Home > PC, RPG, Tower Defense > Defender’s Quest [REVIEW]

Defender’s Quest [REVIEW]

Defender’s Quest: released January 20th, 2012
Developer: Level Up Labs
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

It never ceases to amaze me how indie developers continue to push tower defense games in new and interesting directions so frequently. Many old school genres such as platformers and shmups, have enjoyed a pretty notable resurgence in recent years, almost entirely thanks to the indie scene. Tower defense games on the other hand, are a genre that have just about always thrived exclusively at the hands of indie developers. Most recently it’s become quite popular to take the core mechanics of a tower defense game, and blend them with a totally different style of game. Sanctum and Monday Night Combat did it with shooter mechanics, Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die! did it with action RPG mechanics, and Defender’s Quest goes an entirely different route, choosing to blend tower defense, with traditional, story driven JRPG mechanics.

At this point I’m beginning to wonder if tower defense isn’t just some kind of all encompassing super-genre that manages to blend well with any type of game. Each time one of these hybrids is released, I smack myself on the forehead and wonder how nobody had ever thought to do it before. Having now sunk the past couple days in to the extremely addictive Defender’s Quest, I once again find myself wondering, how the hell has nobody ever thought to do this before?!

The world of Defender’s Quest is being decimated by a mysterious plague, and the game starts off with our heroine (named Azra by default, though you’re allowed to choose whatever name you like), being hurled in to a quarantine pit after she contracts the disease herself. She nearly meets her doom in this place as the twisted, hostile plague victims descend upon her weakened form, but naturally, there wouldn’t be much of a game if our main character got ganked right out the gate. Instead of lying down and dying like a dog, Azra discovers that she is able to exist on a plane between the world of the living, and the world of the dead. The no-longer-human plague victims are invulnerable to assaults in the mortal world, but by traveling to the world between, Azra is able to truly put them down for good. Not only that, but she also discovers the ability to summon other people in to this “between” realm to fight with her, and the rest of the game is spent acquiring fellows in arms, trying to escape the pit with their lives, so that they may once again find some kind of peace.

Azra’s ability to summon allies in to the “between” realm is how Defender’s Quest handles the tower defense mechanics. As with any good tower defense game, there are a vast number of levels with different quirks and layouts, and you’ll have to defend Azra from countless waves of plague victims (called Revenant) that will try and assault you from numerous different angles. Where Defender’s Quest stands apart, is that you don’t build various defensive structures, but instead you summon your allies and place them strategically throughout the level. These allies are actual characters that you’ll interact with during the game’s cut-scenes, and they can be leveled up, and outfitted with new equipment, just like your standard RPG party members.

Allies will gain experience and level up, which unlocks skills points. Skills points are then spent on the character’s skill tree, where you can unlock new abilities, passive buffs, or simply level up an already active ability to make it stronger. The skill trees aren’t terribly complex, usually consisting of only two paths, with a few brief off-branches here and there, but it still affords you enough freedom to explore different builds. In your average tower defense game, building duplicates of the same structure will result in simply having two of the same building, but in Defender’s Quest, I can have three Knights in play that are all totally different. One will focus on knock-backs, another will focus on counter-attacking, and the third can focus on armor breaking. It’s certainly not a Diablo 2 level of customization, but it’s something that no other tower defense game has done, and it truly feels like a perfect assimilation of the RPG leveling system.

Party members can also be outfitted with new equipment, such as upgraded bows, swords, and armor. This isn’t a terribly complex gear system by any means, but just like the characters’ individual skill trees, it does a lot to make the game feel like a traditional RPG experience, as well as adding just one more layer of customization to your units. You’ll earn scrap (the currency in Defender’s Quest) by completing missions, at which point you can then use that scrap at one of the towns or encampments to either purchase new gear, or hire new allies. Towns are basically just glorified shops though, consisting of a few menus where you can buy and sell goods/services. You won’t be walking around, entering buildings, or conversing with the locals.

While you may not be able to strike up a conversation at will with your allies or civilians, don’t let that put a damper on your opinion of the game’s narrative. Story is extremely important to many old school RPG gamers, and I can say with great enthusiasm that Level Up Labs did not opt to skimp on this aspect. It’s not the next Lord of the Rings or anything, but the writing is competent to the point of being legitimately funny, and the story itself is, surprisingly, quite interesting. Perhaps I’m just jaded by the mountains of poorly written (or completely nonexistent) stories out there in indie game land, but I went in to this experience with pretty low expectations for the writing, and man was I ever surprised. The conflict is interesting enough, but where the narrative truly shines is the characters. They’ve all got such believable and enjoyable personalities, I genuinely looked forward to each of the games frequent cutscenes so that I could read their conversations. Believable and likable characters are tough to achieve in any medium, so I really have to commend James Cavin (lead writer for Defender’s Quest) for doing such an excellent job here.

The levels in Defender’s Quest don’t break any new ground as far as tower defense games are concerned, but they are all very well designed, and it’s a blast to play. You’ll be angling archers just right so they can hit the maximum number of lanes, setting Berserkers on corners so as to hit the maximum number of enemies, and strategically placing healers so that your allies don’t get the snot knocked out of ‘em every five seconds. Aside from summoning party members to fight for her, Azra also has a few spells of her own that she can cast, such as an offensive lightning spell, a healing spell, and a spell that drastically speeds up your units’ attacks. In addition to her own personal arsenal of techniques, Azra also has the ability to “boost” the power of her allies during combat, which is basically akin to leveling up a structure, like in more traditional tower defense games. It’s not a permanent boost of course, like when a unit levels up and gains a skill point, it’s just temporary for that stage, boosting their base stats and granting them access to their more powerful abilities.

Another aspect of Defender’s Quest that initially underwhelmed me were the visuals. They looked pretty crude, and to be honest, they’re still not particularly mind blowing. Even still, I’ve actually grown quite fond of them. The in-game sprites all look nice, and the character models for cut-scenes actually somewhat remind of early Penny Arcade comics. They’re not super detailed or anything, but they’re emotive, and their designs are appealing, so while the visuals won’t be winning any awards, I urge you not to be turned off by your initial reaction. They really do grow on you, and I now personally find the visuals to be charming.

Defender’s Quest is another one of those games that just completely side-swiped me. I discovered it thanks to mister Robert Boyd’s recommendations via Twitter, and I immediately fell in love with it. It takes the best aspects of traditional RPGs and combines them with the addictive, strategic nature of tower defense games, and it does it in such a way that it feels completely natural. It’s as if these genres had been one in the same all along. If you’re a fan of either type of game, you really must look in to Defender’s Quest. It’s such a brilliant, high quality experience, by ignoring it, you’ll be depriving yourself of one of the most addictive and well designed tower defense games to be released in years.

Pick it up at the game’s website, HERE.

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