Most of us wake up feeling a little under the weather like it's no big deal; you take some gross medicine, wheedle some pity out of someone to bring you chocolate and comics, and call it a win. Of course, in this kingdom, you go into the Pit, and nobody has ever come out of the Pit... until now. Defender's Quest is an effortlessly addictive, funny, and engrossing strategic tower defense RPG from indie studio, Level Up Labs (Lars Doucet, James Cavin, Kevin Penkin, and Anthony Pecorella) that has come to devour your free time like few other games before it. You've been warned.
As the star of the story, you discover shortly after coming down with the Plague afflicting the kingdom and being chucked unceremoniously into the Pit to die that you've got powers far beyond your ordinary librarian. Able to pull other people into a strange ethereal realm where you can combat the monstrous Revenants and kill them permanently, you set out on a journey to discover the true source of the Plague. It goes without saying, however, that powers like yours soon attract unwanted attention, and along with the companions you draw to your cause, you find yourself on the run for your very life, and perhaps the very future of the kingdom as well. Also, there are Slak, and Wrenna, who are the best. You'll see. You'll see.
Gameplay in Defender's Quest is more or less described as a tower defense game with RPG elements; the meat of it lies within its challenging and strategic levels, but between battles you'll get to recruit party members, learn more about the story, manage equipment, and so forth. In each stage you start off alone; except for a few magic spells, you can't really attack the enemies directly, so you'll need to summon in friends and recruits at the cost of PSI points to defend you. Each different class has their own unique attacks and abilities, and if they've leveled up sufficiently and you've bought them skills, you can "boost" them during battle for more PSI to get even stronger. As tempting as it might be to pour all your PSI into Slak and Wrenna (the best) and call it a day, you'll soon discover that there are a lot of different enemies with varied skills and weaknesses of their own, so carefully planning where you're going to plunk each hero and what they can do is a must. Don't worry; the in-game tutorial will walk you through everything, and if you mess up, you can simply restart the battle at any time, or quit and try an easier difficulty.
If enemies do reach your main character and manage to kill her, it isn't the end of the world. While you'll fail the level, you'll still keep a portion of the experience and "scrap" (used as currency) you earned and you can simply try again. Each stage has multiple levels of difficulty to choose from, letting you grind levels or test your mettle against more dangerous enemies for a bigger reward, or just enjoy the basic gameplay and story with a "casual" mode. Striding the line between being just strategic enough to offer up a satisfying challenge while not too complex so as to deter the more casual player, it really is the sort of game that can effortlessly suck you in for a long time.
Analysis: One of the best compliments I can give Defender's Quest is that I sat down to check it out for a few minutes and before I realised it, several hours have passed. Tower defense games are sort of a "love 'em or hate 'em" scenario, and even fans of the genre tend to be relentlessly picky. It's rare for one to stumble on that magic formula where it can keep you engaged for hours on end, striving for that perfect rating on each stage, and with its blend of unique classes, upgrades, and battles that are as fast, slow, easy, or hard as you want 'em, Defender's Quest has done just that.
There are a few minor annoyances, such as being unable to swap a hero's position in battle without de-summoning them and losing all their boosties. You can say this forces you to think more strategically, and that's true, but at the same time realising three-quarters of the way through a long level that you're boned and you don't have the PSI to reverse the damage in time will probably make you grind your teeth a little. There's also rather a lot of clicking, though the multiple speed settings are handy for letting you slow down and take stock of a situation so you can figure out how badly you've screwed it up. Not that, um. That ever happened to me.
While the lack of interaction in the story scenes is a little disappointing, Defender's Quest makes up for it by packing its cast full of memorable characters and snappy dialogue. The artwork is colourful, the characters expressive, and even the in-battle graphics have a pleasing sort of "all these colourful lights and explosions all at once" thing going for them. The actual storyline is interesting, though probably a little predictable for most players, and tends to get outshone by the party quips, one-liners, and banter. It's just a shame there isn't more of it; the game can be so unexpectedly funny I found myself wishing in-battle chatter wasn't so scarce.
Defender's Quest is, hands down, one of the best tower defense titles you'll find, but it's also simply just a clever, funny, engaging game period. While it's more RPG-lite in a way that might disappoint purists of the term, those elements serve to elevate Defender's Quest head and shoulders above other games in the genre. As for gameplay length, since that's undoubtedly something you're curious about, that comes more down to play style and your chosen difficulty than anything else. Personally, I sunk another two hours on top of the seven I had into this game while I was supposed to be writing this review. You can only expect that number to go up, since the game has multiple updates coming that add more story scenes, more battle modes, bonus missions, end game content, and more. Colourful, entertaining, addictive, and challenging, Defender's Quest is simply a fantastic game that is well worth a look. Me? I loved it. (Slak + Wrenna 4 EVA.) Highly recommended.
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