While it seems like the boom of Tower Defense games has finally died down a bit, it’s still a solid, well-known game mechanic that’s used in newly released games. Defense Grid 2, the sequel to Defense Grid: the Awakening, brings the franchise to the new consoles and introduces cooperative play. How does it stack up? Let’s find out.
I never played the first Defense Grid, so I can’t really speak to improvements between them and Defense Grid 2. I can say, though, that the amount of features of Defense Grid 2 is pretty impressive for the TD genre. It has 2-player online or local co-op, a story campaign of 20 maps, and a 2-player competitive mode where the creeps players kill go over to the other player’s map. It’s supported on two consoles (the PS4 and Xbox One) as well as PC (Windows and Linux) and Mac. For players who get the game on Steam on computer, they’ll also gain access to the DG Architect where they can build and share levels with the Steam Community. The version I played was the PS4 version, so all of my experiences are based on that version, and I can’t make any comments on the DG Architect.
Local and online co-op work pretty similarly. To play local co-op, one navigates to the Campaign menu and picks a chapter (which is really a map/level). From this demi-lobby area, a second player can join in. Different modes can be selected to change the gameplay experience - I like to think of them as mutations. For example, players could elect to play a chapter and pick the Grinder mode where they have to stave off 100 waves of the same enemy type. One important mode to notice is the DG Coordinated Defense mode. In this mode, each player has a separate score, resource pool, and build areas (the default in campaign mode is shared resources, score, and building areas). So for players who want to feel a little more independent, this is definitely an option to check out. There’s also 4 different difficulties to pick from.
After a chapter is launched, a tower load-out is brought up. Player One can select which tower upgrades each tower will passively have during the chapter. A variety of the towers will be available to build during the level, but there are different passives that towers can be upgraded to have during that particular attempt of the level. These upgrades are unlocked through playing the campaign. One thing that was a bit of a bummer is that in local co-op, it seems like only Player One can select upgrades that both players will have during the chapter. Also of note is the fact that local co-op partners can’t seem to get on the game’s leaderboards for their scores, even in DG Coordinated Defense mode.
Online co-op works pretty similarly, except players get to it through the Multiplayer menu. There are three multiplayer modes currently available: DG Fighter, Co-Op Doubles, and DG Coordinated Defense. DG Fighter is the competitive mode, Co-Op Doubles is shared pools and build areas, and DG Coordinated Defense is again the split pools and build areas. There’s also matchmaking for the multiplayer modes where players can enter a matchmaking queue based on their list of specifications for a game (mode, chapter, difficulty, etc.).
The actual gameplay itself is probably what most expect of a TD game. Players have to survive a couple dozen waves of enemies while building towers to protect their core. There’s a variety of towers to pick from, and each can be upgraded to to level 3 for money dropped by killed enemies. Defense Grid 2 has a couple of neat variations on the standard, however.
For one, there’s some amount of mazing allowed, which I always love to see. Figuring out how to keep the enemies a fiery maze of death for the longest time possible is one of my favorite things to do in TD games. Also, instead of the enemies reaching the core and doing damage, they carry off little power cells and try to bring them back to where they came into the map. If a power cell is carried off the map, players lose it for good and the hit points of the core is permanently decreased for the remainder of the chapter. If the core is dropped, it will start making its way slowly back to the core, but other enemies can pick it up if they come across it. I thought this was a neat little variation to the game. My favorite feature of DG2, however, is the ability to fast forward. With a simple tap of the R1 button, the action can be sped up to 3x normal speed. If I want to slow the game down again (to make sure I keep up with upgrading my towers, for example), I just tap the R1 button again. This really helps cut down the time spent just watching enemies die in a fiery maze of death.PC Thoughts From Locke
The PC version of Defense Grid 2 is a great version of the game. The first thing I noticed was the controls are definitely catered for the console version. Even with a mouse and keyboard, the camera moves with the cursor. It doesn't detract from the experience, but simply something you get used to after several missions.
Co-Op on the PC is great as one player can use a controller, and one can use a mouse and keyboard, or double up on controllers. Both players can build simultaneously and this makes for some awesome construction of tower gauntlets. Being able to focus on one area makes it a great tool to have a friend, especially when things get hairy.
Finally, the DG Architect is an exciting feature that I can't speak on right yet as it is quite underpopulated right now. Hopefully some creative minds start making content and filling Defense Grid 2 with custom levels, because the potential is there.
The game looks really good graphically, and players can zoom in and out and turn the map at will. The interface is pretty intuitive as well. That being said, there were a couple of interface things that were a little strange to me. For one, some of the text in the interface windows is super tiny! Our TV is reasonably sized, but some of the text really could have stood to be bigger for the console version. It kind of felt like the PC interface was transferred over to the console version and while the controls were mapped well to the controller, the text wasn’t resized to optimal levels. Similarly, the camera angle felt like it might have been better optimized for the console as well. The camera can only really be turned to a few pre-set angles, all of which are at about a 45 degree view. While it looks pretty enough, functionally I’d really have preferred it to just be completely top down. Especially playing with two players, the zoom also isn’t as useful as it originally seemed. Zooming in and out randomly in local co-op while another person is trying to see or do something else on the same screen is a good way to get the stinkeye, at the very least. As such, we just played all the way zoomed out so we could each see the entire map.
Overall, Defense Grid 2 on the PS4 has a lot of good things going on. A lot of modes, a good amount of maps, and variations/features of gameplay that make it really apparent that Hidden Path Entertainment know TD games. For me personally there were some things missing that I personally look for in TD games. For example, I like having towers that upgrade into different types of towers (with their own mini tech trees), and that was missing. Also, the fact that local co-op partners can’t choose their own Tower upgrade loadout or even get on the leaderboards with their scores was a really big disappointment. Those things aside, Defense Grid 2 is a streamlined tower defense game. It’s not a super complex game, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a solid experience for players who want to kill enemies in (yep, you guessed it) a fiery maze of death with a friend.
The Co-Optimus review of Defense Grid 2 is based on the PS4 version of the game. A code was supplied by the publisher for review purposes.