Maybe I'm weird. I don't know. Tower defense games have always been a relaxing thing for me. They're stressful titles, sure, but they're so easy to pick up and play for a few hours while just hanging out.
That's been my Defense Grid 2 experience so far. It's a fun game that completely serves the purpose of giving me a way to wind down. It isn't perfect, it won't set the world on fire, but its satisfying gameplay coupled with odd and addictive features make it a really good effort for the genre.
There are small gripes, though, that make me wish this game was a little more and a little less in several departments.
Most importantly, though, is Defense Grid 2 worth your money and time?
No, Wait, This Way is Better
If you're unfamiliar with Defense Grid, its biggest hook in the tower defense world is one that can be explained fairly easily. As you play, certain stages have levels with open grids on them for tower placement. The creeps, those are the aliens trying to steal your cores and take them back, will alter their paths based on your tower placement.
So, there's a strategy in placing towers in specific spots rather than just plopping each gun down and upgrading to win. Now, I don't think Defense Grid was the first to do this, but I do think it does it exceptionally well. Each level that has these open layouts is much more interesting and challenging than others, and command centers on the levels will let you annex new regions in order to push out the length of the creeps' path.
You're not only playing with your budget in order to come up with the best defense power, but you're trying to lay out towers and boost blocks (basically, a tower upgrade spot that brings better stats to your big guns later in each level) so that you can do the most damage on creeps during their runs.
What's frustrating about this game is that it's impossible to have a planning phase. The levels start without you saying so, so you won't be able to look at the map and decide which path is best before you start laying towers. Especially in the later game, the creeps move too fast and are far too strong for you to sit around and plan tower placement. I found this tough to contend with, especially since I'm the type of player who can't play through tower defense games without getting perfect scores.
I like the dynamic paths and forcing creep behavior, I just wish the game would give me an option to pause and look at the map before it steals all my cores and causes me to lose. That's probably just the perfectionist in me, though.
Slowly Climbing Towards Gold
If you can get some friends to play Defense Grid 2 alongside you on the same platform, you probably should. At least on Steam, I was able to see my friends and their scores on levels I was about to attempt or had already completed. Seeing theirs pushed me to improve mine, which is one of several ways Defense Grid 2 is smart about challenging its players.
In fact, I don't think I've ever been as concerned with my numerical score in a tower defense game as I have been with this one. That's because of the in-game graph. Up in the top right corner of the screen during each match, there's a chart that slowly curves up as you generate kills and resources. At the high end of this chart are three medals, bronze, silver and gold. You'll watch, in real time, as your score slowly climbs up towards the gold medal.
It's, for whatever reason, insanely satisfying. Missing the gold narrowly on one or two levels actually pushed me to try again, something I normally only reserve for my second and third playthroughs with games like this one.
I'm not a score chaser. I never have been. But, the way Defense Grid 2 pushes players to be constantly aware of their scores and their friends'? Yeah, I was chasing them here. And I sort of loved it.
Look at All These Modifiers!
To further push out the replayability of this tower defense affair, Defense Grid 2 features a slew of modifiers and difficulty swaps that you can flip on and off with each stage.
The modifiers range from unique to standard. Maybe you'll only be able to build a small number of towers, or you'll only have access to a specific type of tower. You might have limited resources, or maybe your towers are only active when either your cursor or the cores are near them.
My personal favorite modifier was Focal Point. Here, aliens take extra damage if you hover your cursor over them as they creep by. That let me focus on big, burly guys as the tiny stuff took standard damage from my towers.
Now, I mention all of these modifiers as huge perks because they also have high score charts. You'll have your score for beating each stage on specific difficulties, and then you'll have it with each modifier. So, beating every stage with every modifier on every difficulty? That will take you forever. If you like this game, forever is a great thing.
Defense Grid 2 doesn't reinvent the genre, but it does offer seriously compelling content that will give fans something to smile about.
Defense Grid 2 is genuinely a strong offering in the tower defense genre. While it doesn't reinvigorate the TD world quite like Defense Grid: The Awakening did back in 2008, the tweaks and changes it does offer are interesting enough to go in for seconds.
If you love this genre, then Defense Grid 2 is a game you should buy straight away. My preference for platform leans towards the PC, despite the odd control method. Maybe that's just because the Tower Defense world feels more at home here. I also lean that way because of the Steam Workshop support, which will likely lead to some insane stuff from the community.
If you find this genre more middling than your favorite, I'd say Defense Grid 2 warrants waiting. It will be worth picking up down the line, though I imagine a sale will push it from "maybe" to "definitely" in the eyes of most gamers. It's $24.99 right now, and that's a sound price for tower defense fans. For others? Maybe waiting isn't such a bad idea.
I will say, there is a "story" in Defense Grid 2. It sports cheesy dialogue and mediocre voice acting, but it's there. I found myself wanting to skip it more often than not, so consider this more white noise than anything substantial.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to pour myself another cup of coffee and destroy a few more alien creeps.
Disclaimer: We received a code to download and review Defense Grid 2 on the PC from the game's PR representative. We played through and tested all modes with modifiers before starting this review.