The original Defense Grid was the ultimate Tower Defense game when it was released in 2008. It combined unique settings, great graphics and extremely enjoyable gameplay to make a title that was plain fun to play. The developer, Hidden Path, have been trying to make a sequel to the title for some time, and now with some help from a Kickstarter campaign, some partners, and years of hard work Defense Grid 2 is here. The landscape is much different in 2014. Tower Defense games are mainstream; can this new iteration generate the same magic? The answer is a resounding yes.
Defense Grid 2 continues after the events of the original title and its expansion packs, with our commander on a mission to bring the survivors of humanity to a safe haven. There is more of a story here than in the original title, but it is told solely through cryptic text screens as the game loads and voice chatter during the missions. The voice acting is mostly spot on and effective, especially as your AI companions have started going slightly insane. One of the voices, Commander Simon, however, is grating and features some of the worst dialog I have heard; every time he spoke I wanted to hit the mute button. This is a minor fault, but one that could have easily been rectified through a better actor. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but it sure stuck with me as a low point.
That defect in voice acting doesn’t take away from the core game, though.Defense Grid 2 is a meticulously crafted and gloriously addicting Tower Defense game with enough wrinkles to set it apart from others in the genre. The game features a 21-chapter story mode as well as multiplayer and challenge maps. You can also use the DG Architect tool to create your own levels.
This abundance of playing options gets even deeper as you go scenario by scenario. Each time you start a level there are a number of modifiers you can set to change up the level, from limited resources and longer waves of enemies to a set number of towers. These are all modifiers that tweak a game that is already complex and nuanced enough to keep you engaged and interested as you explore map after map.
In Defense Grid 2 you are always presented with a map that has one or more entrances at various ends, and your central brain which houses your cores, the energy and resources that supply your people. The round does not start till you place your first tower. Once you do the waves start and will not end until you eliminate all of them or they steal all of your cores.
You can strategically place towers to steer the path of the enemy in the direction you want. This allows you to make the enemy creatures take a longer path and to strategically place towers for maximum potential. The maps also shift at times, with sections raising or lowering, changing the optional paths for creatures to take.
There are some new tower variants that help in the struggle as it gets progressively harder. The key one is the boost tower, a low-cost block that acts as a barrier to redirect, but can host a tower and carry its own upgrades to increase damage, remove shields or spot invisible creatures. Another variant to the game comes from your AIs, each with unique weapons that recharge over time, such as a laser or resource booster.
They also add abilities to your towers over time that can be equipped before your missions. Some increase damage, others add acid or explosive effects to the tower type associated with the power. Plus each of the towers can be upgraded twice during the matches, adding to their range and firepower. All of this gives you a wealth of tactics to use when facing wave after wave of creatures bent on stealing your cores and ending humankind.
Hidden Path Entertainment imbued Defense Grid 2 with a complex design and myriad of options that make playing through each map a joy, even if you fail or do not achieve a clean and total victory. The variety of enemies and changing pathing options present a challenge that ramps up over time but does not feel impossible or frustrating. When you complete a map you are given a variety of statistics and metrics showing you how you did and giving you a benchmark for future attempts at the scenario. The game is such that if you fail to finish or finish but lost some cores you are more than willing to jump back in and try the scenario again.
It is worth mentioning that there is a multiplayer mode in Defense Grid 2. Unfortunately I was unable to find a match when I tried to have a player versus player match (although it does let you search while you play the story), but I did try the local doubles mode. In this mode you and a local partner (one using the controller, the other the mouse and keyboard) battle in any of the modes/maps against the enemy. I chose a tough variant and had a great time playing the map with support, and great satisfaction winning with a partner. On the PC version this will probably be a little-used feature, but I can see this being a great mode on the console versions. I am hoping the game attracts a wider Steam audience so the multiplayer mode can be examined a little more, but even without it the game is a complete experience.
Defense Grid 2 is a terrific and challenging experience, with focused and complex map designs and copious amount of variety to keep you coming back. Hidden Path Entertainment took the core design of the original title and added a much-needed graphic polish as well as a deep pool of variants to make a game that is as addictive as it is fun. The only wrinkle to the title is in the thin and at times annoying story components, but this can be overlooked as you work through the ever-changing variety of maps until the conclusion. Then you just may find yourself trying them all over again with modifiers to challenge your skills. Defense Grid 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and is rated E10+.