Being touted as an “Action Hero Defence” game, Hell Warders joins the likes of the Dungeon Defenders series, Sanctum, Iron Brigade and more, in the modern evolution of the tower defence genre. However, your experience will feel anything but modern. See, between performance to artistic execution, your time spent in the world of Eumios will feel dated.
Starting off with a cutscene introducing you to the world, you will find one of the best aspects of Hell Warders, however likely not for the reasons that the developers intended. Reminiscent of the early PS1 days of voice acting in games like Resident Evil, there is a cheesy vibe to the whole ordeal. It sounds like the cast is trying their best, but even when delivering serious lines, I couldn’t help but chuckle. A lot of this can possibly be chocked up to a bad translation job as the developers are from Hong Kong, but the story’s dialogue is incredibly stiff and awkwardly delivered, even for the gothic world it takes place in. But despite all of this, I looked forward to playing the different levels just to experience the cheesy expository dialogue.
The premise is almost as basic as it comes. Demons have returned from hell and taken over the castle, and it is up to you, the Celestial’s chosen, to push them back. There is little in the way of world building or character development, but that’s expected due to the genre of the game. The world is pretty tame as well, and even though the developers Anti Gravity Games Studios have gone for the gothic style made popular by the Souls games, the actual detail in the environments leave a lot to be desired, seeing it come across more like a mid 7th-Gen console game.
On each level, after a short introduction from the main characters, you’re left to build up your defences. If you’ve ever played a tower defence game before then you will be able to jump right into this one. Starting off with a set amount of resources, it’s up to you to decide what units to place and where, and while you don’t have the opportunity to create your own paths by building a maze of towers, there are more than enough options for you to play around with. You’re able to take up to six units into each map, and your hero can also join the fray using various abilities to stun or blow up the demons. Once you complete each level, you get rewarded for how well you have done, earning up to five lanterns for each level which can be used to increase the percentage stats of your heroes or towers, allowing you to decide if you want to buff attack speed, health, cool-down times and more. On top of this, if you can manage to perfect a level, you are granted an artifact – of which you can equip up to three at a time – giving significant bonuses to specific units. Between all of this, there is seemingly a lot of flexibility in how you would like to play.
But for all that is enjoyable in Hell Warders, there are some glaring issues that the game has; one that you will notice off the bat being that of the poor performance. In fact, the game seems to struggle maintaining any sort of consistent framerate, even on the Xbox One X. The problem is only worsened in the later levels as enemies become more plentiful and often unleash attacks with fire effects. Further to this there is also an odd latency that can severely impact your experience. Even when playing alone, taking out the possibility for network issues, there is occasionally more than a second long delay when trying to perform an action; sometimes my own attacks did not connect.
Hell Warders also suffers from tons of difficulty spikes, almost at random. On one level you may be able to get the 5 star rating on your own, while the next requires far too many attempts and help from other allies. And it’s hard to feel like this difficulty is earned. In later levels, the game throws an unfair amount of enemies at you while restricting you to so few units, with boss levels suffering the most from this because once the boss is on the field, there is no limit to the amount of enemies. Juggling doing damage to the boss while trying to protect your crystal from an unending horde at the same time often leaves you feeling more frustrated than satisfied, even if you win. This problem only gets amplified with enemies that come with high resistances and large health pools, usually accompanied by healers. As the game progresses, especially in the later levels, it truly feels like it is impossible to survive without the help of others. This is both because when playing with up to four other allies you have another person dealing significant damage with their hero, but also because you have such a head start at the beginning of the level since everyone starts off with a healthy amount of currency, allowing you to more frequently upgrade towers that you wouldn’t be able to do alone.
These frustrations are made worse with wild inconsistencies in the level design. The early levels are simple enough, giving you a basic understanding of enemy pathing and wave progression, but from zone two onwards, things start getting more complex. The castle’s dungeons introduce the first of the environmental hazards, like fire jets or endless pits that you can fall into, with the fire levels almost always ending up being the more enjoyable of the lot, as they allow for more freedom and creativity in what units you are able to use. This gives some units, like the conjurer that has the ability to slow down enemies, room to shine. However something that seems to become a common aspect are the death pits. In most games they do nothing but add a little risk when things get hectic, however in Hell Warders they become a frequent source of frustration, especially when paired with the game’s physics.
Without going overboard, this game has quite possibly the wonkiest physics system that I have experienced. The inconsistencies make it nearly impossible to accurately know which enemies will throw you across the map, with the biggest culprit of this being a variant of a specific enemy that rushes at your crystal. These enemies can, seemingly at random, toss you up in the air or throw you to the back of the map. Now if that is an intended effect of the enemy that you have to account for, then all would be fine, but the fact that you can never predict how the physics will work make it that much more frustrating when you are treated to a 10 second countdown until you respawn.
You can also be affected by both your allies’ actions and your own. Misstep while an ally is swinging their sword or dodging in front of you and you can be launched. This also carries into your own dodge, as hitting the map geometry in the wrong way can send you soaring, usually in the direction you are trying to avoid. The unpredictable reactions became a bit of a running joke between myself and others I played with, often betting on who would be the next one to randomly die.
At the end of the day, there is a lot that Hell Warders has to offer. Anti Gravity Games Studios have included four unique zones, tons of levelling options, a hardcore mode and an actual incentive to perfect levels. Unfortunately the design of most of the game’s systems make that content unenjoyable. Between performance issues, difficulty spikes and a large amount of unfair deaths, it’s tough to enjoy your time here, and much of what fun can be had ends up being more at the expense of Hell Warders rather than because of it.