Defense Grid 2
Developed By: Hidden
Published By: Hidden Path Entertainment
Category: Strategy, Simulation
Release Date: 02.07.19
I can’t even tell you how many hours I spent on Battle.net playing tower defense maps in Warcraft III. It’s got to be somewhere close to weeks, or even full months of my life spent placing towers and maneuvering heroes. I fell off with the genre after that, save for a short-lived reunion with the release of Starcraft II. Despite not having played one – or even really even having thought about the genre – for a while, I suppose I do still consider myself a big fan of tower defense games. Hidden Path Entertainment’s Defense Grid 2 for the Nintendo Switch is the perfect game to scratch an itch I didn’t realize I had. It blends strategic gameplay, a decent story, and a slick presentation to create a highly enjoyable tower defense game. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, or really even do much to push the envelope, it’s just a heck of a fun time.
AI, AI, Oh…
Defense Grid 2’s storyline is solid enough for what it is. You take the role of the commander of a colony ship bringing settlers to the star system they hope will be their new home. Upon arriving in the system, however, your ship is met with an alien swarm. With the help of the three military AIs that came with you (and a few more you find along the way), it is your job to fend off the alien attacks, find a home for your settlers, and unravel the mystery of what happened to the colonists that had arrived before you.
The story takes place in short dialogue exchanges during and between missions. It’s an interesting enough storyline with some expected twists and turns, but it won’t blow anyone’s mind. I enjoyed it for what it was, though. Defense Grid 2 features sharply-written dialogue that expertly establishes unique personalities for all of the characters it introduces. There’s only a smattering of idle banter amidst a sea of exposition, but somehow the writing manages to craft some likeable characters with what little time is devoted to establishing them. Additionally, the loading screens display journal entries from the perspective of your enemies, which serves to build a richer narrative world. All-in-all, while the story is fairly basic, I was impressed with the level of effort put into it considering the tower defense genre isn’t exactly known as a hotbed of storytelling acumen.
Place Towers, Kill Aliens
Have you played a tower defense game before? If yes, then you already mostly know how Defense Grid 2 works. Each level takes place on a gridded map. Any grid space with a blue outline around it can have a tower placed on top of it. There are ten different tower types to deploy across a tutorial, 20 story missions, and 5 bonus missions. Your enemies don’t really attack your towers, they just head straight to your power cores to try and steal one. You have twenty-four overall, and if your enemies manage to steal all of them it’s game over. You need power cores to generate resources, too; so if your enemies manage to take one away from you, your resources will replenish more slowly. Each of your AI companions has a special ability, too, and assigning them to your loadout between missions will allow you to make use of these abilities, such as arranging resource drops or firing an orbital laser.
There is a good variety of enemy types with different strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. Some have a ton of HP, some are lightning fast, some regenerate health when you’re not actively shooting them, some have force fields, and some have stealth abilities and can’t be seen unless they are adjacent to one of your towers. There are some enemies with multiple abilities, too, and fighting them kind of sucks. Enemies are launched in waves during a battle, and when you’ve killed your way through all of them, the mission is over. Rinse, repeat, as many times as you’d like.
On the Grid, Off the Grid
There are two types of battle grid you will be called on to defend. One has the enemies taking a prescribed route which you cannot affect; they run along the streets, and the only place you can build your towers is on top of buildings, out of their way. I found these to be the harder missions, because the number of towers you can place is more limited and it’s harder to herd your enemies around in circles to let your guns tear them apart. The other type of mission sees your enemies race across wide open grids. I liked these missions quite a bit, as it allowed me to make a sort of maze with my towers. It was easier to control the enemy horde in these missions, and planning my defense was just plain more fun.
In addition to the main story mode, Grid Defense 2 offers some challenge modes you can attempt after completing the story mission. You can play the same mission in 2-player co-op, you can play using only a fixed amount of resources, there are a couple of endurance modes that task you with surviving through 100 waves of enemies, and two modes that incorporate your cursor into causing damage to your enemies; one where your cursor just does additional damage, and one where it causes damage and powers your towers. They were all neat variations on the core gameplay, but I didn’t find any of them to be as engrossing as I found the main campaign. Still, it adds a lot of replay value to the game, and that’s never a bad thing.
Defense Grid 2 is a very competently designed game. The graphics aren’t on par with the latest AAA releases from the big publishers, but they are slick and attractive. The worlds you visit have cool designs, the towers themselves look great, and the aliens you’re fighting look good. I would have preferred more detailed character portraits for your AI companions; as it is all you get are silhouettes with different-colored outlines. Still, like I said, the graphics are perfectly presentable overall. The soundtrack is a little more well-developed; not in terms of music, which, much like the graphics, gets the job done without being especially memorable. I don’t want to say the music is terrible; it isn’t, it’s just not something that stands out from the crowd. No, the real treat here is the voice acting. As much as I think the script is sharply-written, the actors go above and beyond to deliver great performances which imbue their characters with life and personality.
Defense Grid 2 has no touch or motion controls, so you can play it docked or undocked as you prefer. I found that the graphics looked a little sharper in handheld mode, but really not by much. There was one thing that affected the gameplay in a negative way, though, and that was a bug I experienced when switching my loadout; particularly with AI abilities. I would have to quit to the main menu to change my loadout, because the between mission loadout screen would not register changes to my equipment. It wouldn’t happen every time, and like I said it happened most often with AI abilities, but it was rather annoying. Hopefully that can get patched out soon.
TL;DR: Perfectly competent and fun tower defense game.