Following a partially successful Kickstarter campaign two years ago, Hidden Path Entertainment has released their eagerly awaited tower defense title to the public. Does the sequel live up to the expectations created by the success of Defense Grid: The Awakening?
Given the pedigree of Hidden Path, a studio made up of industry veterans behind titles like Age of Empires II and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, it should come as no surprise that Defense Grid 2 is a very enjoyable game. However, I know there might be a few of you out there thinking something along the lines of, “It might be fun, but there are a lot of fun tower defense games out there on the internet for free.” And that’s true. I’m not a stranger to freely available tower defense titles. I remember a period of several days doing nothing but playing Kingdom Rush when I should have been writing my thesis. With games like Desktop Tower Defense or Kingdom Rush: Frontiers existing in the wilds of the web and the cheap mobile game space, the question we need to ask about Defense Grid 2 is if it is worth the $24.99 price of admission.
Upon first booting up Defense Grid 2, players can dive into either the campaign or multiplayer. Choosing either will open a dazzlingly vast array of options, game modes, and ways to play. The campaign contains a prologue/tutorial and twenty missions spread out over five chapters. Each mission takes place on a unique map with the option to play through them in either story mode or in any one of the eleven other modes that place differing restrictions or conditions on gameplay. There are also four levels of difficulty to tailor how much of a challenge a player might desire. None of the missions are locked, meaning a player frustrated with a particularly irritating level can simply proceed to the next one.
The multiplayer options are equally as diverse. Players can battle each other online in a mode called “DG Fighter” where aliens destroyed on one player’s side of the map appear on the other player’s side and vice versa. There is also the option to team up and tackle the campaign missions and their various game modes in co-op. Finally, players work together to defend against aliens on maps that restrict where each player can build towers. Leaderboards are integrated throughout the game, so you’ll always know who did better in multiplayer and can strive to achieve higher and higher scores.
There is also a meatier story than one might expect from a tower defense game. Set in a future where advanced AIs control the defense grids of various planets, Defense Grid 2 tasks players with activating the various towers that can be built on the grids in order to fend off alien invasions. As players progress through the story missions, the various AI characters will interact with each other, arguing, cracking wise, and generally being a pleasant distraction after you’ve set up the perfect defense and can watch wave after wave of alien forces crash into your impenetrable wall of towers. The voice acting for the various characters is well done and their accented dialogue is delightful. I appreciated the additional context and sense of urgency that they story provided, but I was never entirely clear on what was happening or why. Luckily, tower defense games typically rely on the strength of their gameplay rather than their narratives, so this never really became an issue.
When it comes to the actual gameplay, Defense Grid 2 is a well-oiled machine. There are ten different tower types to choose from, each with unique abilities and upgrades. There is even a tower you can build that allows you to build a different tower on top of it! In order to progress through the campaign, players are required to learn how to place their towers to efficiently funnel alien invaders. Before every mission abilities can be equipped to their towers on top of the other upgrades available while in-game. I was able to play both the PC and PlayStation 4 versions of Defense Grid 2 and I have to say that I immensely prefer a gamepad to a mouse and keyboard control scheme. The screen is locked to wherever the cursor is pointing regardless of whether you are using a controller or a mouse. It feels unnatural with a mouse, but makes complete sense with a controller.
The weakest parts of Defense Grid 2 lie in the soundtrack and aesthetic choices. Much of the music is on a short loop and can get repetitive during long gameplay sessions. I would recommend that players go into the settings and turning off the music and listening to some of their own groovy tunes. As for the aesthetic, Defense Grid 2 has a lot of great enemy designs and the maps have an interesting architecture to them, but the camera is zoomed so far away that I could rarely tell what aliens my towers were fighting unless they was very large. Even then I still had no idea what these things looked like until I went into the Alien Encyclopedia contained in the extras menu. The other problem is harder to pinpoint, but I think it boils down to most of the maps containing a preponderance of grey. It makes all of the different layouts blend together into a visually boring lump. The graphical quality on each of these maps is very high and clearly a lot of work went into making them the most detailed maps that the tower defense genre has to offer, but it is undermined by the decision to have so many grey surfaces. I understand that it was a decision made for the sake of clarity, but it was a choice that ultimately led to a game full of detailed environments that make use of an uninteresting color palate.
The camera is never this close during gameplay.
Is Defense Grid 2 a fun game? Absolutely. It stands well above its free competitors in every respect. The core mechanics are rock solid and the numerous game modes are enough to keep the most avid tower defense fans engrossed for weeks. I had a great time playing through its campaign and messing around with the multiplayer. That being said, I find it hard to recommend with a price tag of $24.99. If you love tower defense games or enjoyed the first Defense Grid, Defense Grid 2 is a must buy, but for a general audience I would recommend picking it up when it hits $10 or less.
Defense Grid 2 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and is currently available for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.