Review: Dungeon Warfare 218 Apr 2019 1
Review: Dungeon Warfare 2
Released 03 Apr 2019
When a genre is defined by immobile structures shooting at lanes of slow-moving massed minions it’s easy to gain a reputation for being predictable. You could be forgiven for dismissing tower defense games as dull casual money grabs, especially as they become loaded up with IAP.
Not so much in Dungeon Warfare II. This game takes the classic Dungeon Keeper theme and builds on it with open, tile-based construction and extremely physical traps. Why should you just pelt your enemies with arrows when you can hurl them into bottomless pits, smash them against walls, or drag them apart with harpoons? Dungeon Warfare II has a surprisingly robust physics system for a game made of such tiny pixels, and one of the greatest joys in the game is sending a whole row of armor clad knights to the bottom of a river with a row of push traps.
Unluckily, it's often not so easy. The environments in Dungeon Warfare II are often quite mercurial. The changing maps are partly on you: the most useful trap you can lay is the basic barrier, which mobs avoid like the plague even if it means running your gauntlet of spinning blades and axes instead. On the other hand, those pesky heroes also have some tricks up their sleeves, since some tiles can be destroyed, whether by errant missiles or the deliberate efforts of minion miners who tear apart your carefully constructed mazes. What's more, other mobs will zipline over pits or build bridges across them. You can't sleep on Dungeon Warfare II or you'll quickly find your best-laid plans blown up with a mass of dwarven bombers.
The map itself is also frequently not your friend. Walls move, crushing some mobs to death but also opening up new paths for your enemies. Doors offer choke points but sometimes also shortcuts. Mine carts can do a lot of the work of running down heroes for you, but will also occasionally detonate a load of dynamite in the worst possible place.
Each map then becomes something of a puzzle. It's not simply a matter of spotting and defending choke points, but finding places where your traps can work in concert to multiply their efficacy, predicting the movements of the minions, preparing for new paths to open, and managing your budget. On top of this, you'll have to compensate when your plans inevitably go awry.
All this tile-based complexity means that what Dungeon Warfare does really well is give the player a strong sense of place. It's not just lanes and minions and towers, it's demon-haunted tombs and lost jungle temples and abandoned ghostly mineshafts. Although the different environments are largely just palette swaps without gameplay effect, those switched pixels do a lot of work in building the game's atmosphere.
Dungeon Warfare II is also massive. Let's start with just the 60 difficult and distinct levels you'll want to work your way through. You can control the difficulty of each of these levels by putting buffs or restrictions down with 'runes' you pick up through the game. These runes grant you bonus experience points in exchange for increasing the speed, number, or ferocity of the minions you'll face. Each map also has several bonus objectives, like avoiding any damage or completing the map in a time limit, which are occasionally mutually exclusive, requiring multiple, wildly different approaches to clear each map completely and unlock everything. There are also unlocks located directly on the maps that require some creative trap placement to blast open. When you're all done with those, the game will also generate more levels for you procedurally--and given the inherent unpredictability of the game's basic design, these can be almost as much fun as the crafted maps.
To tackle all these levels, you're looking at over thirty distinct traps, each of which has several levels of upgrades. These traps are rarely dull and usually have some kind of special effect that can totally transform your approach to a level or symbiotic effect with other traps. Chakrams bounce around, making them a great choice for tight quarters compared to your basic darts. Slime traps slow minions, making a slime/spike checkerboard on your dungeon floor a deadly combination.
If that's not enough, you can also unlock skills that have universal effects and can grant you special powers. These are on three tracks of complementary abilities, letting you take on the game through aggression, finesse, or massive piles of cash. Then there's the special items you can pick up from fallen heroes that offer their own buffs. Oh yeah: none of this costs any extra money; this is a purely premium game with no IAP.
It's easy to bemoan the dearth of complex, satisfying gameplay on mobile, and especially in the tower defense genre, but you can't do that here. Dungeon Warfare is certainly not the first dungeon-themed tower defense game, but it’s rare to see it done with so much verve.