STAFF REVIEW of Hero Defense (Xbox One)

Thursday, September 6, 2018.
by Brent Roberts

Hero Defense Box art I love tower defense games. I love the strategy that they bring to the gameplay that involves you having to manage your resources while trying to figure out, usually on the fly, the best methods to surviving the round and making it to the next. I like to think of tower defense games as those that constantly challenge the player through an ever-evolving adaptive combination of enemies and difficulty. Recently Headup Games has released a tower defense game called Hero Defense for the price of $29.99 ($23.99 on sale now) which offers a new twist that we never really have seen before; demon hunting. So, let's see if this game can survive to the end or if it gets overwhelmed and consumed by darkness, shall we?

The premise behind Hero Defense is quite simple. There is a main character whose father just happens to be the world's most powerful vampire, and it's up to him and a bunch of other people you'll be introduced to along the way, to eliminate the vampire and save humanity; hooray! When you begin the game will take you through a very, and I mean VERY, diluted walkthrough to get you acclimated to the game and how it handles, and right off the bat there's going to be a problem. The camera.

It's not abnormal for players of RTS, Tower Defense, RPG's or any game for that matter, to want to control the camera. In Hero Defense that's not entirely possible. You're allowed to pan the camera around on a flat 2D plane, but there are no controls for rotate or zoom (if there are, the game has them so hidden they are almost a figment of the imagination). This can be a tremendous annoyance when you gather that each level has its own unique feel to it, and the rotation that automatically kicks in (sorry, but you can't stop it from happening) when you drag your cursor to the side of the screen with your Right Stick, becomes so twisted that you have no other option but to be contempt with a frozen angle. Given that the game is focused almost entirely around the camera system, this is a massive hit right from the beginning.

As you start off you'll acquire new heroes to join your quest, each of which have their own independent, but useless story, of which there is literally no importance. Almost every level has a shack or two that carries with them some survivors that apparently think riding out the storm of the world's most dangerous vampire is a cool thing to do, and one of the sub-goals is to keep these people safe as enemies wander down their path. If you keep them safe they will be added to your "angry mob" which, when activated using the 'X' button, will send a horde of citizens with pitchforks and torches to travel down the path and attack any enemies they find in their wake. Should you use them to confront a boss character, there's a good chance a lot, if not all of them, will perish, but they will do their duty to help your cause. These angry mobs are limited in use, as you can only get them by saving civilians in the levels.

While this concept adds a level of humor and safety, this doesn't do anything to help drive the narrative, and in fact, does quite the opposite by literally taking the game and breaking it down into color matching. Let me explain. When you gain new characters to your party you'll see that each of them carries with them their own color (Red, Blue, Orange, Pink, Purple). Each one of these heroes has their own weapon style as well.

Red is best suited for heavy damage to an individual target, but through proper character development (which I'll talk about later) you can get him to be a mob killing machine. Blue offers you the ability to slow down enemies and support other players nearby with buffs that increase attack range and power. Orange fires pumpkin bombs (think Green Goblin) that are designed to do significant area of effect attacks. Next up, Pink wields a baseball bat and jumps down into the line of enemies and literally goes berserk, able to (once fully upgraded) go down a line of opponents and decimate them all. Finally, Purple has these boomerang type bladed weapons that can hit from very long range and is setup to wipe out entire mobs over time. These colors though, are important for one specific reason.

Each one of these colors corresponds to a weakness for the varying enemies, which you can tell by their square in the lineup at the top of the screen. You simply have to start matching whatever color is going to benefit you most and placing it in a position to provide your squad the best effect possible while being supported by the other characters. This philosophy plays in tandem with the levels themselves, as they contain certain regions that allow you to install power-up shrines that can either be generic in their bonuses (anyone standing on the power-up gets double damage, double range, double attack speed, etc.) or they can be character specific where ONLY that one character can receive the bonus while the others cannot. You will have to decide carefully because each one of these upgrades costs you gems which involves another part of the game; the currency.

Hero Defense is setup to where you earn gold throughout each level for the enemies you defeat, and when you acquire enough gold you can take that to your town's bank and exchange it for gems. Gems will allow you to buy things such as upgrade your character's weapons, runes (I'll talk about shortly) and upgrading the forge. Gems also act as a currency for purchasing power-up shrines throughout the levels, but like I said, you must plan wisely. Let's say you wish to make one shrine on a level a double damage spot. So, you hit the Left Trigger to pause the game and press X to bring up your builder wheel. You can cycle through the different shrine locations with the Right and Left Bumpers, but let's say you want to put a double damage shrine on one area and it costs 5 gems. When you do it again, it'll be 10, next will be 20 and then 40, so BE CAREFUL because if you do that and let's say you want to switch it out for double range, well you'll have to spend more gems again if you wish to put the double damage back. Oh, and there's no way to reset the count unless you start a brand-new game (something I learned about a bit late the hard way).

