Tower Wars is a bait and switch. That might seem like a cruel and unnecessary criticism, but it’s the truth. Graphics and concept both hook the player, line and sinker. Soon, though, you start to realize that the game isn’t an exemplar of its subgenre, but a typical, tiresome rehash.
Tower Wars, as its name implies, is a Tower Defense game. Like other Tower Defense games, the real challenge for it is to somehow differentiate itself from all the other ones out there. It’s not enough that it has towers and creeps; it needs something special to stand out and make it noticeable because, let’s face it, the base formula just isn’t that gripping. Games like those in the Anomaly franchise are exceptional examples. They turn the genre on its head while still offering the same feel the genre is known for. It means you have a reason to buy them.
Tower Wars tries to do this same thing, choosing to make a multiplayer element that they hope is distinctive. It’s not the first game that’s tried to add an offensive aspect for Tower Defense, but I’ll give it credit and say that it’s one of the few Tower Defense games that I’ve encountered that does it decently. You have towers that defend and you can spawn creeps to attack your enemy, but it’s not the style of game that impressed me. The towers, while rather typical, are just gorgeous, and the units are, too. Combine that with a really cool steampunk overlay, and I’ll admit that they’d gone from having my curiosity to having my attention.
Before I go any further, I should point one thing out: the game does have a traditional tower defense mode. I don’t plan on talking about that all that much, though, because if a traditional Tower Defense game is what you’re looking for, you don’t need Tower Wars. It’s not distinctive aside from the extra mode, and in a genre that I see as overly saturated with games, I think it’s more worthy of your time to talk about what Tower Wars offers as a unique experience.
That being noted, you can construct your towers in completely customizable formations, directing the enemy units’ pathing as you like. That’s not exceptional, though, as many other games like Tower Wars do the same thing. And while the towers aren’t that exceptional either, they do look stunning, so much so that I completely forgive the game for not doing anything novel with them. The units are equally as cool, starting with the innocuous Mr. Moopsy and evolving into the fearsome, ogre-like Mortimer the Malevolent. And the units not only look cool, but they make sense.
I didn’t realize, though, just how annoying the game is until I started trying to beat the the computer. I didn’t mind having to manage a bunch of different elements, like three separate upgrade trees for units, individual upgrades for towers, and managing your gold and battle points to keep your economy afloat. What bothered me is the fact that the more I played the game, the more I felt like the game isn’t rewarding you for the amount of work you’re putting into the effort. I found myself watching my units die in droves, only to have to rebuild the waves and keep trying. And while there might be an element of strategy nestled in there, it ends up feeling more like a massive tug-of-war. After all, there’s very little room to experiment. Sure, you can change the order in which you buy the units, but largely the most successful offensive strategies are going to look similar, have similar units, and follow the same patters. That, unfortunately, ends up being a bit boring. Throw in a bit of challenge, and you get tedious.[pullquote align=”left”]So while Tower Wars looks great, it’s a gilded experience.[/pullquote]
The problem, though, is that the game is too good for it’s own good. I exerted myself to the point of exhaustion in order to manage everything and somehow break what seemed like a nigh impenetrable enemy line. And while you might reasonably chalk that up to the game being challenging, the word challenging implies that there was something overcome and learned from the experience. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Tower Wars. I found I started winning more when I began to mimic the computer’s opening moves, which is a bad thing in my mind. It means that there really isn’t much variety in the strategy the game offers, and while that’s ok at high end play, like in the way master chess players have “openings,” it’s not ok in some cute Tower Defense game. If the genre is composed of such a simple formula, then the game should never exhaust a person and matches should be quick and fluid, not ponderous and frustrating.
So while Tower Wars looks great, it’s a gilded experience. The one thing that it has going for it that so remarkably distinguishes it, a versus mode, is the one thing that ends up undermining the experience overall. It’s not a terrible game, but it is when you take into consideration that fun games that don’t take simplistic design and turn it into something terrifying complex.