“They smashed a room in our castle!”
I couldn’t help but panic as a frightening arc of crippling rocks knock down walls in my sad attempt at fortifying a castle. But it wasn’t just any room; it was the barracks for my golems, my most powerful units in the battlefield who, now, I could no longer summon. I could return the favour, but that would take far too much time for what I have in my arsenal. Not to mention that my own castle would soon be reduced to rubble.
So I shift gears and go after their flag instead.
I call in a handful of Donkey Riders to the field. They may be weak, but they’re low cost enough in food (think: resources), allowing me to bring in several of them at once. They also move relatively quickly which them reliable flag carriers. Here, the Donkey Riders are no match for the incoming Vikings, so I summon a Hero Knight to the field and take direct control of him to clear the way to the enemy’s gates. Despite the first Donkey Rider picking up the flag, he’s far from safe as the enemy’s ballista has no intention in losing their castle’s banner. With the remaining time left before my overpowered knight vanishes, I use him as an escort by shielding him from the arrows until he’s far enough that the rest of my forces to bring the flag int my possession.
Castle Storm: Definitive Edition takes tower defense newbs like me and allows us to revel in our war stories. It’s a game that, for the most part, recognizes its own complexities by breaking them down in piecemeal so that players can take control of their own success.
It begins with mere baby steps.
Players first diving into Castle Storm will begin by using the ballista, the front line to your castle’s defenses. Here, you’re introduced to the combat basics of arching various projectiles along the 2D plane, each with their own cooldown rates, structural and/or damaging proficiencies for troops and castle walls, and status effects ranging from turning your enemies into useless turkeys to turning them against one another. It’s by far the most tactile weapon in your arsenal as every landed shot, especially head shots, feels like you’re running a successful game of darts. At the same time, it’s equally cringe-worthy when you accidentally shoot your own troops, forcing you to be more proficient with aiming and timing.
Over time, the game gradually exposes you to the different dynamics of your castle’s defenses through a series of restricted battle conditions. You’ll begin by focusing on commanding troops and getting the feel of micromanaging your precious food that continuously regenerates. Soon after, you’ll practice your side scrolling swordsmanship by controlling your Hero in a variety of training missions who will then become a powerful, yet temporary summon in real combat. Over time, players eventually gain access to new troops – ranging from and knights to diving griffins and brutish trolls – as well as new spells, such as casting temporary invulnerability for your soldiers or incapacitating ice storms for your enemies. It all comes together in a frantic balance of rapid-fire decision making as Castle Storm reaches a tactical crescendo.
Even with the training wheels off, Castle Storm continues tot mix up the mission types throughout all four of the game’s campaigns. Shaking things up like this makes sense in theory as Castle Storm’s action never leaves the confines of two castles facing one another – wagons and caves notwithstanding. However some missions work far better than others.
Simple encounters such as boss battles and hack-‘n-slash levels miss the mark on what makes Castle Storm click. Pissing arrows and troops at a giant stone monster honours very little of Castle Storm’s strategic value. In addition, developer Zen Studios has grossly overestimated just how deep the Hero combat system is with tedious action sequences that prove to be the worst missions by a country mile. Still, escort objectives such as capture the flag – where you knock down an enemy’s gates for their banner – and castle sieges – where you’re to tear down the opponent’s castle – emphasize the importance of remaining highly aware of your own castle builds both inside and outside battle.
Most of Castle Storm’s depth comes from the castle editor, allowing players to build blueprints of various castle types. You needn’t have to worry about your spells or ballista during construction; however, they do hold barracks for each of your troops. You’ll also unlock additional rooms that offer various combat buffs – such as faster food generation and stronger castle walls. The latter, for example, is quite important as both the barracks and bonus rooms are physical parts of your castle that have to stay intact because, if you lose them, their contribution to the fight ceases to exist as well.
This makes castle editing matter, as there’s hardly a tough battle that goes by where you’re not second guessing your build to keep some of the high value rooms heavily protected and out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, some of that comes from the castle editor’s clunky design.
A lot of credit goes to Castle Storm for easing players into its battle system in an incremental fashion. However, castle editing – perhaps the second most important feature in Castle Storm – sees no form of introduction at all. The interface is rather cryptic, with a dashboard that presents a layout of symbols with no descriptors. Playing around with the different functions will inevitably get you up to speed on the basic editing tools: you can swap and delete any of the unlocked rooms you’ve received, and you can fortify your castle’s defenses even further by splicing walls in-between. But, in spite of all this, I never felt adept enough to create anything elaborate.
Worse still, some of the castle builds don’t transition well into battle. I attempted to sacrifice some walls facing away from the battlefield to make room for additional barracks. But once I jumped into a mission, either one or both of the rooms wouldn’t carry over for some inexplicable reason. With the lack of formal guidance, and the “room bug” plaguing my more creative castle builds, I was almost completely discouraged from extensively using the castle editor. Thankfully, there are enough well-balanced preset castles that can hold their own in conventional battles.
The leveling system yields satisfying progression that translates well into battle. You’ll earn gold during each mission, which can be spent on upgrading all your castle’s assets. All Castle Storm’s missions are replayable, giving you the opportunity to grind gold, and perhaps even push any one of your castle’s troops, weapons, and bonus rooms to unparalleled heights. I spent quite a bit of time banking gold so that I could upgrade my low level Guardsmen into one of the most powerful units in the game. This granted a significant strategic advantage because, stats aside, they’re cost in resources stayed the same. Combined with faster food regeneration, I could summon an apocalyptic army on the field at low cost. It’s a good thing there’s enough grinding to be done in order to tackle some of Castle Storm’s side missions in the campaign, as the multiplayer community is nearly nonexistent – unfortunate for such a well-designed and addictive title.
Castle Storm is a satisfying tower defense game that simplifies plenty of combat assets and micromanaged systems for those new to the genre. Furthermore, an equally considered – yet flawed – castle editor adds a layer of depth for those familiar with tower defense titles. The unpolished castle editor does hold the game back from being a complete tutorialized experience, neglecting to introduce it to the player in any significant way. Still, that doesn’t take enough away from it being one of the better tower defense ‘lite’ games available on the market.
Build. Fortify. Protect.