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Published June 13, 2013

In the interest of openness, I think it’s only fair to admit straight up that I don’t play many tower defence games. You see, I hate towers. Always have. Ever since I was a kid I found them gregarious and over-bearing. Just look at them, being so tall, lording it up, looking down on us all. Makes me sick.

My Eiffelophobia aside, the tower defence genre’s always seemed a bit dull frankly. Neat queues of enemies shuffle harmlessly along past your fortified positions in the hopes of surviving long enough to reach your base. It’s like Lemmings: World War I edition

Prime World Defenders title screen cap
Don’t get used to this guy, you won’t see him much.

So I was quite surprised by how utterly enjoyable Prime World Defenders is. On the face of it, it is a standard tower defence game. For each level you’re presented with a small map, adorned with a track showing the route (or, in some cases, routes plural) your enemies will take. Dotted around these are empty squares in which you can build a variety of offensive structures. These towers range from the cheap and simple, such as arrow firing Wooden Towers and tar-flinging Slow Towers, to the more complicated and expensive, like Mortar cannon towers and magical beacons that power up adjacent towers.

Prime World Defenders screen cap 2
It’s a good thing these guys can’t scale walls.

Building towers costs mana (or Prime as it’s known in the game) and more is earned from killing enemies and destroying natural structures, allowing you to constantly redefine and upgrade your fortifications. You’re also able to employ magical attacks, which are free, but have a recharge time.

Although as a concept it is a bit weird seeing streams of harpies, trolls, kobolds and more just march happily along the same path, without a care for their own safety or any kind of tactical thinking, there’s a strange beauty to the game. Build up a comprehensive and cost effective killing field, set the game to double speed and watch the critters fall helplessly before you. It’s practically a Douglas Haig simulator. Especially when you get it wrong and too many waltz into your base.

Prime World Defenders screen cap 3
Fraggle Rock, the war years.

Progressing through the game of course opens up new types of towers and magic attacks, but there’s an interesting wrinkle to this, which gives Prime World Defenders a bigger hook. All the various types of tower and magic are stored as cards – they look very much like they’re straight out of Magic: The Gathering or another fantasy CCG. This brings deck building strategy to the game. Not only are you limited in how many tower and magic cards you can bring to a map, but there’s a limit to how many you can own in total. This requires a ruthless consideration of the effectiveness of your towers and magic.

Prime World Defenders inventory screen cap
A pleasing variety of death machines are on offer.

Further to this, there’s a variety of upgrading options open to you. Doubles of the same tower can be merged (or Evolved, as the game oddly calls it), opening up upgradeable options in-mission. You can also ‘forge’ cards to improve base stats of towers and magic, using artefact cards. The combination of these options provides a surprisingly complex system and adds depth to what could easily be a very shallow game.

There are times when Prime World Defenders gets a little too complex for its own good though. New cards are bought using silver, earned from missions (and selling unwanted cards). Except when they’re not. Rarer (and thus more powerful) cards are bought using a different currency: the star ratings given for story missions. It’s an interesting choice, making the stars actually worthwhile, rather than an arbitrary grade of how well you’re doing. Trouble is, silver and stars are also used to buy Talents – broad perks (such as increasing how many tower cards you can use in missions or raising the size limit on your library) that are unlocked as you level up. There are three strands of Talents and each unlockable is prohibitively expensive. You’re constantly having to weigh up whether you can afford to buy them versus using the money on buying new cards or for forging and evolving (which both cost a fair amount each), which doesn’t really seem right for what are essentially progress rewards. It would have made more sense for the shop and the upgrades to use the silver coins and for the stars to be used only for buying Talents, thereby creating a direct link between rewards and performance.

Prime World Defenders shop screen cap
I need to go call my CCG Anonymous sponsor.

The high prices of unlockables does present a replay factor, but it quickly threatens to turn into a grind. As you progress, each story mission generates smaller, optional skirmishes you can take part in to level up, try new towers or whatever. But these all reuse maps from previous story missions, creating a great sense of déjà vu.

This isn’t helped by some odd sound choices. During missions you’ll frequently hear odd sound bites from what I can only assume are meant to be the (unseen) people manning your towers. They’re frequently repetitive and inane. There’s a story to Prime World Defenders as well, told through comic strips screens between missions, but it’s not particularly electrifying and features some decidedly shaky voice acting. Although you may as well be a nameless omnipotent being in missions, you’re actually playing as the blandly named ‘Ranger’, a new member of a group of artefact hunting mercenaries made up of people from both sides of a civil war between technology and magic. It’s all pretty uninspired (Prime is not only the name of the ever-present mana it’s also the name of the world the game’s set on, which must have taken all of two minutes to come up with), but it means your mercenary buddies also pipe up through missions, to give you advice or goals. Or, in one case, just keep telling you that you should use more magic, seemingly regardless of how much you may or may not be using anyway.

Prime World Defenders map screen cap
We don’t talk about what happened on that one star rated mission.

Still, the annoying sound bites aside (which can be turned off in the sound options), the story is easy enough to ignore and doesn’t detract from what is otherwise a surprisingly deep and enjoyable little game.

Score 7

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