The rook is perhaps one of the most valuable chess pieces outside of the royal family, so you can understand why its protection might be of importance. Despite the use of a rook and a game board though, Defend the Rook actually has very little to do with chess. It’s strategic, sure, but the focus is on turn-based combat featuring a group of heroes which is infused with tower defense and roguelike elements.
Should you put all your efforts in to Defend the Rook, or is it about as appealing as a stalemate?
The Queen senses an invasion of her land is on the horizon and hires the powerful Magister to aid in protecting it. This Magister character can manipulate the battlefield by organising troops and placing contraptions upon it, with the sole purpose of defeating anyone who dares to lay siege to the Queen’s domain. You’re going to become that Magister in a bid to survive long enough to save the day and Defend the Rook.
The story itself teeters on the edge of being unnecessary, for there isn’t an awful lot to it aside from the opening gambit. There are some pre-battle conflabs and a twist of sorts, but nothing too gripping to be honest. The voice acting doesn’t do the narrative any favours either, with a very dreary performance for the Queen that would bore you to tears. Nevertheless, it’s a precursor for the action ahead and gives the upcoming proceedings a purpose.
Every campaign run through lays down a gauntlet of five areas to survive against the hordes within. Every area consists of withstanding five waves of enemies, including a boss encounter in the final wave. Conflict is resolved on a 9×9 tiled game board, where turns alternate between your troops and the enemy horde. At your disposal are battle pieces representing the mighty Rook, a Rogue, a Sorceress, and a Warrior. It also provides a small collection of spells, contraptions and towers, with the latter fulfilling most of the criteria needed for the presence of tower defense.
During your turn it’s easy to navigate through the units using the bumpers and access the additional equipment or spells at the press of a single button. The only downside is that selecting the tiles you wish to move to or place things on is a bit finicky, mostly as the board is set at an angle. Everything else is spot on in the controls department though.
Once the conflict gets underway, you realise strategy is a key aspect as you meticulously manoeuvre the units into advantageous positions and launch attacks to thin the horde ahead of the enemy’s turn. Being able to erect a few towers allows extra firepower to help out the heroes, while traps, decoys and such can buy a bit of time when outnumbered. Despite only having the three heroes on hand, it maintains a competitive balance that’s never overly difficult yet tough enough to make you think.
The variety of enemies within each area is great as they’re all relevant to the theme of the land. In the mountains there are orcs and goblins, but fungi creatures are found in the mushroom glade and there are vampires in the graveyard. Better yet though, the bosses all bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table. A particular favourite is Rathur who’s quite elusive and whips out heavy artillery to keep your team on their toes.
As for the character pieces on your side, they each have different stats in regards to health, armor, power, range, and movement. Fortunately, the Rook is a real damage sponge and possesses plenty of health; after all, should the Rook meet its demise, it’s game over – the rest are indispensable. Through conquering a wave, a choice of three loot upgrades are offered to enhance the hero units.
That’s how the troops get stronger, but I must say it feels like pot luck as to whether the loot upgrades are going to be of any help. These kinds of upgrades come in common, rare, and epic forms, providing the likes of permanent stat increases, cool effects that trigger after doing a specific action, and temporary boosts. They only last for that particular run, which makes sense, but the randomness of upgrades offered can really hinder or aid your chances of succeeding.
Some of the possible combinations are lethal, with the Rogue attacking twice, the Warrior retaliating to hits, and the Sorceress damaging everyone on the battlefield. On the other hand, you may get boosts for not attacking, reduced movement in exchange for power, and additional movements at the cost of power. The latter concoction sucks, but hey, you just have to deal with whatever you’re given.
Other enhancements can be purchased with gold and XP earned from claiming victory in an area. However, until you reach the last upgrades for your party members, towers or contraptions, there are very few difference makers. None of it carries over, sadly, but there are gems awarded after your attempted runs. These permanently unlock new alternate heroes and contraptions as well as introducing a better range of loot options and improved spells. Spend them wisely and you’ll get closer to reaching the final area of the campaign.
Finishing a full run is immensely satisfying, however the aftermath is bound to be underwhelming for some. You see, the longevity comes from doing it all over again with modifiers in place for each ascension level attempted. For example, the first ascension reduces healing, while the second makes waves appear sooner, and the third causes enemy augmentation. Having ten ascensions is great, but not the most creative way to avoid the gameplay getting stale.
Ultimately, Defend the Rook manages to create a pretty good tactical affair that’s got neat loot, an easy-to-grasp setup and a shed load of cool enemies to defeat. Even though it’s enjoyable for a few playthroughs until success is achieved, the opportunity to try out unlocked heroes and contraptions doesn’t add enough variety in the general gameplay to hook you in for the long haul.
Come, have some fun and Defend the Rook for a while, but don’t expect it to provide tons of longevity.
Defend the Rook is available to purchase on the Xbox Store