There's a special feeling that only tower defense games can truly provide. You'll fight wave after wave of enemies, failing at the same place over and over again. Each time you'll begin anew while tweaking your strategy -- a fire tower here or a frost tower there. The wave will begin and your carefully-planned strategy will fall apart as hordes overwhelm you and the game ends once again. Eventually, something will click and you'll make a change that brings everything together. Suddenly that insurmountable wave turns to nothing more than a ripple as your defense decimates every oncoming enemy; towers slow, burn and shred enemies as you stand by, flinging spells or shooting arrows to bridge together gaps that the enemies might overcome. When the wave is over, the smoke clears and you find your base intact, ready to withstand the next inevitable wave.
Tower defense is a simple genre, but the strategy, combat, and intensity can come together to make something truly special. In this case, that something special is World of Van Helsing: Deathtrap. Deathtrap takes the familiar Diablo-esque combat of the series known as The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing and adds tower defense elements in a way that's nothing short of magnificent. It's rare that a game can capture the essence of a genre like tower defense so purely, but Deathtrap is clearly a labor of love for the genre and it just might be the best tower defense game that was ever made.
Deathtrap's RPG roots glow brilliantly in the combat systems. The game features three classes from familiar archetypes -- a warrior, a spellcaster, and an archer. Each class is backed by dozens of talents and ten abilities each. As you level, you'll get skill points that you can use to improve the abilities that you want to use. In some games, it's obvious which abilities are the best, but in Deathtrap it's not so easy. I found myself constantly making decisions; do I provide global weakness to ice damage of which my towers and allies can take advantage, or do I make one of my core abilities more efficient? These decisions happen every time that you level up. With multiple viable abilities but a limited number of skill points, you can never be a jack of all trades. Instead, you'll pick a build that works for you and you'll focus on it. If you want to mix things up, you can always reset your skill points and try something else. It can be a ton of fun to simply replay levels with different skill builds. With three classes to play, there's a lot of variety to be had.
Combat itself is a joy. It's played from an isometric perspective like Diablo, so the camera doesn't move. Moving around the 3D space is easy and the controls make sense. All of the basic elements that you would expect in an action RPG are there -- your spells feel good and your abilities are fun to use. As noted above, abilities can be upgraded through leveling up and you can equip up to six of them for each level. Some will be offensive, like a grappling hook that pulls all enemies to you. Another will be a map-wide arrow storm that destroys fliers. Then you'll have utility abilities like a short range teleport or a damage boost to your towers. Everything comes together to make an experience that feels nearly perfect.
Towers themselves also have considerable depth. A total of 25 can be unlocked through completing levels and finishing various challenges. Completing maps will give you trap points that you can spend to make your towers even stronger. Some upgrades simply improve damage or range, while others are active upgrades that you must actually purchase in-game on each map to gain significant power upgrades, like 90% increased damage. It's important to determine which towers you prefer and which upgrades you'll want to purchase, as you'll never have enough points to buy everything that you need.
The towers come in five different types that will appear in set locations around the maps. For instance, you can't build a mechanical tower in a slot that is meant for a mystic tower. This ensures that you'll always be experimenting with different combinations of towers. Even when you find one that you like, there may be others that are better depending on the design of the map. You'll gain resources over the waves to upgrade the towers and build more, and the game will make sure that you need to map out the correct strategy over the waves, further compounding the need to experiment and develop a strategy.
In an action tower defense game, balance is important and is frequently a black mark against a game because combat is either too weak or too strong. Deathtrap has avoided this almost completely. I can walk toward a wave of enemies and wipe them out and it feels great to do so, but my towers are always indispensable. At the end of each wave, the game will tell you how many enemies you killed and how many fell to your traps -- this number was almost always perfectly even. Strategy is important, but so is player skill and the ability to react to leaks in your defense. In a tower defense game, this may be the highest praise that it could possibly receive.
