Hidden Path Entertainment had a notably rough time with the development of Defense Grid. A game that had a variety of ups and downs, with woes ranging from delays to the first game’s release on Xbox 360 to a Kickstarter campaign that couldn’t quite fund a full sequel. Yet, with its status as a cult PC hit and a sizable investment from a millionaire fan, Defense Grid 2 is happening.
I’ve recently had the chance to sit down and try Defense Grid 2’s beta, which currently offers two single player scenarios: Surface Tension and Key. All your standard levels of difficulty are represented here, with four tiers ranging from easy to elite. On top of that, there are a variety of modifiers available that range from locking you into only using basic towers, preventing you from selling towers or adding in a higher count of enemies. For the most part though, at this early state, Defense Grid 2 is primarily focused on being a mechanically sound tower defense game, and to its credit, it does a pretty great job at that.
I decided to dive right into the thick of things, selecting the Surface Tension mission to cut my teeth on. Boiling it down to its most basic essence, the level is essentially a square
surrounded by water with some industrial background structures adding some scenery. The playing field is covered with square tiles that towers can be constructed on to kill off the invading aliens.
In this map, the enemy attacks from the sea; arising from the deep blue depths to come for your power cores. The aliens always take the shortest path available to them, indicated by a yellow flowing line, to attempt to steal all 24 of these cores. The nice thing is that if the aliens do reach your power cores, you are not immediately penalized a la Orcs Must Die!, because they must take all the cores and retreat back through your defenses to their spawn point to defeat you. It allows some room for error, and enabled me to react to mistakes and learn from them while playing, instead of quickly serving me a loss and wondering what went wrong.
Defense Grid 2 makes setting up your defenses incredibly easy by allowing you to simply click on any open tile to open a list of various towers that can be built to fend of my foes. Each defense also has its own unique purpose and use to create the best labyrinth of death possible. For example, Inferno towers shoot out flames that are great against groups, while Cannon towers are great at focusing on single targets from a distance.
Each tower costs resource points, which slowly trickle in every second over time or can be gained by killing alien attackers. You can use resources to upgrade your defenses and build entirely new ones, but if you spend them foolishly the game will ream you as the enemy waves get progressively harder.
To this point in my playthrough, I had my foes dancing up and down rows of towers to maximize their walking distance and allow me to put on the hurt. Everything was under control, until the game flipped the script on me when the map started to change.
After about half of the waves had been defeated in the level, a significant portion of submerged space rises up from the water to make the playing field much larger. Now, two ramps attached to the northwest portion of the map, circling up to a platform that more towers can be built on. New massive alien units spawn that can take a considerable damage and I now need to actively change my layout to ensure I can keep my precious power cores safely in their place. The element isn’t so surprising after you experience it again and plan for it in subsequent playthroughs, but the first time it happens is sort of magical. It adds a little bit of hidden excitement the genre isn’t very well known for and made me particularly excited to see future maps that have multiple levels of progression you need to go through.
After some quick adjustments, a few upgrades and a handful of new towers, I quelled wave 20 of the Surface Tension map without losing a single power core. The success is sweet, and I’m already hungering for more. It looks like Defense Grid 2 has the makings to satisfy that hunger, with the shell of systems in place that look to add special abilities like Orbital Strikes and modifiers to towers for more defense diversity. With new stat tracking tools in place to graph out my hard fought victories and highest scores, there definitely seems like a core in place to keep me knee deep in tower defense action for a large amount of time once the full game releases later this year.