It’s not often you come across a tower defence game with a story with a sense of humour, not to mention the way it mixes in RPG elements for character levelling, armour and weapons. Defender’s Quest is a game that tries to keep all of these plates spinning at the same time, making for a really interesting genre mash-up.
The game tells the story of Azra, the royal librarian of the Ash Kingdom, who catches the plague and, as you’d expect when someone gets the plague, becomes very, very ill and then dies. This is no ordinary plague, as it bring its victims back to life as revenants, making them not only undead but controllable by mages. In Azra’s case, however, she instead returns with the ability to draw others into a pocket between dimensions, enabling her to effectively use them as towers in an effort to defeat other revenants. The Ash Kingdom apparently has a few of these mages, as soon you find yourself being chased by one who has a vested interest in your demise. It’s probably something to do with being the only person in the world that can fight them.
It’s not a bad story and has moments of laughter and endearment, but a lot of the time it just feels like it’s in the way of the next fight. The characters themselves are pretty shallow and some seem to lack real motivation, but it’s to be expected really in a game that throws its exposition into a few minutes of written dialogue in speech boxes over character artwork. It still has some entertainment value, though it does sometimes feel like it bends over backwards to accommodate gameplay. Then again, it would do since it is a game.
Thankfully, the gameplay is the part at which Defender’s Quest excels, so long as you’re not immediately turned off by the pixel art visuals. Before each battle you can choose from four difficulties ranging from easy to extreme, each offering a different challenge on every level of the game – if you like replayability in your tower defence games, this is already off to a good start. Upon choosing your difficulty, you get taken to the map where you will face off against a legion of revenants who march towards you across increasingly elaborate maps.
To defend yourself you summon companions and cast spells. A press of a button brings up the companions you can summon onto the map, where they will thenstand completely still and attack things that come within range. Berserkers are a melee class, so they will only attack things that come within melee range, whereas Rangers are obviously ranged and will attack enemies that are at a particular distance. Spells can also be use to strike enemies with lightning, speed up your defenders’ attack rates and heal them. It’s the usual stuff really, but it comes from the same resource that you use to summon, so care is needed when using them.
Arranging your heroes in the most efficient spots, where as much of your enemies’ path as possible is in the kill zone, quickly becomes the order of the day, only for enemies that damage your heroes to be introduced, causing you to adjust again. Then Healers appear, who have a square range around them in which they can heal other towers, so it could be beneficial to have all your heroes close together, so they can defend and heal each other at the same time. Then there is boosting, which upgrades a hero for the rest of the round to use additional skills that have previously been unlocked by levelling up, as well as increasing their range and speed.
The options available in gameplay are extensive, on top of all the arranging, levelling, and boosting. You can give each hero specific orders to, for example, only target enemies with the most/least health, or attack the fastest target in range, or play the odds and aim for those that are least likely to dodge or resist the attack. The options available are impressive, allowing you to have, for example, your Rangers focus on taking chunks of health out of higher health enemies while your Berserkers finish them off. You can even save the settings to use again later.
After each battle, you and your heroes all gain experience and, upon levelling up, get a skillpoint to spend in a skill tree. There are only two branches for each class and the first purchase will usually give a bigger benefit, such as a new skill or a 10% chance to get a critical hit, and investing further into the same skill will add small, incremental boosts to the initial buff, or add small amounts of damage to skills. Azra’s character actually only has one branch in her skill tree, so it’s more of a skill stick, I guess. It isn’t exactly deep and the small upgrades are not really exciting, but it does help to inform the significantly more involved gameplay.
Loot is similar, unfortunately. You can buy armour and weapons from shops found in cities and villages, then decide which character needs it most because it costs quite a lot to keep your party properly geared, especially since you end up with a very large party. The equipment will boost stats such as armour or damage and can be sold once you upgrade or given to another party member. Again, it’s not an exciting system, it’s just functional and does that it needs to do for the main gameplay without really being interesting.
Ultimately, for all its storylines and RPG elements, Defender’s Quest is very much about the tower defence at its core, with all the other systems in the game either informing the core experience or accommodating it. That tower defence gameplay is exceptionally strong, full of options and customisation, and the other missed opportunities do little to take away from that.
Version tested: PlayStation 4