Saturday Morning Gaming: Tower Defense Distilled
The idea behind Tower Defense is pretty simple. Monsters are coming. A LOT of them. Presumably in a straight line. They’re all marching toward a particular goal.
It is your job to keep them from reaching this goal. You have a handful of different tools to help you incapacitate the monsters. Long distance weapons. Close distance weapons. Area affect weapons. Pinpoint precision weapons.
And, of course, a really good game has monsters that will make you pick and choose which traps you want to use. Monsters that are big and tough and have a lot of armor. Monsters that are little weenie monsters but there’s a swarm of them. Monsters that can dodge arrows (but not swords). Monsters that can block swords (but not arrows).
Of course, the obvious solution is “well, just throw down a million traps!” and the way around that is to force the player to work on a budget (but “pay” them for each monster killed). You only have enough to buy two towers to start. Where’s the best place for them? Where’s the best place for a third?
Some games have you only interact with the monsters coming via the various traps. Set it and forget it. Other games put you in the middle of the action and the traps do half the work and it’s up to the player to do the other half.
Orcs Must Die! (and Orcs Must Die! 2) are probably my absolute favorite of the “run around your various trap playground” kinda games. The cartoony visuals, the amazing voice acting, and the fun maps all work perfectly together (apparently Orcs Must Die! 3 is out, but it’s only available on Stadia for the time being). These games pretty much rely on how you don’t have the entire map at your fingertips and you can have orcs on the map in places where you can’t see them… which is it’s own kind of fun.
When it comes to Tower Defense where you can see the entire map at once, Dungeon Warfare (and Dungeon Warfare 2) are quite fun games that show you the entire map at once and the likely path of the coming monsters and give you all of the traps you know and love (floor spikes, wall darts, lightning generators) and you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the carnage.
On a different tack, however, is GemCraft. GemCraft is a bird’s-eye-view tower defense game where the towers you use for defense are powered by various gemstones. There are gems that chip away at armor, gems that do poison damage, gems that force monsters to slow down, gems that give you additional mana, gems that cause bleed damage… and here’s where things get interesting, you can combine gems. Merge two level-1 gems, get a level-2 gem that has both traits. (Poison/Slow is an awesome combo, for the record.) It has dozens and dozens and dozens of different maps, and while some maps give you a ton of gem types to play with, other maps limit you to two or three and force you to mix it up.
Visually, it’s not the most impressive of games… but its surface aesthetic masks a surprisingly deep and rich game. The Summer Steam Sale had GemCraft – Frostborn Wrath (the sequel) go on sale and I said “oh, just one game before bed” and then found myself on the wrong side of midnight.
If you were addicted to Gemcraft the first time around, watch out: The sequel is just as dangerous.
So… what are you playing?