I may as well call this “Tower Defense Monday”, considering the topics at hand.
Orcs Must Die! - First, the single-player variant. For those who have no idea what “tower defense” is, allow me to enlighten you. Basically, tower defense is a game concept born out of a WarCraft III modification called “Defense of the Agents”. You, as the hero, must defend some central location on the map, which hosts of enemies want to destroy, blow up, or wreck all kinds of havoc. To do this, you build “towers”, usually defensive turrets, fortifications, and other devices which prevent the enemy from assaulting that location. When you and your defenses have killed every enemy, you win the round. Some maps have multiple waves, others have several enemy types (some of which are specialized to destroy turrets, or fly above your defenses to destroy MacGuffin object, etc), but all of these variations keep the game interesting. The aesthetic veneer upon the game itself helps somewhat, but it’s really a game that exists solely for its mechanics and no greater purpose – hence, the existence of high score charts and the like.
Orcs Must Die!, then, is an excellent representation of the genre which combines the tower defense idea with a World of WarCraft cartoonish visual style with an active and visceral 3rd person combat engine. The fun in these games, for myself, finds its expression in the various weapons and implements of death you use to prevent the Orcs from getting to the portal; OMD provides you with spike traps, wind traps, boiling oil, minions, a magical rapid fire crossbow, the alchemical equivalent of grenades, and many, many more weapons. Each has a specific use, but a good tower defense game doesn’t have an “optimal” strategy so much as it provides the player with a host of problems designed for creative situations. Even as your plans go to naught in some instances, you can salvage the situation if you’re quick and saavy enough – as the game doesn’t provide long breaks between waves in most cases, it keeps the action moving at a steady clip and forces you to think on your feet. All in all, I like it; it’s got a lot of great ideas and elements. Still, for my money, it’s missing one essential component…
Dungeon Defenders - …multiplayer. I know Orcs Must Die! 2 comes out in a few days, but it isn’t out and it’s still only a game for two players total. Dungeons Defenders, on the other hand, boasts four player co-op that works surprisingly well. It’s the same tower defense style, but it reminds me of WoW more than it does a traditional action game; a cutesy art-style adds to this feeling, but the resemblance remains more than skin deep. You’ve got characters that level up; you’ve got a bounty of loot drops, which do NOT bind on a character when they are picked up (THANK YOU TRENDY ENTERTAINMENT), you’ve got an auction house (that you set up for other players to browse), currency, etc. It’s all very MMORPG-esque, except without the monthly fees; the developer prefers meting out content in the form of DLC in piecemeal form, but that’s fine; they got to make money somehow, right?
Not that the price isn’t warranted; I’ve played a total of fifteen hours this weekend, and I enjoyed every minute of it way too much for my own comfort. There’s something about discovering the optimal strategies for setting turrets, auras, traps, and player abilities, a real cooperative effort, that makes the experience so awesomely entertaining. Sometimes the game will absolutely destroy you at the last moment, but that’s OK! You just pick yourself up, dust off, and think of a new strategy that optimizes your ability to bottleneck enemies AND deal with the giant ogre who always smashes your barricades to bits, and your face.
Furthermore, the four default classes all have something interesting to offer. I personally like the Squire, the equivalent of a tank; he has massive melee damage and a giant health pool, so he wades through the enemy lines hacking everything to death. His fortifications also have a huge health pool to go along with it, thus making him the de facto choice for barricade placement. The Apprentice, on the other hand, is pretty weak on his own; however, his turrets probably deal the most damage in the game, so his strength lies in placing turrets in crossfire to optimize turret damage. The Huntress is a support class; she combines the abilities of a long-range melee class with a rogue, able to stealth and lay traps around the battlefield without being seen – these can turn the tide.
Lastly, the Monk has the highest physical attack and can place down auras, that damage, heal, and snare accordingly – these are more useful than I first though. Having player through many of the maps with only three people (no Monk), we had a tough time of getting through certain waves because we lacked any means to slow down enemies or heal ourselves without using the self-heal (only the Squire gets this early; other classes have to wait). We definitely died without these abilities just because of this; excessive upgrades on barricades, or lots of turrets on one bottleneck, usually solved the problem.
It seems obvious that most maps are designed with four players in mind, so that’s what I would recommend. Even if you complete everything in the game on Normal, there’s still two or three more difficulty levels to consider, and hosts of DLC that add new classes, new maps, and new items to the game in rapid numbers. Seriously, I’ve had so much fun with this game I couldn’t help but recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in this kind of coop game. Bring three friends and get down to it – you’ll be hooked for the long haul.
L.A. Noire - You know what? I’ve been pretty mean to David Cage and his abortion of a video game, Heavy Rain. Does anybody but me remember all those people who said it would “change gaming forever”, make it into a new art form, and make me a better person forever just by virtue of a convoluted, nonsensical story riddled with plotholes and quick time events? I thought so. Now, for some God forsaken reason, everyone waiting for his new game because he somehow landed Ellen Page (of Juno fame, and Inception, I guess) as his leading lady. Will we ever learn?
Lo and behold, the Steam sale reveal, for 7.49, how someone actually makes it work without the pretentiousness of announcing impossible expectations. I first heard about the game as a one-off in Game Informer. Having been burnt by GTAIV a few years prior, I had written off Rockstar’s second decade of the millenia output for the while solely from the bad flavor of all those forced bromances that, in a game, made you do hilariously un-fun minigames. It was like the developer wasn’t sure what they were doing. I spoke too soon, of course. If you were ever wondering how an interactive movie would work, this is it. It’s got realistic facial animation that actually add and determine interrogations, adventure game segments reminscent of Monkey Island (if you’re brave enough to turn off clues), car chases, shooting segments, and a pretty engaging plot all wrapped together within the Rockstar (Team Bondi, specifically) sheen.
Since I’ve got more to say about this tomorrow, I’ll leave it at that.