Tower defense games are somewhat an addiction of mine; instinctively strategic yet part determination and endurance, these titles have always delighted and frustrated the wits out of me. Lately, there’s been a surge of tower defense games -- from casual to creative, each game that comes out seems to invent or broaden some new aspect of the genre. As a result, breaking the mold of basic tower defense principles and coming out with something unique can be tricky.
Tower Wars turns tower defense on its side by combining tower strategy and army building along with a competitive multiplayer twist. This reinvention seems to be a lot, especially for an indie game, however, I’m curious to see if Tower Wars can hold itself up to the genre while still maintaining unique roots.
Tower Wars (PC)
The basic premise of Tower Wars is simple: like most tower defense games, you protect your castle against an enemy army by placing different types of towers in their path. However, this is only half the battle -- the player is not only responsible for ensuring the safety of their castle, but in charge of launching attacks against the enemy’s castle as well. This isn’t your grandma’s “plant towers and wait” type of tower defense title; this is true war at hand and every second there’s something to be done.
The objective is to maintain a balance between breaking down the enemy’s castle and protecting your own. This is done by buying and upgrading a variety of towers and units with gold and Battle Points, another type of currency. Gold is naturally accrued, however the main source of gold comes via the miners which players can buy within the mines scattered about the playing field.
Battle Points can only be achieved by sending out troops toward the enemy. Units will gain BPs when they cross over enemy lines, and will accumulate a bit more depending on how long they stay alive. Towers and their upgrades can be purchased with gold, while your army units, miners, and their upgrades are purchased with a combination of gold and BP.
There are three maps to choose from, each containing a field of hexagonal tiles where towers can be placed. A dotted line leads from the enemy's castle to yours, where their army marches to attack your castle. These paths can be altered depending upon where players choose to build towers. Ultimately, the idea is to prevent the enemy from walking straight into the castle gates by winding them through a path laden with a variety of towers.
Eight types of towers grace the game -- some are your basic tower defense types (arrows, ballistics, shield diffusers) and others are a bit unique (a giant mallet, a wind tower, molten lava factory, etc). Along with most games in this genre, they can be upgraded or sold to efficiently attack enemy armies. Each player starts out with Mr. Moopsy, the basic grunt unit. After accruing more gold and BP, players can unlock and purchase a variety of different units including Baron von Pepto (healer), Madam Sudsie Lennor (shield boost), Stanley Clunkerbottom (big unit) and many more.
Upgrades to the units can be purchased to buff health, armor, shields, speed, or to increase the accrual of Battle Points. The castle can also be buffed with additional armor or gunners, which comes in handy when the enemy army has moved past your towers and breached your gates.
Tower Wars comes with a few modes -- a tutorial, Classic TD, and the main Tower Wars game. The tutorial is a cute and informative way to learn the features and even allows you to play against a computer until beaten. However, it seems to gloss over important details and could benefit to teach more about the specific mechanics of the game and how to use units and towers to the player’s advantage.
Classic TD (Tower Defense) is exactly what the name implies: players survive for as long as possible building towers against an enemy army. The main game, Tower Wars, can be played in either ranked or unranked mode. In ranked mode, you can invite your friends to play 2v2 or 3v3 against other players, or have a 1v1 game with a matched player. In unranked, you can invite friends to play up to 3v3, though there is no match setup for this mode.
One of the main issues of the game is a lack of story or single-player mode. After the tutorial, players have the option of either settling for Classic TD mode (which can get stale very quickly) or going straight into a ranked match if they don’t have other friends to play an unranked game with. Without even a practice mode, I found it hard to jump straight into ranked as most of the players were well versed already. Another issue I ran into was queue times -- for a 1v1 quick ranked play, it would sometimes take up to five minutes to find a match. Co-oping with a friend in either 2v2 or 3v3 would take upwards of 10-20 minutes, to the point where I was wondering if anyone was playing this mode at all.
Tower Wars is unique in its own right. The graphics are polished and the overall mechanics are solid for an indie game. With a smart-looking steampunk theme, it strikes a balance with being not quite serious and not quite silly -- something in between that hits the right note. However, it seems as if there is some work to be done to make the game a complete, playable success.
The learning curve is quite steep as there isn’t much help from the tutorial and there's really no way to practice or grow the skills necessary to beat players in ranked mode. Queue times are off the charts, and in the meantime, there's no Tower Wars single-player mode to play with. That being said, SuperVillain Studios is working hard to add functionality to the game. They’re frequently cruising the Steam forums, taking in feedback, and making small tweaks to satisfy players. This has given me some hope in terms of a more complete package; as it stands now, these issues are a bit cramping.
Hardcore tower defense fans will certainly enjoy Tower Wars, as they will be the most likely to spend the time and energy required to research tower and army strategies. What this game offers currently is not going to be a blast for the majority of gamers, unless they happen to have a group of friends who already own the title. Tower Wars is completely functional and full of spirit; however, lack of a single-player mode and unruly queue times will likely leave many gamers unfulfilled.
THE VERDICT - Tower Wars
Reviewed by Caitlin Cooke