The main game features 13 different maps that you can play on four different tiers. For a given map, each tier can be considerably different, testing different skills or gimmicks to make sure that a strategy that worked on tier two will absolutely not work on tier three. You'll face different enemy types and, most importantly, tower locations will be swapped to ensure that you must approach each map and tier differently. The gimmicks come in the form of special towers that are unique to a level, like a giant golem that will fight on your side, or tank enemies or a machine that generates resources for you. These can change the gameplay significantly and are always integral to the strategy for the map. Overall, it will take dozens of hours to get through all of these maps, which means that there is plenty of replay value. Meanwhile, the variety ensures that you're always having fun mapping out the proper strategy and executing it.
Beyond the main campaign, there's plenty to do. You can play an endless mode on each map where the same rotation of waves cycles with increasing health pools. It's certainly an interesting change of pace, although not something that you'll want to marathon when endless runs can easily last over an hour. Then there's scenario mode, which gives you a set of waves and allows you to choose the difficulty in exchange for bonuses. It can be a tough challenge depending on the difficulty modifiers that you have active, but the rewards are generally commensurate with the amount of effort that you put into it. Even better, the scenarios are also playable on six extra maps that are made specifically for them. These maps are a ton of fun; the only negative is that they should have been in the main campaign so that we could play them more.
The game does feature both co-operative and versus multiplayer. Each mode features the only true negatives to be found in the game. Co-operative is generally fun -- making strategies with your friends can open up new challenges. In many tower defense games, co-operative play can break the game but the developer took the time to change tower layout for co-operative play, meaning that each map is properly balanced to offer a good challenge. Sadly, co-op is hamstrung by a lack of scaling. Lower-progressed players cannot play anything that they haven't unlocked and the more experienced players will get no XP or worthwhile loot out of replaying old missions, something that disappointingly encourages people to play alone.
In Versus, one player will be the defender and one will be the attacker. The defender will build up their towers and then begin the wave. The attacker can place banners to provide buffs to the waves that the defender will need to kill and can also possess units. Each unit has unique abilities that can lead to fun and strategic play. Sadly, the matchmaking isn't great and matches almost always seemed unbalanced in terms of player skill. Additionally, if a player quits then the remaining player will not receive a win, which encourages quitting to spare your own record. The mode can be fun when playing with a friend, but overall it won't be something to which you're coming back on a regular basis.
Tower defense games are well-known for poor performance, but Deathtrap is a unicorn in this regard, offering stable performance in almost all situations. While the framerate certainly isn't locked, only once in my 30 hours did the framerate drop a noticeable amount and the game was still playable during the drop. Deathtrap has set the standard for what the performance should be in a console tower defense game.
The achievements are going to be a long task. You'll need to play every map on every tier, of course, and three star the hardest tier four maps. You'll need to complete everything in scenario mode and endless mode and play at least a bit of everything in co-operative. There are versus achievements and you'll also need to get some playtime in for every class. There is a class specific achievement for every class that says it must be completed on tier two, but reports and my experience seem to indicate that you must actually complete the requirements on tier four, which is a much greater challenge. Overall, you'll be looking at a completion that's approximately 40-50 hour and well worth your time.
SummaryDeathtrap is a masterpiece in the tower defense genre to which many developers should look for years to come. It requires strategy and skill in equal measure in ways that few tower defense games can demand. With over 52 different map setups to complete and master, there's plenty to play in both singleplayer and co-operative. There are many common pitfalls into which tower defense games fall, but Deathtrap deftly avoids them all, offering stable performance and a balance between the player and towers that is nearly impeccable. Better still, the fantastic depth to the RPG elements ensures that even hesitant players can find something to love in the game. Whether you enjoy action RPG combat or tower defense games, Deathtrap is a game that is more than worth your time.
- Tons of replayability
- Different maps require unique strategies, which keeps the gameplay fresh and fun
- RPG elements have depth through multiple possible character builds
- Framerate remains solid in almost all situations
- Co-op play hamstrung by lack of player scaling
- Versus mode has no leaver protection
- Achievement descriptions for three achievements are incorrect
EthicsThe reviewer spent approximately 30 hours building towers, leveling up, getting awesome gear, and slaying hundreds of waves of enemies, earning 33 of the 50 available achievements along the way. A personal Xbox One copy of the game was downloaded for the purpose of this review.
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