Coming from Level Up Labs LLC, Defender’s Quest was first released on the PC way back in the mists of time – February 2012 to be exact. Amazingly, it is sitting with a perfect 10/10 rating on Steam, so now that the game is coming to Xbox, I was pretty excited to be playing it. So come with me and let’s see what all the fuss is about, shall we?
The Hero of the game is a lady called Azra, who is a librarian. Yes, you read that right, a librarian. She’s not just any old librarian though, Azra was the Royal Librarian, and I imagine she spent her days putting books away, and maybe dusting them a little?
Sadly for Azra, she contracted the plague that had been ravaging the entire Kingdom of Ash, and as is normal procedure in cases of the plague, she was deposited into The Pit, a large semi-prison facility where victims are sent to die. It appears as though this is no ordinary plague however, as upon death, victims are resurrected as Revenants and then go on to prey on the living. As Azra is about to pop her clogs, she finds herself in “The Half-Way World”, and discovers that she can also bring others into the world with her, to act as protectors and defend her from the dead. Azra’s first friend is a berserker called Slak, who joins her as he sees it as a chance to get his revenge on the Revenants. Together, Azra and her friends have to traverse The Pit, and uncover the story behind the plague, ultimately bringing it to a end.
But it’s not all about Azra, and various other characters can be found from different classes, including Rangers, who use bows to bring the pain from a distance, Knights for when you are up against armoured enemies, Ice Mages who can use magic to chill and slow enemies, Healers who can keep the rest of the party healthy, and even Dragons who can be persuaded to fight by your side if you help them out! Each class has one named character that is part of the story, and then additional ones can be recruited at the various towns that are dotted around the map of The Pit.
It is in these towns where you can buy your heroes new gear, like weapons or armour, or even hire extra people to join your team and help out. These guys are randomly generated and don’t speak, but can be upgraded like the named heroes which is a real bonus in later levels.
The long and short of the gameplay for Defender’s Quest is basically tower defence, with an RPG twist. Before the waves of enemies come and attempt to kill Azra, you can place the defenders she has recruited along the path the monsters will come down. It is possible to pause the action in order to give yourself more time to get the gauntlet set up just right, and I would advise making use of this as when they start coming, they can be pretty relentless.
Melee characters like Knights and Berserkers can obviously only attack when the enemy is within reach of their swords, while Rangers and Ice Mages can attack from a distance. The Rangers are interesting as their effective range is shaped like a donut, with a safe zone for the monsters when they get too close. Positioning of the Rangers so they can attack for most of the level, and especially with overlapping fields of fire, can often be the difference between brilliant success and utter failure. The Healers also have an effective range, inside of which they will heal heroes who get hurt, and Dragons are a cross between the two classes, having a melee attack when the enemies are close, but are also able to learn ranged fireball attacks that can be used when the baddies are further away.
Once your team is in place, you’ll be set to unleash the waves and see if your planning is good. You can also speed up or slow down things as you require, so if your guys are slaughtering all you can just make the game run at four times the normal speed and the level will be over in minutes… or if you need time to reposition a vital member of the crew, you can slow it down or even pause the action again to let you get everything ship-shape.
Each character in your team, including Azra, has an RPG style skill tree to utilise to make your team stronger – something you’ll want to do when you begin to face the later levels. As the team defeat enemies, they gain skill points that can be spent, in the usual RPG style, to unlock new abilities and debuffs, such as bleed and chill, even poison attacks. Azra is slightly different though as her abilities are magic based and are unlocked by story progression. Any skill points she earns can be used to make her spells stronger, such as making her frenzy spell, that makes the team attack faster, last longer and her lightning attack hit harder. In addition to levelling up existing skills, the members of the team can unlock new levels of attacks that can be utilised in battle by boosting the characters.
Boosting is controlled by Psi, which is the sort of currency of the battle levels. When you begin a level, there is a certain level of Psi that is given to you, and each hero that you place requires this to be summoned. Once they are placed, you can select the heroes and choose to Boost them, with each level giving access to that tier’s attacks, with level 5 boost being the highest. Every time a Revenant is killed, you are awarded with some Psi, which can then be recycled and used to Boost the heroes, which lets them kill faster, giving more Psi in the process. Managing this Psi is crucial for later levels, especially when you need to recall and redeploy heroes.
Each level can be attempted across four different difficulty levels, ranging from Easy to Extreme, with the difficulty in the latter example being very challenging indeed. Luckily, Defender’s Quest is a game that rewards backtracking, so progressing through the story, getting more heroes on your side and levelling up, then returning to the earlier levels to beat them is a valid tactic. Each time a level is beaten on Extreme, as long as Azra survives unscathed, then you will be rewarded with a unique piece of armour or a unique weapon. These can be equipped on the heroes to help them do more damage or survive more hits, again adding to the RPG credentials of the game.
The writing, characterisation and general story telling of the Valley of the Forgotten DX are all worthy of special praise. The story is presented in still scenes via speech bubbles, but the amount of care that has been taken with each character’s personality shines through and really makes you care about what happens to them. This also carries across into the in-game journal, written from the point of view of Azra, except for when Slak steals it. Even the way the writing is presented changes depending on who is speaking, and in short is full of humour, really turning the characters into living, breathing beings.
The story is an epic one, and also features branching paths, but better still is the fact that when you have finished the story and unlocked New Game +, there are extra missions and journal entries that are available to you. I am really impressed by the way the story changes in NG+, as normally it’s the same old same old, just a bit harder. In this case there are extra dialogues, merchants, missions and weapons/armour to be discovered.
In conclusion then, it’s easy to see why Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten DX has such a positive rating on Steam. It’s funny, sad, compelling and in places murderously hard, but rewards extended play and is without doubt the most fun I’ve ever had with a tower defence game.
I can heartily recommend you give this game a try.