It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable writing this review. I have put over twelve hours into Deathtrap and I still am not entirely sure I've seen everything I want to see in the game, despite matches sitting around 30 minutes a piece. I played all the way through tier one and halfway through tier two. It just kept adding new traps, one-offs that were either specific to the level or reused but unable to be upgraded. There was always more. Then the traps started repeating so now I am going to attempt to write this review before I put it off any longer.
I had played The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing before. I was familiar with Neocore Games' work. I found it enjoyable, even. Despite that, I was a bit skeptical of them creating a tower defense game. Would it be something closer to Dungeon Defenders than anything? Would it be grindy? What was this I was hearing about set trap locations, each one of several different types? It wasn't something that seemed to entirely appeal to me.
Then I played the game. It took a few rounds. I found the controller a bit unwieldy at first, especially in the menus, which have a truly awful control scheme, but I eventually got used to it. I got the rhythm of the game down and it started to become something quite special.
It works like this. The view is isometric, like Van Helsing. The setting is taken from Van Helsing, with your character being a hired mercenary that is taking on the creatures of the Ink. The character you control, you control in a hack 'n slash manner, like Van Helsing. Unlike Van Helsing, however, it is a tower defense, as well, rather than an open world hack 'n slash.
It's not a traditional tower defense, though. You have several types of traps, ground and towers, as well as mystical, mechanical, and summons. These sort of mix and match to create a set of nodes in which you can place, for example, a “mystical ground trap” or a “mechanical tower trap.” The summons are the only exception, being an exclusively ground-based ordeal. This can sound limited at first but then you start unlocking traps and it opens up quite a bit. So much so that you eventually stop knowing what to put your points into.
Put simply, there are a lot of traps. At least 30 that can be upgraded using points earned for leveling and at least half a dozen more that can't. You start to realize “hey, I have a summon trap here, maybe I should put an enthropic pillar there so that it can heal the summons.” Maybe you realize that placing a frost pillar next to a lava grill and upgrading it so that it slows and freezes enemies will result in more damage being done to those enemies with less traps. Maybe you simply realize that an upgraded lava grill with the damage-over-time upgrade active is more worth it than that spear trap you haven't put any points into. The fact of the matter is that there are options in the game's limitations and that there are legitimate ways to play a map incorrectly.
Even more so if you are intent on not using your hero. With the exception of a single map, which was designed to be played without heroes doing damage to the hordes, playing each map in order from tier one to tier two, I have never been able to play a map the first time around without using my hero. Even on that map that was designed for it, I wasn't able to go without using my hero's attacks. It's a game that's designed from the ground up to be a careful balance of hero and tower damage and I think they've done a fine job with it.
Towers aren't the only ones that get to have fun with freezing or burning effects, either. Heroes unlock a significant amount of “fun” attacks as they level. I played as a Mercenary and, pretty early on, I was given a dash attack that froze anything I ran through for an amount of time specified by how much I had upgraded it and then set off a small explosion at the end of the dash, damaging nearby enemies. Later, I unlocked an attack where I slam my weapon down on the ground, causing a wave of fire to damage, and attach a damage-over-time effect to, anything within its range. It is insane amounts of fun to find small hordes and either freeze or light them on fire. One of my favorite features of the game was that you could cause a monster to lose interest in moving forward and stop to attack you, sometimes leading them either off the path or even backwards, so long as they did not pick up on the fact that a significant amount of other monsters were nearby and think weren't needed there anymore. It was incredibly fun for me to freeze hordes with the dash attack and watch them swarm together and chase me down.
Attacks aren't all you get, though. Should you want to specialize as support, you can get spells that buff towers, other players, or both. The amount of options for your player character are staggering to the point of confusion. I legitimately had no idea what to do with my points after so long. The max level for each skill is ten but it would take you a long time to figure that out without someone telling you, as you will probably attempt to become a jack of all trades, as I did.
Beyond the basic gameplay, the game also has a relatively simplistic crafting system in which you can either collect or dismantle different items for a small set of resources that can then be used to craft items that you have obtained the blueprints for. The items you craft scale to your level and are generally better than what you find in chests, I found, even if completing side-quests consistently.
Speaking of which, I found side-quests fairly underwhelming. While a nice touch, after the first few levels, they are few and far between, often requiring you to kill some beast that is either a good half the map away from anywhere you might actually use or that is only accessible by Ink portal. Once you do find said beast, you will probably not beat it unless you come back to it after you've leveled a bit. This isn't too big a deal, as you obtain about a level per match, granted you continue to do the levels in order but it is fairly annoying, especially considering the simplicity of them. Some quests are to “not use mystic traps” or “complete without doing damage with your hero” but even those don't help to alleviate the concerns of being underwhelming. It's fortunate, then, that three different difficulty levels with four tiers each help to increase replay value.
There were very few other issues I encountered in Deathtrap. There was an unfortunate bug that seemed to be related to the way the game sorted which trap you were trying to place/upgrade when using controllers where you couldn't place floor traps that were near a Squash Trap and, as mentioned before, I think the menu controls are absolutely awful and unintuitive, but my concerns pretty much ended there. The game is incredibly solid and provides a high amount of graphical fidelity to match.
Deathtrap is one of those games that rarely comes along. One that restores my faith in a genre that is drowning in a sea of games that stick too closely to the tried and true. It may seem limited at first but the game takes those limitations and makes more options out of them than many games with significantly more freedom give. It provides a fast-paced hack 'n slash experience with the necessity to be smart about upgrades, both on maps and on your character sheet and, to be honest, I don't think that happens often enough. The game has easily restored my faith in the tower defense genre single-handed and, with the ability to create custom maps, it will last for a long time to come.
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