Defender's Quest Impressions and the Future of the Tower Defense
Let me tell you a story that’ll get around to Defender’s Quest. This is the only way to start without hyperbole.
I’m writing this piece in a coffee shop in Amherst, Massachusetts. When it gets sufficiently late, I’ll head on over to Antonio’s Pizza to get a slice and a coke. They make weird pizza at Antonio’s. I’ll probably get a slice with chicken, bacon, and ranch dressing, because it’s literally made for me. I love chicken, I love bacon, I love completely unnecessary fat to go along with them, and I love pizza. Further, I love the coke because it reminds me of a time when I wasn’t a recovering soda addict—it reminds me of when I was a kid, and I’d just drink coke, eat goldfish, and play Final Fantasy VI (then, it was III).
That’s Defender’s Quest, among the newest of tower defense playthings (and not to be confused with Dungeon Defenders, review forthcoming). It’s a game made specifically for my niche. It is a tower defense game with old-school RPG trappings, characters who level between fights, and, as it proudly proclaims, a story written by a real English major*. It’s funny, it’s bleak, it flows, it has branching level ups, and it has a 4X speed button (a secret make-or-break item of tower defense games). It has a well-written narrative (so far), fun characters, and hints of a bigger plot to come.
At its core, Defender’s Quest is a combination of Fire Emblem-esque guys on both sides of the screen talking about which level they should go to next with pretty standard tower defense, but where your characters are persistent. Each tower is a protagonist, summoned by super protagonist Azra, who is dead but maybe not quite dead. Between levels you upgrade your characters through a standard level up mechanic and by buying them equipment, and it just works. It works, because the game is good at balancing the quick advancement of the plot with good challenges in the tower defense mode in terms of optional challenges. The full version, in fact, promises an endless mode to further challenge your developed party. It doesn’t sound brilliant, but it is. RPG development combined with tower defense is the most addictive thing since peanut butter and chocolate, chicken with bacon and more fat with pizza.
And Christ, we might not need another tower defense game.
Tower Defense, right now, has three shining lights. The first is the surreal, immense Immortal Defense, a downright brilliant game not nearly enough people have played with one of the best realized plots in video gaming and an abstract aesthetic. The second is Defense Grid, a Steam Bundle regular who trades abstract elements for executing the basics of the genre with such uncompromising competence that it can’t not be mentioned. The third is Plants vs. Zombies, which could be played for hours and represents the genre at its most accessible. Defender’s Quest (see the pattern?) is the fourth, the genre combined with traditional RPG. Between these four, the traditional tower defense is complete; we’ve beaten the genre. What we’re left with are interesting expansions on the idea like Monday Night Combat, first person shooter slash tower defense, and Dungeon Defenders, which treads the same ground in a different fashion. The genre, like everything else, heads towards first person shooter.
But let’s not complain. With Defender’s Quest, we have pretty much the perfect expression of tower defense in its traditional form. This game looks to be the Chrono Trigger of tower defense: the game that finishes the genre. And good news is, it’s not even out yet. You can play the demo here, though, and export your save in tense anticipation for the full version.
*I say this not as an English major but as a love of stories: guys, you wouldn’t hire an English major to be a programmer; why do you think you, computer programmers, can write sufficiently interesting dialog? Look at this game, look at Digital, A Love Story, fuck, look at Dragon Age. Games written by writers are better than games written by programmers. You can still come up with the ideas, just let us write the dialog. We’re cheap. You give us fifty bucks and a pizza and a “co-written” credit and we’ll write your game.