Prime World: Defenders PC Review

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The tower defence genre is one that is certainly no stranger nowadays. No matter where you look, you can easily find a tower defence game to play. It’s a genre that has become so sterile that it’s no wonder developers are looking to find ways to refresh this overpopulated genre. But how does a development team do that? The answer to that question seems to be by blending two genres together. We have seen this already with the Sanctum franchise, which blended first-person shooting with tower defence. Now we have Nival mixing the classic tower defence formula with the addictive nature of card collectibles and an experience system. But does this blend of genres work well together?

Prime World: Defenders is a spin-off from Prime World, a multiplayer online battle arena game by the same developer currently in beta stage. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world where prime is a new source of energy that offers magical properties for any of the surviving population. As with any energy reserve, prime isn’t infinite, and so the limited amount that is left creates tension between parties and escalates into a war over the remaining resources. Players are tasked with finding and defending these scattered pools of prime against the Touched, a wave of monsters that want to steal this magical blue material from you. As far as stories go, this is standard stuff and likely won’t be that interesting to most people. The plot is there just to give the player a setting and motivation to carry on to each new location.

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Tower defence aficionados will instantly recognise the structure of each level in Prime World: Defenders, since it just about covers every trope a level design could have for such a genre. There’s a small piece of land that has a pathway highlighted to show where the enemies will traverse, as they aim to reach the base or the prime you are supposed to be defending. Situated around the map are white grids that signal an area where a tower can be instantly placed to begin its job. To stop the idea of spamming your most powerful tower, the game incorporates a method for balance by increasing the cost of a tower after every third placement. The colour of its cost will change from white to yellow, and then to red, to signal that said tower is at its highest cost. It’s an interesting move and it does stop from spamming the almighty mortar tower, as you could be easily constructing more towers for the same amount of prime. Rest of the mechanics during a stage are all the standard stuff you expect from tower defence games – various enemies, countless waves, power-ups, and of course, numerously placed towers that can be leveled up with prime.

What makes Prime World: Defenders different is the mechanic built on top of the typical tower defence gameplay – the addition of the cards and level-up systems. Typically, a tower defence game has a structure where you beat a required level and are rewarded with a certain tower. It’s all scripted, so every player will always unlock the same tower at that given point in the game. Prime World: Defenders throws this out of the window and introduces randomness and choice to the equation. After finishing every level, the player is awarded with experience points and silver, and sometimes a random card that is either a tower, silver, magic or a buff for evolving a tower. Since towers are replicated as cards, these are taken from your collection and added to a deck – which starts off at four – and acts as your equipment (towers) that you take into the next stage.

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At first, this system didn’t seem to be all that open because the game hides it away from you during the tutorials, and I assumed that the random card drop from completing the missions was the only concept behind Prime World: Defenders. Once it opens up, you get to see that you can buy and sell cards, purchase upgrades for various statistics, such as producing more prime over time, or increase the capacity for how many cards can be taken into a mission. On top of that, you can also evolve cards by merging two copies of the same card together to increase its level and damage, or you can add special cards that multiply the effectiveness of leveling up. It’s a really cool system and I enjoyed customising my own set of towers and magic spells to take into the next challenge. The problem lies with a very uneven balancing issue with the game that requires you to do a lot of grinding, and in turn, become bored with repetition.

This was evident from the first boss stage, which felt overpowering for my current deck of towers. What the game does is that once you are out of the tutorials, three randomly generated missions (covering the difficulties of easy, normal, and challenging) spawn off from the main story mission. The reason for this is to make it so players who, just like me, are stuck on a certain mission can grind and acquire new cards, or level-up existing cards to make them stronger and more viable for the current mission. I should use “randomly generated” a little more strictly, because these are levels you have already beaten – the same layout and design; only that the difference is how many waves and what order the enemies come at you. This is the problem I had, and it’s why repetition comes in – it just becomes a bore to play the same level designs over and over again. It’s a shame, really, because the core concept of getting money and experiencing points, and having this personal customisation and journey through a tower defence game sounds really awesome. At the moment, though, it’s spoilt by the requirement of grinding too much, and I had to play the title in small bursts rather than blasting out long sessions over the day.

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Due to the randomness of the drops, you aren’t always guaranteed to get great cards, and if you’re trying to build one specific card to its maximum level, then this can become irritating and time-consuming. Silver, the currency for buying specific items or crafting/upgrading new cards, is acquired from winning levels and as a random reward, and the costs increase if you want to take more than one drop from the five available. It’s the same when you’re after a rare card to power-up an existing rare card. These can be bought from the shop (not in-app) with the silver or star rewards, which are earned (from 1-3) depending on how well you beat a story mission. These stack up, so you can keep replaying a mission for more. Since the decks are all random, you could have spent thousands before getting the one you desire. It feels like this was intended to be a free-to-play game but at the last minute was scrapped and became a purchasable title, without changes to its core structure to compensate this. The problem is how to solve a side-effect from the card collecting idea. That excitement from not knowing what is coming in your next booster pack is a great feeling, and would work well in the game like this if you didn’t have to grind so much to do it.

If you are looking for a refreshing tower defence title, then there is something in Prime World: Defenders you will enjoy. People who are more fussy with their choice of tower defence games might find this to be an ambitious title with problems. I feel the developers require another go to fix the issues and turn Prime World: Defenders from a fun, frustrating grind to a great title that could live up to the potential of the cross-genre action of tower defence and card collecting.

6/10

by

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Version tested: PC

Developer: Nival

Publisher: Nival

Genre: Strategy