Defense Grid 2 Review

By Darryl Kaye on October 26, 2014

The original Defense Grid arrived over 5 years ago and it was a breath a fresh air for the tower defence genre. Not only did it offer some fantastic visuals for a title appearing on the Xbox Live Arcade, it also offered some rather intricate level design that took it beyond what you would expect from a game of this ilk. Defense Grid 2 now arrives with considerably beefed up expectations, as it's appearing on some beefed up systems, but does it manage to define itself in the way its predecessor did so well?

As soon as you boot the game up, similarities with the original game are immediately apparent. You are again liaising with various AI and attempting to stop an alien race from stealing power cores. There is quite a bit of dialogue between the various roles, but it's rather throw away and doesn't add much to the overall premise.

Tower defence games have decreased in popularity over the past few years, but there is still a market if the game stands out enough. And with Defense Grid 2, the main selling point is again the challenge offered by the level design. This is apparent soon into the game, with various pathing options raised and it becomes rather glorious as the game progresses through to the later stages.

The last few levels have very intricate design and it's a marvel to see how everything all connects and works together. In some ways, it can be rather intimidating as not only do you have to think about micro-managing towers and enemies everything across such a large area, you also have to think about how you influence where the aliens go in the area as they work towards attempting to steal your power cores.

Many of the levels are designed so that there are numerous ways to succeed. This in itself is also a multi-faceted ideal. Some levels offer a rather linear approach, requiring you to plan the construction of towers in the right place, at the right time. Other levels are the opposite, giving you an almost blank canvas so that you're left to construct your own route for the aliens to get to the defense grid. It again shows the game's versatility and as you progress, you are required to demonstrate this in order to succeed.

It's due to this approach that the game can be rather unforgiving. On some levels, you can end up completely on the back foot after only one wave, because the towers you built to defend the cores just weren't right for the job. Likewise, perhaps you didn't give the towers enough of a chance due to where you constructed them. As you progress, formulating a plan of attack becomes more crucial and it's for that reason that you will come to appreciate the initial pause before levels begin. It's during this time that you can scope out the level.

The scoring system rewards a good, but frugal defence. You receive more points per kill based on how many cores are safe and how many resources you have saved up in the bank. If you want to achieve the coveted gold, it's therefore in your best interest to try and squeeze every last bit of effort out of your defences before investing more. It's a dangerous game though and due to how waves are constructed, but also due to their timings, you can quickly go from comfortable, to a state of panic. One of the positive elements here, is the ability to rewind the level. At any point, you can skip back to a previous wave in the level and try to do things differently and it's a very nice feature. Levels aren't short, even with the ability to increase speed by 3x, so being able to revert to previous checkpoints saves unnecessary tedium from having to start over all the time.

Despite all the positive sentiment surrounding these gameplay elements and also the level design and intricacies presented here, the actual towers are disappointing. In isolation, they offer a balanced perspective, but in relation to the original title, the offer almost nothing new aside from modifications. Given that this is the sequel, you would expect some kind of expansion to the set of towers you can build, but that's not the case. Clearly the developers felt the towers were good enough in the original, and decided to offer variation in the form of items that modify how towers operate. You can also build boost towers, which can increase the potency of towers, create cheap alternatives for pathing and improved line of sight. However, it would have been nice to see either some of the towers replaced or some more variety added.

The biggest new feature for Defense Grid 2 comes with the multiplayer. This is a three-pronged addition, with two cooperative modes and one competitive mode. These are welcome additions to an already expansive array of options when playing levels and help to add a bit more longevity to the experience. Coop is rather as you would expect, with you being able to only control half the map, or being able to share everything. Competitive however, is much more interesting. Here, you both play tower defense on the same map, but enemies that you kill get added to your opponent's map, in random places. It means you can really mess them up if they have built their defenses in certain ways and it makes the whole experience so much more hectic.

Final Thoughts

Defense Grid 2 still has plenty to offer the tower defense genre, but it isn't quite as defining as the original was. The level design is still extremely strong and the addition of multiplayer adds an extra dimension. It just doesn't have the same impact as it did first time around and it's a bit disappointing that the only changes that come with the towers are slight modifications.

Level design is flawless.
Competitive multiplayer is fun.
The ability to speed up time.
Would have been nice to see some new towers.
Isn't as defining as the original game was 5 years ago.
The story can get rather tiresome.
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