Full disclosure: A copy of this game was provided for GWW for review
Hero Defense: Haunted Island is your typical tower defense game with a twist. Instead of building towers players can control up to five unique heroes that can move about the map killing creeps. I’m not entirely sold on this mechanic, but I can see the advantages of such an ability. When playing a map I usually “turtled up” and kept all my heroes in a certain area. It was helpful to be able to move a character to hunt down that creep that squeaked past by defenses. Conversely, things got chaotic when a whole batch got past and I had to reposition my team. At times the maps will force you to split up or reposition your team between waves. Although this wasn’t my favorite thing to do, I appreciate the attempt to change of the tower defense genre.
Each hero within the game does have their own unique purpose and personality. The first hero, Jack is a melodramatic Van Helsing type that is effect at doing massive damage to single targets. Each hero within the game counters enemy types, and in Jacks case it’s vampires.
Next is Barrow the priest who is effective at stopping skeletons and specializes in slowing enemies. Sam Hain does area of effect attacks that are effective at killing zombies. Jane Doe’s is unique in that she is a melee character that can jump down into creep lanes doing persistent damage to a group while within range, and counters scientific creatures (read Frankenstein’s Monster).
The final hero is Wydle who is effective at slaying werewolves. Combining the group of heroes makes you an unstoppable creep destroyer which feels great. Challenge is introduced by moving heroes to the proper lane or position to maximize their effectiveness according to the wave composition.
The gameplay loop within Hero Defense is simple but satisfying. After defeating a map, players will get a change to go back to town, which they will initially have to build. Players can chose to upgrade their heroes assigning skill points, unlocking new abilities, or use weapon runes to give their heroes an edge in combat.
In addition to this, players can chose to upgrade building in town which will grant the player overall benefits. Once upgrades are spend the player goes out to fight another horde, and the cycle repeats. At the start of the game, hero abilities are pretty standard, but can get quite cool as you progress. Jack can learn the ability to ricochet his arrows through hordes multiplying his single damage potential to the rest of the horde. Barrow can turn into a AOE team buff beacon that can freeze enemies. The upgrade system helps make heroes even more unique or specialized which kept me wanting to play and level them up.
Updating building and heroes can be done with the two currencies in the game, gold or diamonds. The economy feels like it could be it be could mirco-transaction based, but surprising everything can be acquired through gameplay very easily and there are no mirco-transactions. Gold is acquired by doing maps, but can be turned into a bank to get diamonds which will level weapons or building buff shrines on maps game. I applaud the developers for not using mircotransactions when they easily could have, hopefully it will stay this way.
I commented on gameplay a little already and aside from my mixed feelings about the core mechanic of moving heroes, it works. Downsides of the gameplay is the camera. Players never really have control of it and the camera will auto move or pan depending on where the player is currently positioned. It felt a bit jarring to not be able to control the camera and free rotate it. There were times when I would loose the action or had difficulty observing what was going on in a map because of the camera, however this typically only occurred on larger maps towards the end of the game.
Another complaint I had was that routes the enemies would be on only displayed at the start of the wave. When trying to plan ahead for a wave, it was hard to evaluate where to position my heroes as I was sometimes unsure what color route was which. Adding a button to display routes or keeping them illuminated constantly would help with that. Combat can get chaotic and this would save time and make players more effective.
The main campaign of the game takes about 4-6 hours to complete. There is a small amount of grinding required to finish the campaign, which typically resulted in replaying a previous level once or twice to make the team stronger for what was ahead. Each level has several difficult levels and challenges which will earn players bonus gold or diamonds for completing. This made playing completed levels feel fresh and will give completionist something to do after beating the story. Upon completing the game, I had only completed about 25% of the maps and their variations. There is still plenty of game after the credits roll.
Currently the game is in Early Access, and as far as a single player game, it’s finished. The developers are currently working at implementing multiplayer for the game. Initially, gameplay would be PVP which the developers have detailed, but hope to implement Co-op after that, which is where I think the game could be really fun.
I don’t really feel comfortable giving an Early Access game a score as features could change, but I will say that Hero Defense:Haunted Island is pretty fun and would be worth checking out if you’re a fan of the tower defense genre. Hopefully, GWW will be able to revisit the game upon its full release for a proper scoring. If you want to see Hero Defense:Haunted Island in action be sure to check out our gameplay video by Joe Barhoum himself.
Hero Defense: Haunted Island is currently available on Steam for $14.99 Check it out!