Towers of Altrac is a new indie tower defense game from a team of three developers (all brothers): Jsmael, Stieger, and Andreas Stieger, and then published by their company Cybertron Design Studios. These three have taken the tower defense genre and added some new twists, including a varying AI system, branching story, and cooperative gameplay on top of some RPG-like elements.
Gameplay within Towers is much like any other tower defense title. Enemies spawn in waves and continue advancing towards your main base, or city, or whatever special location, until you've finally managed to stop them. Here is where Towers shines – the maps are littered with a number of different routes for enemies. On top of that little tidbit, enemies will reroute themselves based on the danger level of the routes available using the game's S.A.D. AI system, or Search and Destroy. If you have stacked everything possible down the left path in the fork of the road, expect them to take the right path each and every time.
The thing that really changes the game's core defense element is picking between the three main races: the Dreoks, a human race using machines; the Eldran, a elven-type forest race; and the Kal'than, a magic-driven race. Each has their own set of buildings and towers available to build, though most must be earned from leveling up and completing missions. There are also special abilities players can use mid-battle that slow elements down within an area or generate additional gold to help out. The story follows a kingdom defending itself from the encroaching hordes as the player travels from area to area setting up new defenses. The enemies themselves consist of wolves, goblins, orcs, and other evil creatures hell bent on destruction.
Usually tower defense games ramp players up gradually, letting them become acclimated to the game's skill and planning requirements. Towers of Altrac though has exponential difficulty growth, which really drove me insane at times. Upgrading my towers is great and all, but when I don't start a level with enough gold just to stop the first wave or two of enemies, I feel completely outclassed too early on. Upgrading the towers can be tedious as well, and it becomes easier to just continuously build new towers rather than wait forever to upgrade current ones. However, getting towers to their max levels is a surefire way to help stop anything save the bosses.
One thing I've been itching to try but just haven't had the chance is the cooperative gameplay. The game can be played with two to four players, allowing you and friends to tackle the campaigns as a team. This may be the ticket to tackling some of those more difficult maps, especially given I'm having a hard time on just normal. It's an interesting element to add into a tower defense game since it is not very common.
I'm just miffed about the health level of boss creatures. Some maps progress much like I want them to – enemies never break my first line if I'm lucky, and maybe they make it to the second or third if they're lucky. Boss creatures, though, throw my entire plan out of whack. These things come out and essentially disregard my entire setup. "Oh," they say, "you have cannons, sniper towers, air defense, AND things that throw fireballs? Tough shit." It's extremely annoying that almost every level, no matter how well things are set up or how fast I sell and rebuild, boss creatures walk straight to the end of the map. It's a slow trudge of inevitability that I don't enjoy watching.
Towers of Altrac is a fairly solid indie title. It's got its faults, but it adds to some of the charm. While the character models and towers may not be a billion polygon count items, they are at least fun to see as they become stronger and stronger. The maps are the real winner as they are large and sprawling and make for some long, yet fun, defense matches. If you're a fan of the genre, I definitely recommend giving this one a shot. Tack on the multiplayer and you can have some fun with friends, too.
Note: The Towers of Altrac review is based on a digital PC copy of the game.