Evil Defenders uses key items most fans of tower defense games enjoy. To name a few: having numerous upgrading options at hand, a charming presentation, as well as the kind of turret layout options that will require you to ponder your decisions with care. It’s take on the genre is not unique, however, and borrows heavily from Kingdom Rush. While similar in defense concepts, this game interjects its own flavor to the mix. Does it succeed in providing a unique experience? Does its strategic elements allow for diverse strategic approaches? Will fans of Kingdom Rush find a kindred spirit in Evil Defenders, or a lackluster reminder of a more favored series?
Evil Defenders begins with a comical cutscene depicting thumb-faced humans gathering together to fight the forces of evil. There’s a twist, you do not play as the brash and brave humans, but the sinister forces of evil. Like the game’s name suggests, you control orcs bombers, goblin archers, and skeleton soldiers attempting to thwart the onslaught of knights and pitchfork wielding villagers. This is done by building defensive towers, each with its own unique method of dispatching attackers.
Towers need to complement each other, they must overlap in such a way that they both hold and exterminate waves in bottleneck locations. Understanding how the static ground based skeletal soldiers function becomes a key strategy for winning. These units are also represented by a tower but its deployment differs from other towers. These units are generated by the ground tower, as well as replaced by it when they fall in combat. As enemy forces approach these skeletal soldiers hold them in place with hand-to-hand combat. While these soldiers do little counter damage (at first) holding advancing forces at bay allows other towers to damage them longer. In later stages, towers can specialize into one of three upper tier defensive structures. For the ground skeletons, they can become banshees that strike fear into enemy waves, archers that can attack at range, or black knights with higher health and defense.
There is another type of tower designed to slow waves simply called the Stun Tower, this one disperses waves of energy that slows enemies. Each of its three specialty types can also add a layer of additional passive debuff to advancing troops. One reduces their armor abilities, while another reduces their attack speed abilities and so on. Both the ground troops and the slow towers are the only two tower types you can utilize to slow advances of forces. Their use and deployment require judicial placement, while slowing waves is important, these towers are easily overrun without supporting elements.
Fortunately, every other tower in your arsenal deals considerable damage to enemies, and more so if you can detain them underneath them. A mortar tower drops wide area damage bombs on enemies, each of its three specialized tower focus that explosive damage in different ways. Goblin archer towers, may fire at a slow pace, but have a fire far ranging strike area. Each of its three trees focus its abilities into either rapid fire, high damage slow speed sniper huts, or explosive ground shots. Mage towers do considerable damage, and can be upgraded to either do additional fire damage, or other effects. Which specialization you decide to branch into will likely be decided by the types of enemies you face, and the upgrades you’ve invested in. No one type of tower is the “solution” to a level, they require a balanced approach as some enemies can simply bypass the damage of one tower but others.
Abilities augment your towers, and are separate from tower placements. These abilities include a lightning strike that does considerable damage on a single spot, with a long cooldown period. A teleportation ring which sends enemies back to an earlier point. A mammoth hell spawn creature that can be summoned as an invincible ground soldier is your third ability.
Aside from upgrading towers while in levels, there is a global upgrade tree available from the overview screen. Abilities, your tower’s base stats, and gold acquisition (the point system by which all level based upgrades are made), can be modified by placing points into each category. These upgrade points (called souls) are earned with each level you master. Returning to a previously defeated level and increasing its difficulty allows you to earn more souls.
Upgrades, upgrades, and more upgrades, that is the principle message of this game. Each tower and skill has over 10 upgrades. These alter the amount of damage they can produce, or their attack speed, or enhance its specialty tower abilities. Global tower upgrades have no bearing on the look of your defensive tower, however upgrading tower levels during your level does produces visual changes. Each more powerful tower level has a more menacing look to match its new status.
There are charming details in Evil Defenders, aside from different looks for the towers. Your mortar lobbing orcs grasp their controls with grime covered goggles, like mad scientists. Goblins sport bandannas and sinister grins as they snipe their targets. Skeletons clamber towards enemies with a pimp limp, sounds of clashing shields and swords take over as they do battle. Units and towers have their own battle phrases as these skirmishes occur. There are some animations that could use some work, but overall the game has pleasant aesthetics. Battle chatter, I found, becomes mildly irritating as the same chatter begins to loop.
There is a painful ulcer that begins to form as you play Evil Defenders: the constant grind required to not only upgrade towers, but even progress to the next mission. Each new level starts with a 10 wave “easy”, not enough to fully upgrade towers for meaningful advantage. Early on, this does not affect gameplay much, as one ground tower and a mortar tower take care of most enemies. Later on, these “easy” 10 waves are anything but. Want more gold to upgrade towers faster? Well each upgrade ability tops off at 5, and it takes a considerable amount of souls to max out your gold production. What this boils down is replaying 2-3 early levels a dozen times to get enough souls to move into the next couple of levels and repeat.
Playing these missions again with more waves is not as entertaining as I had hoped. The charm of Evil Defenders wears off as soon as your grinding the same small cul-de-sac style dirt road for the third time. Granted, several tower defense games offer more challenging missions on the same maps to offer gamers more content. With this game however, this extra challenge is forced on you. Want to make it the end? You will have to grind. Keep in mind Evil Defender has roots in mobile gaming, where mindless grinding is more common, but nothing was done to alter its repetitive approach for PC gaming.
What began with an opening cut scene, touched with humor and charm, is forgotten for nearly the rest of the game. Perhaps more thumb faced humans could have provided a motivation to continue grinding, or not, but it’s odd that there was nothing at all in that arena as you progressed. Another deterrent towards boring constant grinding perhaps would be to approach matters as other tower defense games have done. Offering challenges without 1-2 tower types to challenge your strategic placements. Evil Defenders does not utilize handicap strategies of this type, and instead increases the strength and length of each wave depending on difficulty.
When combined with the repetitive nature of this game, the enjoyable aspects of Evil Defenders become overwhelmed. Its ironic that the game requires souls for upgrading, but in the lengthy tedious grind to get there it sells away its own. Evil Defenders does have the ability to provide hours of entertainment for tower defense fans who just want to conquer, upgrade, and defeat waves no matter the size- this is their game. It is in fact a solid, well made game with sound mechanics. For the non-dedicated tower defense gamers, there is little compelling reason to jump into the upgrading hamster wheel.