Expectations are often the worst for a game sequel. When players put a lot of time into something, they tend to develop opinions on what would make things better for the sequel. Defense Grid 2 is in that unenviable situation, where it can’t possibly live up to everyone’s expectations, because everyone’s expectations vary wildly. Still, what Defense Grid 2 does deliver shouldn’t be overlooked.
What Is It?
You are a Commander aboard the Colony Ship Endurance. You’re on your way to settle your colonists, but it seems like aliens have picked this time to start invading planets. You’ll have to take control of the planets defense systems and rebel the aliens before you’re able to finally settle the colonists in their new home. The story itself is interesting enough to keep you entertained throughout the game. It’s presented through a combination of text snippets during the loading screens, and voiced dialog during and after each mission. This presentation falls a little flat at times and overdone other times. Part of the problem is the voice cast were not present at the same time during recordings, so you don’t get that sense of dynamism that could have been achieved had they all been there to play off of each other. Another problem is the pauses between lines of dialog. It’s a minor detail, but it makes what could have been a natural sounding conversation seem stilted. Tightening the timing of the dialog could have helped the story flow better.
Your goal is to protect your base’s power cores from the invading horde of aliens that want nothing more than to snatch them away for themselves. To do this, you’ll build up a defense grid of towers. There are several types of aliens, and ten tower types to deal with them. Certain towers are more effective against a particular type of alien, so having a good mix of towers is important. If you’re a fan of the original Defense Grid, you know all this already. Defense Grid 2 does attempt to mix things up in a few different ways.
First, there are new types of aliens with new abilities that will require specific towers to really be effective against. You will also need to consider the path the aliens are taking to your cores. The Rhino type alien is exceptionally fast in a straight line, but slows down tremendously in the corners. It’s basically the alien equivelant of a muscle car. To deal with them, you’ll have to give them a lot of corners to navigate. Other aliens will need similar consideration.
Why Should I Care?
Many new modes and mechanics have been added to Defense Grid 2. You can play the game in three distinct ways. Open type allows you to play the game with a special orbital ability, as well as being allowed to equip any tower upgrade items you have collected. You are also able to sell towers at any time. Competitive type disables your special weapon and tower items, and Competitive No Sell type goes even further by not allowing any towers to be sold. No matter what type you choose to play though, you will still be awarded tower items. So if you’ve spent your time playing competitive but would like to experiment in Open mode, you won’t have to start from scratch.
The Command Team, or orbital special weapon takes different forms this time around. The traditional “Death From Above” attack is still present, but it’s joined by a handful of other abilities. One will temporarily increase the damage of your towers. Another will slow aliens down greatly, and another will teleport loose cores back to the housing. You can only have one of these active per level, so you’ll have to pick the one that suits your play style.
Another new layer to Defense Grid 2 is the tower upgrade item system. Each tower can be equipped with one item per round. Items can grant towers additional damage, slowdown, or area of effect attributes. As you play the game, you’ll randomly be given these items. It’s a little like loot in an RPG. This is easily my favorite addition to Defense Grid 2, as I am the sort that really enjoys the loot hunt.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
There are three new multiplayer modes in Defense Grid 2. DG Fighter is a one on one competitive mode where each player plots out their defenses. When a player kills an alien on their map, it spawns in the same location on their opponent’s. It sounds simple, but it’s deceptively fun. Matches tend to get frantic pretty quickly. DG Coordinated Assault is a hybrid cooperative and competitive mode. Each player has control over certain parts of the map that correspond to their color. Both players work together to stop the waves of incoming aliens, but score and resources are separate. Finally, there is Doubles mode. This is the most straightforward mode there is. Players share a resource pool and they can build wherever they like. It’s a strictly cooperative mode that works best when playing with friends. Of the three, I’ve found DG Fighter to be the most enjoyable. For those that prefer multiplayer, there is some fun to be had here, but the meat of the game is still contained within the single player modes.
While the gameplay in Defense Grid 2 is solid and thoroughly enjoyable, the game is not without its rough edges. Most of these are technical things that could be fixed in updates. For instance, the game’s menus have an ugly transition artifact where the you can see the menu get momentarily stuck as the next menu is loading. There are also a few instances where the audio will stutter or outright disappear momentarily. They’re not anything that will break the game, but it’s those little details that makes the game feel a little unpolished. One thing that can get very annoying is the game’s spikes in difficulty. There are two maps in particular that are incongruously more difficult than the map that preceded them. It throws the difficulty curve out the window and can be frustrating when you need to replay a map over and over while none of your strategies seem to help. As of the October 7th patch for the PC, some of these issues have been smoothed out, but they remain on the consoles, where the game has yet to be updated.
Expectations can be the undoing of a game. I can’t speak for others, but I can say that my expectations for Defense Grid 2 were more than met. While it may be a little rough around the edges at the moment, the important bits are taken care of. It plays great, it offers a lot of variety, and thanks to the inclusion of a map editor, is sure to have legs for years to come.