By Phil Schipper / April 20th, 2015
|Release Date||February 4, 2015|
|Genre||Tower Defense, Action RPG|
Since the moment I picked it up in the Early Access phase, Deathtrap has stayed on my radar as a game that already looked impressive, but also had a lot of potential for the future. Now that the full version has been released, I’ve had a chance to take a proper look into this mashup of tower defense and hack-and-slash gameplay.
The story, limited as it is, begins with your chosen character (Soldier, Sorceress or Marksman) telling you about the Inkheart, a mysterious land filled with vicious and hateful monsters. Every so often — it varies from a few months to centuries — swarms of these monsters begin flowing out of the Chaos Portals, which lead into the Strongholds. These Strongholds, in turn, house Gates, which lead into the human world. In other words, it’s important to cut the monsters off at the Strongholds to keep them from attacking humans. Each of the three characters finds themselves responsible for this task and wastes no time in getting to it.
The first thing you’ll have to do on each map is to put down traps. There are two categories of turrets, two categories of ground traps and one final category of summoning circles. On specific points of the map, there are foundations to build from a particular one of these five categories. At first, you’ll be restricted to one trap type of each category, but, as you complete stages and fulfill some secondary objectives, you’ll unlock five of each, for a total of 25. On top of that, you can unlock upgrades to further add to the power of the traps you’ve already put down. Some tower defense veterans may be put off by the trap placement restrictions, but it actually adds another layer of strategy to the maps when you can’t just throw things down wherever.
Once the wave begins, you can back up your traps using your character’s skills. Many skills are used for combat, damaging enemies and often putting a status effect on them, such as poison or slowing. Others affect a specific trap or the area around you, increasing the damage your traps deal or the essence (trap material) you obtain. Still others allow you to do something to the whole battlefield all at once — perhaps you make all monsters weak to physical damage for a few seconds. All skills can be obtained and upgraded with skill points, which you get every time your character levels up.
For the most part, the skills available to each character lean towards a specific overarching strategy. The Soldier has the highest defensive power and a lot of melee attacks, so he can hold enemies off at places where a lot of traps will damage them. The Sorceress, by contrast, is more of a damage-dealer herself, and from a greater range. She’s better off using traps that slow enemies, or that increase their weakness to her spells, so she can pick them off herself. Finally, the Marksman gets powerful regeneration whenever he is away from the battle for a while, and has a lot of poisoning attacks. Thus, he is most effective with a hit-and-run strategy, putting his poison on enemies from afar before ducking out to hit another part of the field. Whatever your tactic of choice, you’ll have to adapt to enemies that may swarm your base at high speed, disable your traps, or go after your character with devastating attacks. (Dying is the same penalty as letting a monster through to the gate.)
As you complete main stages on higher difficulties and get better scores, you’ll get experience as well as research points to upgrade your traps. In addition, all battles drop gold and loot, so you can give your characters better equipment to increase their resistance to different damage types, movement speed and even the amount of resources they get by killing enemies. These rewards also come from side quests, which usually have a minimum difficulty requirement. Some side quests include seeking out side bosses in the middle of a wave, or choosing not to use a certain type of trap or ability. In general, there’s a decent incentive to go back to previous levels and try to improve your score before getting too far ahead.
Not only that, but, once you beat the entire campaign, you can start it up on the next tier. There are four tiers in all, and each of them has a completely different set of trap locations, enemy waves and paths. The difficulty and side quest systems, as well as the rewards, apply fully to every tier, so the Deathtrap campaign is sort of like a spiral staircase of challenge.
You don’t have to climb it by yourself, though. There is also a cooperative mode which plays pretty similarly, but with the added benefit of someone else backing you up. On the flipside, there is a versus option which is even more interesting. One player acts just like they would in the single-player mode. The other, however, is in charge of the monsters, choosing their types and sending them along their choice of paths to outsmart the defender. The attacker can even control a specific monster directly to wreak the most possible havoc on the field. Unfortunately, both modes suffer from a lack of other players, so you may have to do some planning to get a match together.
The final piece of Deathtrap that’s worth mentioning is the map editor. Here you can lay out the ground, the enemy spawners and defense points, and the locations for possible traps. Then you set paths for the monsters and organize them into waves. You can even make alternate versions of each monster with additional abilities and skills, if you like, to shake things up. Finally, you choose an overall environment for the map, like a snowy mountain or the inside of a palace, name and describe it and decide how much essence to give players.
It’s pretty quick to test your stage, and, once you’re pleased, you can even publish it to Steam Workshop. With this method, I drafted up an area where the player had to teleport between different islands, never quite touching the monsters’ path, but still able to lay traps down and attack from afar (Honestly, my level isn’t very fun, but that’s beside the point.) The only problem is that players can’t get any experience or research points by playing custom maps. Even loot is pretty limited, so most custom maps right now are optimized for achievements instead. To actually get stronger, you pretty much have to work your way through the campaign maps at ever-increasing difficulty.
Still, even with the pool of “real” maps being as limited as it is, the variety of modes, difficulties and strategic styles is enough to give them practically unlimited replay value. I would say that this had to be one of the main focuses that the development team had in mind, because their dedication to making each tier and mode a fresh experience is impressive. Although I can say I finished the main single-player campaign on the lowest tier in about 15 hours, I feel that that is a really feeble measure of the game’s true size.
So, Deathtrap is a very large helping of fun that goes on for as many hours as you could possibly want. The different difficulties and objectives, along with the ability to play in either a trap-focused or character-focused way, make this game engaging for a wide variety of player types for a very long time. The story is a bit simplistic, but it stays out of the way as much as possible. The only real disappointment is with the level editor, and, honestly, Neocore has put enough thought into the main campaign for those 18 maps to be more than enough. If you think you’d like even one aspect of this game, you should definitely grab it on Steam for $19.99.
Review copy supplied by the publisher.
deathtrapNeocore GamesPC gameThe Incredible Adventures of Van HelsingTower Defensevan helsing