Despite many of us growing up on the genre through flash games and titles like Dungeon Defenders, you don’t see many tower defence games these days. So, when Moonton, the developer of Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, asked if we wanted to preview Watcher of Realms, an exciting RPG-infused tower defence game, we couldn’t say no. Who doesn’t love defending some towers?
For context, Watcher of Realms is an upcoming title set in a fantasy world with a wealth of characters to draw on in your quest. I mean a wealth, with over 100 characters pre-launch, there is plenty of opportunity to get creative with your playstyle, employing different classes for different tasks as your progress through the linear structure. It’s more tower defence than RPG, but the depth of lore and storytelling creates a sense of immersion all the same.
Let’s start with the most important element, the gameplay. Watcher of Realms feels like what you might imagine a Diablo tower defence game to feel like. It’s gothic and action-packed, and there’s plenty of lore to dive into, but if you’d prefer, you can just keep tackling levels and dealing out damage to insects, skeletons, and other classic fantasy fare enemies that attack in droves.
Each level features a location (or locations) you must defend, known as the Soul Core, with enemy spawn points on the other side of the map. You need to use your team of heroes to keep the enemy at bay, defeating all the spawns and making sure the Soul Core goes undamaged. While it’s a pretty standard concept, Watcher of Realms does add to the experience with varying maps that highlight the powers of certain classes, pushing you to understand the lay of the land before you pick your heroes for each individual level.
I’m a couple of chapters deep into the core campaign, and, I’ll be honest, I’m having a pretty great time. Watcher of Realms’ gameplay doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does sculpt it with the precision to keep you rolling through levels of engrossing gameplay for longer than you might expect. The ‘one-more-level-then-bed’ factor here is strong, pulling you in for extended sessions of tower defending.
On the other hand, I personally don’t find the lore as enthralling as others might, and it’s really the gameplay keeping me going here. As is often the case with fantasy games, there’s a larger story under the hood, all relating back to you, the player character, washing up ashore at the beginning of the game with no memory of who you are or where you’re from. The main campaign is the key to answering the question surrounding your identity, with your role for the rest of the story as the commander of the units willing to assist in your quest. It’s not a revolutionary narrative concept, but it certainly does the job.
As I mentioned before, the quest arc in Watcher of Realms is fairly linear, with a defined path from level to level as you follow the main campaign, though a few options for side-quests and seasonal missions do arrive as you plough through the first couple of chapters. Things might be a little easy for tower defence veterans in the early stages, but the difficulty curve kicks in eventually, offering some challenging levels that test your tower defence orientation skills.
Whether you’re new to the genre or not, Watcher of Realms goes a long way to introduce all the mechanics and concepts inside, though this tutorial element does feel like it goes on for a few too many levels. I was pretty confident in what I was doing in terms of core gameplay, summoning, and additional challenges after a few levels, but at points, this game forces you to do what it wants as a way of teaching you something, and it might be nice to have the option to skip this feature for those who are happy to find out how it all works on their own terms.
Of course, you can’t take on levels without characters, and as we’ve already mentioned, there are more than enough here. Some of these playable options fit perfectly into the world of Watcher of Realms, like Borut the dwarf with his fists of steel and Voltus the electrified mage, but they’re not all winners. Morene the pirate sticks out like a sore thumb among fantasy heroes, in my opinion. I understand that what’s essential in a gacha title like this is that you need as many characters as possible, but Morene and a couple of others slightly detract from the otherwise intelligent fantasy worldbuilding.
So, now we’ve mentioned it, we better talk about it. Watcher of Realms is indeed a gacha title. You’re going to spend the bulk of your time collecting resources to summon and enhance your characters, with the difficulty curve pushing you to level up your units and unlock more powerful options as your progress through the main quests. Fortunately, the game is pretty forthcoming with resources early on, but I do have my doubts about how far these can carry you and just how much it might cost to keep on playing once the well dries up.
I understand the necessity for gacha mechanics in a free-to-play title, I really do, but it does border on pervasive in Watcher of Realms. Pop-ups for in-game transactions are fairly frequent, and the prices are fairly high. I suppose it’s especially disappointing as so many other elements in this game are inviting, engaging, and immersive, it just takes away from the experience when you’re going great guns with your team of heroes only for the game to remind you that more powerful options are there, they’re just locked behind a paywall.
While I’m not completely sold on the gacha mechanics, I can at least say that the characters you unlock are visually spectacular, even those that don’t quite fit the dark fantasy brief. The level maps might be a little unimaginative compared, though there’s not a lot of scope in a tower defence title, otherwise, Watcher of Realms is graphically impressive, with its summoning scenes and character animations as high quality as plenty of 2023’s console offerings.
All-in-all, Watcher of Realms is gearing up to be a real treat for fans of the tower defence genre, with a world of vivid characters ready to roll out through a well-designed RPG campaign. While the gacha mechanics might be too pervasive for my liking, and not all the characters fit seamlessly into the fantasy world, there’s plenty of scope for Watcher of Realms to be one of the surprise mobile hits of 2023.
To pre-register for Watcher of Realms, hit this link. Or, if you’re looking for more of our thoughts on titles from 2023, check out our Bayonetta Origins review, Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp review, and The Mageseeker Switch review.