Earlier I mentioned that you have a bank where you can go and exchange gold for gems. You also can spend gold to upgrade your bank where you can spend less gold on the gem packs you buy. Each building in your town can be upgraded just like the bank, however, the forge (where you do your weapon upgrades) is only upgradable via gems. Each building can reach level 15 which is it's max, however, your town hall is currently glitched and is actually broken to the point where you won't even unlock the achievement for upgrading your entire town. This is also disappointing given that upgrading your town hall also upgrades your angry mob and their strength as well. Honestly though, it didn't matter since I never went to it anyways. You'll find that your time will be spent between the Academy (where you go to upgrade your characters), Forge (where you go to upgrade your weapons), and the Bank (where you go to get gems) while the rest of the time you will be grinding and farming away.

You've read about my mentioning of the weapon upgrades at the forge, and there's a bit more to it than that. In the forge you will house different tiers of runes. They start off in the generic grey category and move onto green, blue, purple and finally orange. These runes offer your character various traits to their weapons such as increased range, speed, extra projectiles, etc. Your character weapons start off with 1 row on top, which you can fill in with runes, and you'll notice that each one of these runes can be inserted into a numbered slot, with the final slot holding an infinity symbol. This means that as your character levels up throughout the gameplay via the 'Y' button, they will unlock these new rune traits on their weapons, and once you reach level 5 the remaining character upgrades will keep the rune traits in the infinity slot.

While the other colored runes offer all these bonuses, the real treat is when you get the orange runes banging away because they deal tremendous bonuses. Recently I touched on the whole angry mob situation with the game, well, there's an orange rune that allows you to summon a free angry mob, and if you put that rune into the infinity slot, every time you level up your character past level 5, you'll summon a free angry mob without it costing you anything! Other orange runes offer you chances to poison your enemies with your attacks or even launch specific hero abilities that send out attacks all over the screen. For example, your character's crossbow will fire at a rapid, machine gun rate and start sending arrows all over the screen dealing massive damage to any and all enemies! These orange runes are scarce (unless you buy them in the Forge's 150 gem rune packs), so make sure you figure out what works best and how best to apply them.

Hero Defense also offers a wealth of in depth character customization. Just above I mentioned the Academy, where you can take your individual characters and have them apply the skill points that are earned after the end of every completed level. Each level nets you 2 points and each skill are divided up into 5 tiers which cost between 1 and 5 points to activate. Other skills down the tree will ONLY be active when you fill the meter with the corresponding skill before it. So for example, you may not be able to throw double projectiles until you spend enough skill points to activate the first 3 spots in your previous skill. Not to worry though if you over spend in areas that you don't want to because you can always reset your points without any penalty to you in any form. I personally really enjoyed that, as it allowed me to play with the character development without fear of being punished.

Hero Defense is presented in a lighthearted, almost comical way, but the graphics and sound really become lost in the action of the oncoming waves of enemies, and you get the feeling that more attention could be given to those areas. At least each character sounds unique, but when you have no reason to care about them, then there really isn't any point to it. There is now a graphical glitch that can be EXTREMELY annoying which involves the enemies and their health. The graphical glitch happens when your enemies spawn, let's say in the top right corner. You'll see a bunch of health meters appear in the lower left-hand corner that appear to be floating around and drawing closer to the enemies as they proceed down their path. Once the enemies pass a certain point on the screen the health meters seem to gravitate now towards the top of the screen, essentially maintaining a set distance that varies between level, but is never on top of any enemy.

Being such a huge fan of tower defense games, I was giddy like a teenage girl at a Michael Jackson concert at the chance to play Hero Defense, but after running into all these glitches and problems without anything adding to the merit or value of why I should care about the story of the game itself, it literally left me deflated. I love this game, I really do, and I feel now empty inside that such a game has so many issues (the camera system being the worst hands down) that prohibit that enjoyment. Starting out I was set to give this game an easy 90 to 95 score, but as I kept playing the score kept going down and down to the point where I should start looking for other games to play. All of this remind you, is priced at $29.99 regularly, but even now while it's on sale there's no way I can justify purchasing this game even if you're a fan of tower defense games like myself. That is the biggest heartbreak since Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt split up.

Allow for user controlled camera system. Fix important sections of the game (Town Hall). Improve graphical glitches. Allow for cost of shrines to be by level not overall. Make a story worth engaging in.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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