While it may be considered a bit classist, I tend to prefer games that stick to a single genre. It just seems like the majority of AAA games and top sellers are as successful as they are due to the fact that they do one thing and they do it right, without running the risk of stretching themselves too thin by trying to cover too many bases. With that being said, it’s safe to say that Deathtrap, an Early-Access tower-defense game produced by Neocore Games (the same studio that brought you The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing), seamlessly weaves together elements of RPG combat and real time strategy while never losing sight of the big picture.
Without much of a storyline save for “the evil is escaping so you’d better go stop it”, the game takes off at a pace some would call breakneck. After choosing a main character from one of the three tiredest tropes of any fantasy game (busty mage, beefy warrior, and roguish…rogue), you’re soon thrust into the first top-down map with not but a handful of popup hints and only a vague idea as to what’s going on. Though the lack of any real preamble feels a bit rushed and slightly off-putting, I soon found that my character’s back story and the main plot had very little to do with anything anyways, and thus I felt less cheated as the actual combat began.
Like most tower-defense games, each level in Deathtrap is composed of a few waves of oncoming baddies who spawn from several portals on a side of the map opposite to you. The sole purpose of each level focuses around using various tricks and traps to stem the flow of evil demons before they have a chance to break through into your portal at one end of the map. Before each wave, players can spend however much time they want purchasing and activating the traps and pitfalls set throughout the predetermined paths the demons will follow, using a limited amount of essence to build an assortment of elemental traps, towers, and ally spawn points. Once finished with trap construction, players start the wave and defend their portal, using both their main character and whatever machinations they purchased to cut down the heavily populated waves of monsters.
The strongest point of Deathtrap is easily its massive amount of variability. Not only are there 25 different kinds of traps with over 150 upgrades, ranging from spike pits to ice beams, but there are also dozens of different enemies and bosses and 50 different skill abilities per character class. By the time my mage hit level 12 (out of a level 100 cap), I had the ability to summon a giant dragon from the ground and create a massive storm of ice, on top of the deadly mechanized arsenal of traps at my disposal. The developers seem all too happy to give players more than a dozen ways to kill everything on the map in the most overpowered way possible, and it honestly feels pretty good the first few times.
While it maintains the structure and flow of a classic tower-defense game, Deathtrap also utilizes various RPG elements throughout each level. I know I’ve whined in the past about RPG-esque qualities being shoehorned into absolutely everything, but this is an instance in which it honestly doesn’t offend me. The parts where it worked, such as the plethora of skill, trap, weapon, and armor upgrades, were implemented extremely well and felt absolutely necessary to the flow of the game. Your character absolutely needed rare loot from the store and monster bosses in the same way your traps needed every advantageous upgrade possible, so nothing went unnoticed when it came to the character development side of the RPG qualities. The bits that weren’t necessary, such as exploring the maps and picking up gold or finding “neutral” monsters in between waves, were in no way pushed on me at any point, so I never felt pressured into taking a break from strategizing to go muck about in the forest. Overall, Neocore Games seems to have discovered a way to utilize RPG elements without overpowering the tower-defense structure of the game.
For those of you yearning for human interaction, Deathtrap also offers both a co-op and PvP mode, where players can either team up to defeat the hordes of evil or play as the demons themselves in an attempt to overwhelm their opponent. Also featured is an easy-to-use map editor, allowing players to create their own levels with custom waves, trap arrangements, and demons. With already a handful of player-created maps available on Steam, this will no doubt maintain a fairly strong base of players and fresh gameplay on a regular basis (though a handful of them look like they were built for the sole purpose of farming experience and loot).
While there’s a lot to like about Deathtrap overall, there are also a few issues that seem stunt its growth in terms of continued quality playtime. As I mentioned before, players have an unlimited amount of time before each wave to choose which traps to activate along each demon path, but each of the traps are at fixed locations throughout the map. Players can’t truly customize their trap setups because it’s already decided for them where everything needs to be, which feels a little limiting in the grand scheme of things. In another instance of blatant hand-holding, the traps in the game are extremely overpowered, and I already mentioned how fast the player and individual traps obtain upgrades. I soon found it easier to not intervene and instead allow my traps to decimate absolutely everything on the map, but while I enjoyed watching countless demons fall victim to another fire pit or lightning tower, standing back with my infinitely powerful mage just felt like overkill. The overabundance of health tonics and the scaricty of a need to use them also falls under the same category as cripplingly easy, and by the time I had finished the third map, my inventory was stocked with more than 60 healing potions.
Overall, Deathtrap certainly feels like a tower-defense game worthy of attention. Though the stroryline is tired and the dialogue awkward (“Let’s go, I’m almost bursting with mystical energies!” or “I’m so proud of my traps!”), the rest of the game certainly compensates with its beautiful visuals and massive amounts of varied traps, skills, and enemies. While it may seem a bit too easy at times, the number of trap combinations, multiplayer game modes, and open map editor will certainly be a big hit to players looking for a casual strategy game to waste time with. I fully recommend checking out Deathtrap either now in Early Access or when it officially hits shelves in the first quarter of 2015.