most, but there’s a reason she saw buffs across the board in Dual Strike. You absolutely can make Jess work but you’re going to have to work harder than you otherwise would.
Let’s not mince words here. Flak is the worst CO in the game, bar none. When the phrase “it could be worse” is uttered Flak sheds a tear because he knows it’s a lie. Flak is the luckless lovechild of Nell and Sonja if that child was missing chromosomes and left in a hot car. His day-to-day is average with the added “benefit” of swingy luck on his attacks. Sometimes he does better, sometimes he does worse. When he pops his powers this range grows, but it grows in both directions. He can blow units out of the water or just completely whiff. I could see this high risk/high reward concept functioning in theory, but in practice it just means that Flak has to play a completely normal game with no guaranteed advantages and the knowledge that at any moment he can just miss in a game that doesn’t otherwise have misses. Bad. Bad bad bad.
The thing is…I kinda like him? Don’t get me wrong, if you take Flak against a top tier CO you’re going to get absolutely crumpled, but against mid or lower tiers he’s actually a lot of fun! No one YOLOs like Flak. When you pop your power you just make as many attacks as possible, unit type be damned, because there’s a very real chance you can blow a hole in their line in ways that make no sense at all. To play Flak is to be a low tier hero in a game where power levels are wildly disparate, and you likely already know if that dynamic appeals to you. Sometimes you just want to return to monke and smash things, you know?
As one of only two canonically smart Black Hole COs, Lash weaponizes terrain bonuses. Got 3 stars of defense on a city? Take +30% to your offense too, regardless of unit. Standing out in the street? No bonus for you. This means she directly rewards smart play and doing what you should already be trying to do – holding advantageous ground. Both of her powers amplify these effects to the point where her SCO power doubles them, meaning she becomes godlike in urban or mountainous combat. There’s basically no map Lash suffers on unless it’s got no ground battles at all, and while she rarely wins in a blowout she rarely loses by a landslide either. She’s the ultimate fundamentals character: no gimmicks, just a solid pick all around that gets better as you get better. New players should be playing Lash.
Let me ask you a question? Do you like going fast? If so, are you willing to ignore pretty much everything else in order to go fast? What a coincidence, so am I! Boy do I have a CO for you!
Adder is a largely unremarkable CO with a particularly cute gimmick – a fast-charging 2 star CO power that gives all his units an extra space of movement. You can save up for his SCO power (+2 spaces!) if you really need to make a push, for example to break through a Grit wall, but what you should usually do is pop the small version as often as possible to outmaneuver your opponent and lean on the universal buff that’s applied whenever a power is popped. What this means is every couple turns his units are all 10% tougher and move an extra square. Nice! Not particularly sexy or explosive but I really enjoy the dynamic this creates. I think he’s actually a bit below the curve as far as strength goes but he’s my favorite low tier. Zoom zoom.
Also the Reboot version of his CO Power theme goes ridiculously hard. I did not know sitars could sound this metal.
There was once a time many years ago when I believed Hawke to be the best non-boss CO in the game. He’s not – I learned that the hard way – but he is good. He gets a flat 10% bonus to everything right out the gate which is fantastic, but there’s a reason for that: he basically doesn’t have powers. His meter is gigantic and his CO power isn’t worth using, so he spends the vast majority of each game playing a completely normal game with no frills or tricks to speak of until he finally gets to throw out his 9 star SCO power. And it’s a doozy, don’t get me wrong. 2HP of damage to all enemies and 2HP of healing to all of his pieces is an ABSURD amount of value. But much like Eagle he almost certainly will not get to use it more than once, and unlike Eagle this often isn’t a game-winning play as much as a tilt. This means you just have to outplay your opponent and leverage your 10% edge as much as possible. You’ll never be upset playing as Hawke (unless it’s against Andy, who will embarrass you by completely countering your long-awaited power use with minimal effort) but his lack of a truly killer play means he doesn’t dominate for free like many folks think.
You want a tier list? I’ve got you! The leftmost characters in each tier are stronger than the ones to their right, but typically not by a lot. Sonja is positioned assuming there’s fog because A) there should be and B) without fog she’s not worth talking about. Some of these sprites are from the older games, but I really didn’t want to make another Tiermaker just for this. You’ll get the gist I’m sure.
The thing is, as I’ve mentioned I’m far from a definitive resource on this topic. For another more data-driven perspective, I’d recommend looking at the community tier list for Advance Wars By Web. Their list is a bit different in that AWBW also includes Dual Strike content, but their format is still single CO with AW2 stats whenever applicable so much of their analysis holds.
ORIGINAL CLOSING PARAGRAPH CIRCA 2021 BECAUSE I WROTE MOST OF THIS WHEN THE GAME WAS ANNOUNCED
Let’s close on some general words of advice when it comes to playing AW2 with humans online. I kind of doubt Reboot Camp is going to have especially sophisticated matchmaking, character or map bans, what have you. People are going to take Sturm online if the game’ll let them. Play those matches anyway! Go in with a reckless, risky plan and if you win you’ll have a story forever. Moreso than many games being a low-tier hero is immensely satisfying because you don’t get there via luck, you get there via solid tactical decisions. Unless you’re playing Flak. Flak needs luck. Flak needs all the luck he can get.
PRESENT DAY CLOSING STATEMENTS
Hahahaha god I was painfully correct. Online is reeeeeally barebones in Reboot Camp. Functional though! In a way this almost feels like the better option VS a total rebalance or a hard-coded tier system. I’d rather just agree on what we’re going to play than constantly run into Hachi players against my will. Still wish I had the option to just queue into matches, but if this is how we avoid another game dying when the servers are inevitably taken down I guess I’ll take it.
My advice is to find a community and just play. You will get stomped, and that’s ok! I wasn’t joking up top when I said AW is a perilously deep game despite being so easy to play on the surface. You will play against people who are the cute tank game equivalent of grandmasters. Watch matches on YouTube, learn some map strats, but above all just play the game. If you’re anything like me you’ll eventually find your preferred playstyle then fit your CO choices to match. Play fast, make mistakes, go through the 5 phases of “I Can’t Beat Grit” grief, and eventually you will ascend to mediocrity. Like me!