Preview: Defender’s Quest
So hard to know what to do with these indie games. Defender’s Quest is a tower defense/RPG hybrid we covered a couple months back, and it’s set to be released soon in the traditional “Indie Beta”, which means it’ll be done and available for purchase but not quite done. I’ve given a poke at a late alpha version. It’s got the whole game inside.
Call it what you like, then. But I’ll call Defender’s Quest a damn good time, a triumphant marriage of two genres that should have always been together and a compelling yarn to boot.
Pretty much everything I said before about the game’s demo remains true in the full version, but they bear repeating: Defender’s Quest is a fairly standard tower defense game at heart, expanded upon by making the towers persistent, customizable characters. Each of the game’s six classes are surprisingly useful (well, one becomes redundant by the end, at least at this point of alpha) and feature fully fleshed out skill trees which enable you to specialize how they fight. Level up low level skills on characters and they’ll be useful to you no matter what; level up high level skills, and you’ll have to use mana (collected, of course, from the skulls of your enemies) to upgrade them in battle to unlock those skills.
It’s a subtle twist on the usual mechanic, and it keeps everything fresh. In most games with skill trees, you buy the low level, weaker skills as placeholders so you can access the really good ones. Here, you have to think, because paying enough mana to access the high level skills in battle means they’ll only really help you on the last few waves. You need some bridge characters who specialize in skills you’ll have immediate access to so that those first waves don’t overwhelm you. It makes you build everyone differently: instead of optimized builds, you need characters with different builds for different times of the battle. The guy with every passive skill and a maxed first level skill will be great without improvement, while your dragon with maxed fire breath needs a substantial investment to be useful. It’s Defender’s Quest’s hook, and it is well done.
While Defender’s Quest’s mechanics encourage planning and intelligence while not demanding them, the presentation directly feeds your nostalgia. The overworld music sounds like a lost 16 bit track from a Final Fantasy game, and the battle music comes gleefully close to Final Fantasy VIII’s before launching into its own overture. Everything feels comforting and scratches the same itch playing old school RPGs at 400% speed does. It satisfies our need for tradition while being a very different type of gulp game than those 30 hour old school RPGs.
The story is presented through traditional talking torsos and it’s high quality if somewhat betrayed by its own nostalgia. I love it, I do, as a story told directly to my black 16-bit loving heart, but I can see others having trouble with a story that really only features one character with any sort of an arc. The characters are great starting points, with plenty of charm and precious little stereotype, but I wished they went somewhere. The plot has a similar song: it’s quite good, but I wish it went further, because the little details around the edges, the small stories that you can feel teetering on the edge of relevancy, those are the ones that I really loved.
I mean, this is a game that takes place inside a pit where plague victims are thrown. Another empire, where the plague originated, has been completely wiped out by the disease, and some survivors of that empire live here, too, as former slaves. We never get a really good sense of what either the Quaid or the Ash Kingdom are like, and we don’t get enough of their color. The quotes between chapters and the banter between some characters served us up this massive, apocalyptic fantasy world, and we get a plot about saving the world from ancient evil.
Again, though, this is pretty much a nit to pick. Defender’s Quest is a phenomenally entertaining blend of tower defense and old school RPG that’s managed to suck away a lot of my time in the past few days. For $6.99, it’ll be well worth your time when it launches soon.