Lately there has been no shortage of simplistic indie strategy games. Tower Wars is developer SuperVillain Studio’s entrant into the already flooded market that is indie strategy games. Tower Wars, as a strategy game, is a cross between traditional top-down tower defence and a MOBA-style game (multiplayer online battle arena, Defence of the Ancients-like) with a heavy focus on micro management and careful tech-tree advancement. The main game mode is competitive online multiplayer but also includes a co-operative wave mode and a single player classic tower defence mode. Tower Wars has a lot going for it with a low price tag and polished game play, but is it enough to stand out among the countless indie strategy games available?
Micro management is the main skill required in Tower Wars, as well as multitasking between offensive and defensive construction. The offensive aspect comes in the building and upgrading of creeps to send out in waves to attack your opponent’s castle and eventually deplete their hit points. The defensive side is all about maze building, upgrading your towers and keeping your opponents creeps from attacking your own castle. These need to be managed at the same time via two different currencies: gold and battle points. Gold is earned over time but battle points are a unique currency in Tower Wars that are cleverly used to both give the game forward progression and keep players constantly busy.
Gold is used to purchase units and towers to create mazes, but battle points are used to progress in the tech trees and unlock upgrades and new units. The only way to earn battle points is by sending out waves of units and more is earned the longer they survive. This means each player will have to consistently send out waves of enemies to keep up with their opponent’s technology. It’s an interesting new mechanic, and helps the game to always feel like it’s moving forward, but completely eliminates turtling–turtling, for the uninitiated, is maintaining a very strong defensive position with no attempt to move forward. It is disappointing, however, assembling an entire army to send out knowing that their only purpose is to be killed and likely not even get close to the opposition’s castle.
In what is a very clever move, defensive maze building is based on hex grids. In the current climate, eschewing hex grids for squares is a horrible, backwards move–as you geometrists will know, hexagons allow for the best strategies when it comes to unit placement. It’s positive to see SuperVillain embrace this step forward. However, there are only a handful of maps available in Tower Wars, leading to highly repetitive tactics and overall gameplay–after a few playthroughs you begin to design the same mazes repeatedly when you figure out the best path.
The inclusion of battle points to progress game play and hex grids are great features to an indie strategy game. Unfortunately, Tower Wars suffers from the “easy to learn, hard to master” curse that competitive online multiplayer games so often face. With so much micro management and different pathways in the technology tree, it’s easy to become overwhelmed quickly. Matches that usually last roughly 20 minutes can be over in fewer than 5, solely due to a combination of your own ineptitude and your foe’s battle-earned skill.
If you don’t have a friend to practice with first, odds are you will go into every game against someone who has already perfected their strategy and will more than likely wipe the floor with you over and over again. There is a (rather charming) in-game tutorial, but it only teaches you the barest essentials. Despite the possibility for confusion, however, Tower Wars is actually easy to learn, as it follows the archetypes of every other tower defence game. There are quite a number of units available but none of them are really anything original and seem to have very little difference apart from more hit points.
Deciding where to spend battle points in these tech trees is where the difficulty comes in and becomes hard to master when your opponents have already done so. If you do get a decent match where your opponent is on the same level as you, you already feel like you’re going through the motions at that point with simple and reused archetypes and strategies–after a couple of hours, there’s really no reason to continue playing Tower Wars.
The game has a very steampunk aesthetic to it–everybody loves steampunk, right? They also incorporate some of the humour and shenanigans inherently match with such a style. for example, the characters Stanley Clunkerbottom and Sir Robert von Pretzelhausen. Surprisingly for an indie game, SuperVillian have avoided a typical cartoon-y style and gone for more polished and highly defined graphics. In the highest graphical settings, the game looks very much like a current game, despite the top down view and small unit sizes.
Tower Wars does a lot right in attempting to create a unique strategy game and achieves a lot for such a small company. However, there are game mechanics that need to be sorted out, to really capitalise on the potential for long and rewarding strategy perfection. At the moment, I had a short fling with a game I feel I’ve played a thousand times before. The currency system with battle points, as well as the hexagonal grid, are great features which I would love to see expanded on in a sequel, but, as it stands, Tower Wars lacks the depth and originality of other indie strategy games such as Orcs Must Die or Atom Zombie Smasher. If you’ve never played a tower defence or MOBA then this might be a cheap option to learn the basics with a friend, but if you’re well versed in these strategy genres (or simply not interested) then I really don’t think there’ll be much on offer here.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Tower Wars by SuperVillain Studios.