The tower defense genre is quickly running the risk of becoming stale, and developers are needing to find better ways to put a twist on things to keep things fresh. Back in June Nival’s effort Prime World: Defenders impressed quite a few people by combining card collecting with the long-standing defense style, but was also the target of ropey reviews thanks to some necessary grinding and unbalanced gameplay. But with the latest update the developers have listened to the community, and in the past week or two have tweaked some key elements accordingly. Has it worked? Well it’s definitely helped, that’s for sure.
Anyone who has played any tower defense games in the past will know the drill in terms of how the main game works. You get waves of enemies which enter the level and travel along a certain path heading towards a certain target area. By dropping various towers along the route it’s your job to stop the pesky bad guys from reaching the end of the road. Creating a tower usually costs some kind of in-game currency, but luckily you’ll get rewarded for killing the enemies so you can set up a series of death-traps more lethal than a dodgy burger van. Prime World Defenders works in exactly the same way, but the idea of card collecting manages to inject some vital life into the tiring formula.
The cards reflect the towers you have available for selection in each level. Starting with a pretty basic handful of cards, your first few levels (which serve as a tutorial) are designed to get you into the way things work, including the winning, purchasing and upgrading of cards. Being able to evolve and forge the cards by combining them together lets you upgrade them a fair amount and focus your tactics towards certain types of tower. With some of the enemies getting pretty tough early on, it certainly pays to listen carefully to get the most out of the crafting system. Before each level you need to select your tower selection for the cards in your pack – making the wrong choice at this point could be the difference between success and failure, especially with a decent range of enemies getting in the way.
Doing well in each mission gives you various rewards, with some of them awarding random cards and upgrades for a successful completion. The cash you earn can be spent in the in-game store (don’t worry, there’s absolutely no real money changing hands here) where you can buy rare cards, additional artifacts and other bits and bobs. Most of this is random, much like picking a card from a shuffled deck, and gives you that addictive feeling of never quite knowing if you’re about to get something brilliant and powerful, or just another feeble card that you already have 5 copies of. One complaint of earlier reviews was the need to repeatedly replay some levels to earn the better cards required to complete, and with only a handful of level environments this grinding wasn’t all that fun. Luckily the latest update has apparently rebalanced things a little to reduce the amount of the grinding required, and although I didn’t play this pre-update I didn’t find myself doing all that much replaying. Even when I did, the fact that the side-missions are randomly generated means you’re always looking at new combinations of cards and different ways to beat the level, so this grinding wasn’t actually all that dull.
There is, incidentally, a story to all this, but it’s revealed in an introduction cartoon strip thing that I got a little confused by and didn’t really listen to all that much. The general idea has something to do with two nations at war with each other over a shortage of vital Prime material, but once you’re into the game it loses its importance anyway and just resorts to you versus the baddies. It’s a slight shame there isn’t more to it, but I can’t imagine it’s the easiest genre to glue a story to so it’s no great loss. My other gripe here though was to do with the card system; while it’s the game’s saving grace in terms of originality, there could have been so much more done with it. You can combine two different towers together to improve one of them, but it won’t make a potentially awesome hybrid of the two. It took me a while to figure that out, meanwhile I was dreaming up amazing cross-breeds of the flame throwing and mortar type cards, or somehow merging the poison darts with the ghost-zapping laser tower. The potential for customisation would have been enormous here, and although there are loads of ways to upgrade them in terms of power or efficiency it’s a small disappointment.
While there are still ways this could improve (such as adding a few more environments and more tower customisation) the developers are doing a great job of improving this over time. They’ve added a couple more game modes for you to try out once you’ve finished the main game, more towers and extra magical options. They’ve tweaked the grinding requirements to get you where you need to be sooner and in doing so has reduced one of the biggest gripes people will have had with the game. And by using Steam’s cloud save option you can get this installed on whichever machines you’ve got to hand and play the same saved game across all devices. All this for a touch under 12 quid. It’s not too shabby at all.
I’d be interested in seeing what early reviewers would say about this now. It would have been a fun, but drawn out game before this latest update, but now it’s an enjoyable and quite different tower defense title. Prime World: Defenders still isn’t perfect, but it’s a really good game, especially for those who aren’t tower defense obsessives.
Reviewed on PC