For all of you out there curious to know whether or not Defense Grid 2 is going to be a worthy successor to the original kick-ass tower defense game, I would right off say “oh ye of little faith!” If you persisted in wondering I would at that time only have three other words for you:
I for one had really missed Fletcher and I am tickled pink that he has returned. He was such a big part of why I loved Defense Grid. The former general turned digitized guide and side-kick, with his constant banter about craving raspberries and the rather uncouth aliens now once again invading aliens, never got old to me. I loved how he would in one moment fall into a melancholy musing about former colleagues and in the next moment be almost screaming a blood-curdling battle cry about kicking some alien ass. It made Defense Grid such a pleasure to play. However, Fletcher was not the only thing that Defense Grid had going for it.
Defense Grid was not the first tower defense game I had ever played, nor was it the last. I have played a lot of others, including some of the interesting variations on the formula, such as the third person Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die or the reverse tower defense game Anomaly Warzone Earth. But, and this is a critical point, Defense Grid remains in my mind as the quintessential tower defense game. You say to me “tower defense game” and I will automatically think “Defense Grid.” It is simply that central to my tower defense experience. Given that, I am still bummed out about somehow missing the Defense Grid 2 Kickstarter, but thankfully Hidden Path Entertainment was kind enough to give me access to a beta version of the game so that I could bring you this Defense Grid 2 beta hands-on.
So here is the executive summary for you if you are in a hurry. If you loved Defense Grid, you should be excited about Defense Grid 2. If you love tower defense games, you should be excited about Defense Grid 2 (and you need to try the original). If you have never tried a tower defense game but are interested in trying one, you should definitely be checking out the original and then getting excited about Defense Grid 2. If you aren’t any of those things, chances are you haven’t even read this far and have gone back to playing the Call of Duty game du jour. The world is as it should be.
Anyway, Defense Grid 2 takes everything that was great about the original game and give you plenty more while making the experience much better. I should start by saying that the overall experience in terms of the gameplay is unchanged, at least for the two maps that are available in the beta version that I have access to. The maps in Defense Grid 2 give you lots of options for how you choose to corral the aliens, both in terms of the path you force them to take and the towers you use to pelt them with. If you really got a kick (as I did) about studying the maps and trying to plan elaborate mazes of death, you will love the maps in Defense Grid 2.
The premise is the same as before. Aliens are once again attacking your planet and it is up to you to use the planets defense system to give them the heave. The aliens want your power cores, and you want them dead. For some inexplicable reason the invasion consists of the aliens making a beeline for your power cores without actually fighting back. Anyway, you must build towers to delay, kill, and ultimately prevent the loss of any of your cores.
One interesting aspect of the original Defense Grid, and is inherited by its successor, is that unlike any of the other tower defense games I have played, the aliens must run both ways, or at very least enter and then exit the map. Every other tower defense game you must simply stop the enemies from reaching the end of the path, whereas in the Defense Grid games you must stop them from escaping with the cores. This is both good and bad for you. It is good in that on most maps you have the opportunity for your towers to get a second shot at every alien (sort of…I will explain in a bit). It is bad because any powers cores that are dropped by a dying alien slowly float back to the base but can be picked up by other aliens. This leads to some tense moments where a power core can be passed like a football down the conga line of aliens.
[Note: I apologize for the few seconds of visual glitches near the beginning of the gameplay video below. DG2 resisted most of my attempts to record it, and I eventually had to resort to a less than optimal method. Most of the video is fine however.]
And let me explain the “sort of” above. The added wrinkle to the aliens running both ways is that your towers can usually have multiple opportunities to shoot at the same alien. The fun part about that is that most towers can only target one alien at a time or at the very least can shoot in one direction at a time. This means that while shooting in one direction may cause a tower to miss a critical alien in the other direction. This gets really crazy in some levels when waves begin to overlap and you have aliens packing the map. Players of the original Defense Grid will know what I am talking about. For this reason players can put a huge amount of time into tower placement strategies in an attempt to make the firing arcs as efficient as possible. And really, that is a huge part of the fun.
Speaking of the towers, the tower choices are similar to the original, although I am guessing that the beta version doesn’t have the complete set of towers that is planned for the game. And like in the original game, towers can be upgraded a couple of times to increase their power and range. There are a couple of new things, however. The new Boost tower acts as a platform for any other tower, and is a cheap way to increase both the range and damage of whichever tower you choose to build on top of it. It is also a cheap way to block or change the path of the aliens as they march towards your base. Another nice addition is that the missile towers can now attack ground targets. I am guessing that are still a few towers that have yet to make their debut, and I am looking forward to seeing what else Hidden Path has up their sleeve.
For the most part the aliens don’t appear to be noticeably different in terms of function. You have your small and fast aliens that are easy to kill but are problematic when they swarm. You have your big and slow aliens that take a huge beating but take forever to get anywhere. And you have aliens in between. There is no sign of the stealth, flying, or shielded aliens yet, but I imagine we will see some versions of those (and hopefully others) in the final game.
OK, so far what I have described makes Defense Grid seem essentially like the original. Like I said, it is a lot more of the same, which is a good thing. However, there are some improvements to the sequel which players will appreciate. First off, the visuals are quite a bit more detailed. Not that the original game was bad by any stretch of the imagination, but Defense Grid 2 raises the bar for the series. Maps look nicer and have better scenery. Towers look far more detailed and have much more interesting designs. Aliens look better, and so on.
Another thing that has been improved in the UI, and this is something I really appreciated. The controls are the same, so no change there, but the general presentation of the information is just nicer. Not only does it look better, the information presented is better. The incoming alien scroll bar that gives you a heads up about future waves has more detail and it is much easier to interpret than in the original game. But the big improvement is the addition of the real-time score chart that tracks your performance. This will really be appreciated by leaderboard junkies (like me), because you can get an idea of how you are doing early on in a match. It is a great tool, although I hope its functionality is improved further. For example, it would be nice to have it compare your performance to either your previous attempt or your highest score to give an even better indication of how you are doing. Hopefully something like that gets added, but either way the tracking window in a great addition.
Multiple games modes and difficulty settings are included, each of which have their own leaderboards. Vanilla mode, Grinder mode (nothing but a huge number of the same alien walkers), Green mode (my personal favourite…no tower upgrades allowed), as well as other modes are all available. There are some additional competitive modes available that limit you in different ways (such as not being able to sell towers), but I haven’t yet tried them so I can’t make any comments about them at this time.
So that is pretty much it. Defense Grid 2 is shaping up to a really great sequel. It has more of the same awesome OMG-that-damned-walker-is-going-to-escape-with-a-core-while-Fletcher-spouts-off-at-me action that we all loved in the original Defense Grid. If you want a good tower defense game to play, the Defense Grid series easily has you covered, and you owe it to yourself to check out Defense Grid 2 when it releases in the future. Check it out!
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