Frugal Gaming Review – Defense Grid 2

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It’s Party Time For The Guys In The Tower

My first taste of a Tower Defense game was playing Field Runners on a smartphone back in 2011, I quite liked it but quickly got bored.  That same year Assassins Creed added the awful Den Defence mini game to Revelations and in one fell swoop it pretty much put me off the genre completely. It wasn’t until mid 2013 with the launch of Microsoft’s Games with Gold program on the Xbox 360, that saw Defense Grid: The Awakening go free for subscribers that I had another chance with the genre.  Whilst some bemoaned the fact that it wasn’t a AAA game, I quickly fell in love and devoured the game and all its DLC.

Fast forward to 2014 and Defense Grid 2 is now available on PC, Xbox one and PS4.  Its journey to release has been a rather complicated affair.  A Kickstarter, titled Defense Grid 2 that succeeded in reaching its target, but not the stretch goal that was required to make the full sequel. Add to that a white knight investor who stepped in to back the project and also a publishing partnership with 505 Games, now Defense Grid 2 is finally gracing the various digital store fronts.

DefenseGrid2_Release_2014-08-01_13-36-38-89Putting My Defenses Up

So has Defense Grid 2 been worth the effort to develop? More importantly, has it been worth the wait for fans?  As far as I’m concerned it’s a resounding yes on both fronts. For those not in the know, in simplest terms a Tower Defense game uses real time strategy and lets you place towers and traps across a map to stop the enemy. It’s a really simple idea and whilst there are countless variations, the original Defense Grid was in a league of its own.

Just as it was in DG, the aim of each mission in DG:2 is to stop invading aliens from rampaging across the map and stealing your power cores.  To achieve this you need to build towers, both to attack the enemy and change their path. To achieve your genocidal goal you have nine different tower types at your disposal. Each type gives you different attacks and uses that are unlocked as you progress through the campaign. From your standard machine gun tower to lasers, missiles, Tesla energy and even temporal structures that slow the enemies advance. Each of these different options can also be upgraded twice after deployment and change colour dependent on their level. All your green towers regardless of type are basic level armaments, with yellow being medium and red being the highest level.

The core mechanics of the game haven’t really changed since the original, the few changes that are made are definitely welcome; like the decision to exclude the infuriating flying enemies that could only be taken down by one tower type. Whilst the campaign may seem pretty similar to what went before, a plethora of options available when choosing your mission adds a boatload of re-playability. From increasing the waves of aliens to one hundred, or making you play through the level with restrictions on your turrets. There are a whole lot to get through and you’ll have your work cut out trying to get the over 60 achievements and trophies that are up for grabs.

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Defense Grid 2 is also a much more social affair. A small display in the top right corner tracks your score against any friends who have played the mission too.  It’s a bit like racing against a ghost time in Forza, except this time it’s the points earned from slaughtering the hordes of aliens you’re trying to top, rather than faster sector times. An end of mission graph also gives you statistical bragging rights and shows where you might have fallen behind, or at what point you blasted past your friend’s score. It’s a great and unobtrusive feature that just adds everything up in the background and gives you all the details at the end.

For the first time in the series, DG:2 also features a true multiplayer component. Playing at the same time, any aliens that you vanquish will appear on your opponents map at the same spot you killed them. It’s a good addition and reminds me somewhat of multi-player Tetris, instead of flinging lines of shapes your opponents way, it’s masses of aliens. I can see a lot of people enjoying this mode, if a few more of my friends picked up DG:2, I’d probably spend more time with it but for now the single player leader-boards suit me fine.

DefenseGrid2_Release_2014-08-01_14-42-05-74There’s A Mighty Judgement Coming

The original Defense Grid set itself apart with high production values and an interesting campaign, something that Defense Grid 2 builds on to with some degree, with other areas feeling like a bit of a letdown. The game still looks good and plays smoothly, but for a title that is only available on Steam and the current generation of consoles, graphically it feels slightly underwhelming. Everything is running at a higher resolution and a rock steady frame rate, but it’s the lack of any extra sparkle that’s glaringly absent. It doesn’t detract from the game in anyway, but I’m sure if DG:2 was a bit more of a spectacle to look at it might well find a wider audience.

The original campaign had a lot of charm and wit, narrated by a suitably British artificial intelligence. The whole thing was quirky and appealing. However, the sequel just seems to add a whole lot of noise. Multiple AI’s all natter away at the start and finish of each mission and after the first few times of listening to them babble on, I soon found myself tuning out and dismissing what they were saying entirely. Where the lack of graphical finesse feels like a missed opportunity, the story and voice acting in DG:2 feels much more like a step backwards from the stellar work of the original.

I really like Defense Grid 2. The core game-play is still superb and a few of the niggles I had with the original have either been removed altogether or sufficiently ironed out. The social leader-boards, multiplayer modes and the improved re-playability are all great additions and will almost surely keep me engaged for a long time to come. Even though the narrative disappoints it still feels like a bonus in a genre where a story is usually absent altogether. If you played the original game, Defense Grid 2 will be the best Tower Defense game you have played since then. If you’ve yet to try the original then you are in for even more of a treat.

Score:8/10

Developed by Hidden Path Entertainment

Published by 505 Games

Defense Grid 2 is available on:  SteamXbox Store and PSN

If you’re interested in finding out more about what went into the development of Defense Grid 2 a fantastic series of articles written by Russ Pitts can be found on Polygon.