Tower Defence sequel Defense Grid 2 has now been released for PC and, following on from my impressions of the Beta, I am happy to report that the full game lives up to the colossal expectations. The game doesn’t break the superb mould of the original, but evolves in some places and adds a few neat new features.

Following on from the theme of the original, aliens are running rampant and invading planets. It is your job, accompanied by your A.I companion Fletcher (and a few others in this sequel – more on this later), to make use of ‘defense grids’ and thwart the aliens’ attacks. The aliens have one goal in mind, which is to steal your power cores; and in order to stop them, you need to place towers of varying uses strategically throughout the map and survive the waves. In some instances, this simply means throwing down an assortment of towers in hope of destroying all the aliens before they run off with your juicy power cores; but in others, you will be required to create mazes in order to slow your enemy as well (place towers in such a way that the aliens have to take the long way round – not only giving you time to prepare, but also maximising your potential damage output).

Towers aren’t free, however, as you will need to build up resources in order to afford them. Defense Grid 2 differs ever so slightly from the original in this department. Instead of gaining resources with each alien death, you gradually gain resources as time passes. This does make the game a tad more accessible, although the overall challenge is not undermined. In fact, I actually prefer this system to the original – it means you have room to make a couple of mistakes without interrupting the flow of the game (in the original, a single misplaced tower could spell inevitable defeat).

Defense Grid 2 screen 2

The towers themselves remain largely the same. You have: a gun tower, which shoots standard bullets; an inferno tower, which shoots flames and is effective against clusters of enemies; a laser tower, which is good at taking on fast moving foes; a cannon tower, which fires powerful shells; a temporal tower, which slows all enemies within range; a concussion tower, which fires a spread of explosives; the meteor, which fires long range meteors; a missile tower, which is supremely powerful (great for wearing down boss aliens); and the tesla, which shoots a bolt of lightning and can chain to multiple targets. The missile tower has changed slightly in that it was previously only useful against flying enemies; however, there are none of these to speak of in Defense Grid 2, so obviously it just fires at ground aliens. The only new addition to the tower roster is the boost tower. Not particularly useful on its own (unless you just use it for cheap maze creation); but place another tower on top of it and it works to boost that tower’s abilities.

All of the towers can be upgraded too. For all but the boost tower, this essentially just means improving their attributes (further range, higher damage, etc.); but the boost tower, being a support tower, works slightly differently. Instead you can choose one of three upgrades: overcharge, which improves its stat boosting effects; a disruptor, which temporarily removes any effects that the aliens have (shields, stealth); and a score boost, which gives a score bonus to any kill by a boosted tower. Generally the tower upgrades are quite simplistic – upgrade them twice so they kill stuff faster – but the boost towers add a welcome new layer of strategy.

In addition to towers and their upgrades, you have various perks and abilities. The perks can be unlocked as you progress, and simply offer passive stats like additional damage and prioritising stronger targets. However, the abilities are different and weave into the story. You see, Fletcher is not the only A.I that you meet along the way, and each A.I has a different special ability. We have the original and ever effective orbital laser; the temporal blast, which slows all aliens within its range; my personal favourite, a blast that gives you extra resources; among others. Just like with the perks, you can choose which ability to utilise before the game begins (although, at points throughout the story, some will be inaccessible). They may sound a little superficial, especially as you can only use them every few minutes, but the abilities, particularly on harder difficulties, are an essential life-line and need to be chosen and used with care.

Defense Grid 2 screen 3

There’s also a decent variety of enemy types, which will test your quick thinking and planning. Some aliens, as already suggested, have shields and cloaking abilities, but all the aliens have a defining characteristic. Some are stronger than others; some are faster; and one type, when killed, will temporarily disable all towers within its radius. The variation is quite impressive and all of the game’s elements, from towers to abilities to enemy types, combine to create a surprisingly deep strategic experience, which never gets dull. There are small risks/mechanics, which also make the game more engaging, such as: if an alien takes a core, you may be able to kill it before it escapes, but another alien can simply pick it up and continue away, leaving you unable to get it back; or the fact that certain towers are more or less effective against particular enemies. Additionally, each of the levels offers a different challenge through its design: some see you taking on two lanes of enemies; some have aliens approaching from multiple directions; some have differing gradients; and in one case the level even transforms part way through. Considering the latter, you even have the option to add platforms yourself by spending resources at your on-site command base. There are a lot of little improvements and variations that really make this sequel shine.

Aside from a general polish and update to the aforementioned elements, the game is also quite pretty. It isn’t a graphical beast, but it is vibrant, colourful and interesting. There are some very cool looking levels, such as those set in space and others surrounded by water. The combat is fairly visceral – aliens tumbling when defeated, and the towers have some satisfying effects and audio – and the User Interface has been given an accessible make-over too (the original wasn’t the best PC port). There are even some improved graphs and statistics that make your performances easier to analyse, as well as a great variation of game options, so you can suit whatever play preference you fancy.

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There really isn’t much bad to say about Defense Grid 2, but it isn’t without some minor irritations. There are the odd difficulty spikes present throughout. There is nothing wrong with a game being challenging – and Defense Grid 2 certainly is challenging – but there were some jarring levels. Prior levels may have been a breeze, but then the next would see me fail repeatedly, and then the next would be easy again. There is the option to lower and raise the difficulty, which I did, but I was disappointed by how stark the actual difference was – I struggled with a few levels and lowered the difficulty, only to then find them too easy and thus unsatisfying (in one level, I went from complete failure on normal mode to a flawless victory with a spare 17,000 resources on easy…I appreciate that my ineptitude may be partly to blame, but it’s clear that some balancing and continuity issues exist). Also, for some bizarre reason, checkpoints are present within the levels, but there appears to be no way of reloading if you are actually defeated – I thought maybe something had bugged out, but this complaint is present in other reviews as well.

Ultimately, however, Defense Grid 2 is top notch. It’s a sequel that expanded and improved in all the right places, and avoided the temptation of fixing things that weren’t broken. The story is surprisingly good, the gameplay satisfying and compelling, there is plenty of content to enjoy, and the additions of multiplayer, co-op and level creator suggest that Defense Grid 2 has strong staying power.  If you’re a fan of Tower-Defence games and in particular the original Defense Grid game, then this sequel could very well be worth your investment.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games, but my 'real job' is as a postman. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29