Bloons TD, Geodefenes, Fieldrunners: the list of tower defense games on the iOS goes on and on. With so many titles, you might think it would be pretty difficult to make a bad tower defense game, let alone one capable of standing out from the crowd. Warlock Defense, the newest project from Trigger Games, manages to do both of those things.
One thing needs to be made clear: Warlock Defense is not just another sheep in the flock. It tries to innovate with a very unique feature that hasn’t been seen in too many tower defense games before. More on the specifics later in the review, but just know that attempting to innovate is a double-edged sword. While you may be able to launch yourself into the ranks of the revolutionary elite, it can also turn you into that guy who tried to improve workplace productivity by duct taping rockets to your coworkers’ office chairs. Sure, your intentions are good, but at the end of the day, when the idea fails and ruins everything, everyone will think yo deserve to be fired.
For the most part, Warlock Defense is pretty straightforward. There’s a field, and while bad guys stream from the left, you try to keep them from reaching the right by constructing defensive towers. As you kill more enemies, you can build more towers. “Alright,” I thought. “I’ll just build a few mazes of death and breeze through the campaign.” The idea didn’t strike me as odd. After all, that’s how I’ve played every tower defense game in the history of ever. The game didn’t like that approach though. It had different plans for me.
“You can start with three low-tier towers,” I imagine Warlock Defense said. “And if you place them in just the right way, you can kill a third of the enemies in the first few waves.” I’m not a fan of being bossed around by my leisurely activities, but what choice did I have? After no fewer than seven tries, I managed to meet the game’s demands for the first wave: place all three of your starting towers as close as possible in a vertical line. After I’d taken down a few invaders (and let a few more slip by my defenses) I had enough points to buy a new tower or to upgrade an existing one, and things got infinitely more complicated. If I buy a new tower, where should I put it? If I upgrade one, which one should I choose? Again, though there are a lot of choices, there are very few correct choices. I chose to build a new tower and extend my vertical line, which the game seemed to be pleased with as it killed a few more enemies. A few seconds later I realized I may have misread the game’s emotions however, because before I could build another tower the game was over.
It was then that I realized the game really, really wanted me to make use of its unique spell casting system. When I then tried to incorporate spells into my defense, however, I couldn’t figure the mechanics out for the life of me. When you drag a spell onto the field, it creates a special tower, though what these towers do I have no idea. I had to imagine that they had something to do with the screen that popped up whenever I merely tapped a spell as opposed to dragging it: a dark screen dominated by a series of circles which allows you to doodle in sparkly blue magic. The other thing that happens when you tap a spell is that a design appears above it. Being the veritable genius that I am, I knew that I had to draw the design that appeared above the spell on the screen with the dark circles. But no matter how many times I drew a design, no matter what spell it was for, nothing ever happened.
Entirely confounded, I took to the instruction page to learn what I was missing. This is what I came up with:
“To cast a spell during the game you have loaded before, to load a spell click on one of three chosen for that game and go into conspiracy mode. In this mode you will play as the spell. Each spell has a form and will only be charged if you play correctly.”
What? What I gathered from this was that spell towers will only work if you do well enough on conspiracy mode (which I assume to be the sparkly doodling screen). Despite getting that far, no matter how many times I drew a spell’s “form”, nothing happened. This means one of two things. Either Warlock Defense thinks I’m the worst artist in history, or the game is broken. I’m not too sure that I like either of those options.
Essentially, all of this means that Warlock Defense wants you to play a very specific way which requires you to fully understand its features and employ them effectively. At the same time, the game gives you next to no information about these features, likening it to a schoolyard bully. Either you play by its ridiculously convoluted, clear-as-mud rules or it punches you in the mouth until you give up entirely. I’m not a fan of a game that holds your hand, quite the contrary, but if you want to try something that you think is new and cool, you need to make sure that people will know how to use it with a well designed tutorial.
This is all very unfortunate, because when you first boot up the game, a feeling of epicness will just wash over you like a warm wave in the Caribbean. As the intro fades in from black, a powerful timpani kicks off a score worthy of John Williams, and you can practically see the battle unfolding. Then a hand-drawn scene appears: some sort of robotic fire stegosaur leads a caravan of nasty-looking monsters, followed closely by an obese version of Gollum. As a dragon soars above, a volcano crowned by lightning belches molten earth down onto the scorched land. It’s an incredible scene that you could mistake for something out of Lord of the Rings (if you didn’t know anything about Lord of the Rings).
Of course, because Warlock Defense is, apparently, out to be as bad a game as it can, the epic intro has its downside. No matter how great something is, if you beat people over the head with it enough, people with it enough, it’ll devolve into annoying garbage. Just ask Jeff, the bartender at the local Irish pub near my school in New Jersey. He liked Call Me Maybe well enough when it first came out, but after two weeks of listening to drunk college girls sing the song off key, he hated it so much he felt the need to ramble to my friends and I for half an hour about all the things wrong with it (though to be fair, he made up for it by buying us a round). Just like Jeff with Call Me Maybe, you’re going to get sick and tired of the opening sequence of Warlock Defense, which feels the need to run in its 15 second entirety every time the game starts. And trust me, Warlock Defense is never going to buy you a shot.
Going back to that last point, that fifteen second run time for the opening sequence is an issue in and of itself. Fifteen seconds might not seem like much, but it’s enough to turn the game from a pick-up-and-play tower defense fix to a real investment of time. If you’re playing on your commute to work, and you’ve only got a minute long ride on the shuttle from Grand Central to Times Square, that’s a quarter of your ride just getting to the main menu. Add to this the fact that the game doesn’t just let you pick up where you left off, but makes you navigate a series of menus, and you may be better off not starting up the game at all, which is a killer for what is supposed to be a mobile experience.
The long and short of it is this: Warlock Defense is broken. It wants you to play a very specific way, but doesn’t tell you how. It leaves no margin for error, instead opting for a “screw you” level of difficulty on even the easiest setting. It’s monotonous, time-consuming, and seeing what the gameplay has to offer after getting your hopes up with the intro is soul-crushingly depressing. Warlock Defense is that one kid from kindergarten who came from a one-child home and is used to getting his way, no matter how ridiculous it may be. If you don’t play by his rules, he doesn’t want you to play with him at all. So don’t.