Defender's Quest: Valley of the forgotten is a tower defense with light RPG elements that intrigued me as soon as I saw the screenshots. I love tower defense games and I have sunk countless hours into classics such as Gemcraft and Defense Grid so I decided to try this one to see if it was any good. And it is! Not perfect, of course, but full of neat little ideas.
The basic concepts are solid
The flow of this game goes like this, you travel on a world map and pick a level. Then you select what difficulty you want to fight the level and see what kind of enemies you will face and what rewards you get. Usually you need to beat the level on casual or normal to get to the second level, then you have additional challenges like 'hard' and 'lunatic' where the waves are tougher, the enemies are different and you get more scrap (the currency), more experience and special items for beating the level.
Only beating the levels is not enough most of the time, you need to do it perfectly, which means that no enemy can hit your librarian at the end of the maze. It's challenging and you won't be able to beat the harder difficulty before you level up your party and get better gear, so there are good reasons to do levels multiple times when you've progressed a bit.
The basic tower defense structure is there. You start with PSI energy which you can use to place units and cast spells. Different units have different costs (from 25 to 100) and can be upgraded four times each. You actually have a party that you upgrade and equip with different skills and items and you summon the actual units. It's not like you have an endless supply of archers or fighters, you have six of each class maximum and you can buy more at towns on the world map for increasing costs.
Then the waves start coming and all of the enemy types you're expecting are there, and there some. Armored enemies that can soak up huge amounts of damage unless their armor is destroyed, enemies cloaked in darkness that have 75% to dodge all attacks unless they are hit by light spells, enemies that split into more faster enemies, enemies that attack your characters in melee or ranged.
Because in DQ, your characters can die and have to be resummoned, that's why there's a healer class and armor for your party. Speaking of upgrades, it's important to level up your characters using the PSI you get from slain enemies because the abilities they can use is tied to their in-battle level. Let's say you have a level 25 character with five skills, he won't be able to use his second skill until you level him up to 2, same for his third skill and so forth, maybe that's a bit convoluted.
This being said, the per-character stuff feels too much
I would've been 100% for this game if the customisation and skills were per class and not per-character. Right now if you have 6 character classes and most classes have upwards of 6-10 skills. Each skill has a maximum level of 8 and some of them are used only to boost other skills or to passively boost your character. Additionally, if you don't use a class much (knights and dragons come to my mind) you simply won't buy more of them for your party and never see these skills in action.
More importantly, it gets hectic into battles. You have a clear view of your party and you can pause the game at any time - or slow it down to half speed - but I feel like I'm always using my highest-level characters first and my lowest-level units last, which means that if there's a skill that I only have on one of these low-level units, I'm not going to see it very often. It also means that most skills are difficult to judge. If I have my six archers out, which one is doing the most damage? Which one is piercing armor? Which one is poisoning enemies? It's especially important if you're trying to place units that can soak up damage first in line so enemies attack them.
More so in level with multiple lanes, you sometimes need to spread yourself thin and having to decide which lane gets which unit can sometimes be a process where you make mistakes because the knight you dropped on the lane with the armored enemies doesn't have any armor-piercing abilities but your other knight does.
How I would fix this
Lump all units of the same class together - still keeping the limits on how you can summon per map - have the units level a bit faster so they get more skill points and make the weapons/armors a bit weaker so you need better ones to outfit your six units. That way you know what your units do, each unit is similar in power and abilities. It removes a small layer of micro-management but I think it would speed up things a little.
All and all, I really enjoy Defender's Quest
I love unlocking things, I love leveling things, I love trying different strategies with my characters and my spell usage and I love having a battle on fast-forward go really well because my archers are shooting all kinds of arrows. If you like tower defense games, you should treat yourself to some Defender's Quest