A Paladin’s Steam Review: Defense Grid 2: A Disappointing Sequel On Multiple Levels.



This was one of my longest Steam reviews I’ve done yet and I thought I had outdone myself with my review of Knytt Underground.

Despite having a three paragraph general guideline for reviewing, I’m clearly not holding to it. So who knows, maybe blog reviews will become a thing again. Ratings, comments and sharing of this post or the review itself are highly appreciated.

Read and rate the review on Steam.

Read my review of Defense Grid: The Awakening.

A Paladin’s Steam Review: Defense Grid 2. A Disappointing Sequel On Multiple Levels.

  • Genre: Single Player & Multiplayer Narrative Driven Tower Defense.
  • Developed and Published by: Hidden Path Games & 505 Games
  • Platform: Windows, MacOSX and Linux
  • Business Model: Base Game + Community Created Levels Sold in DG2’s Store.
  • One of the Backers of their Kickstarter

I was one of the original backers on Kickstarter and gave $20 to help get this game published. I did this because Defense Grid The Awakening had been one of my favorite tower defense games and the developers had a solid track record of games up till then. Unfortunately, the Kickstarter was fraught with funding problems and the game we have gotten since is, in my opinion, a pale shadow of what this series used to be. So, let’s talk about Defense Grid 2.

Story Thoughts
The main campaign story…..ergh….well, let’s talk about it. One: The humor is based on the AIs saying whacky things, but it gets tiresome as the campaign goes on. It’s not that well written, especially when you have the next problem. Two, its got way too many characters. Listening to so many AIs chatter on as you try to setup towers can multiply how tiresome the bad dialogue gets. Three: It’s trying to have a serious story undertone while all this “wackiness” is going on. Which causes the game to fail at pulling both tones off. Fourth and final: the voice acting is cringe-worthy. You’ll recognize at least a few of the voice-actors if you have watched certain sci-fi series in the past five years. Their performances range from barely adequate to cringe-worthy overacting, despite General Fletcher from the original game still bringing his a-game.

PC Optimization
One of the biggest aggravations I had with this game the entire time is the optimization. It’s awful. It’ll drop to 50-55FPS with just a few aliens on the screen. Add in a lot of special effects from the towers and a whole horde of aliens and it will tank down to 20-30FPS. I thought I even noticed it go to 10FPS at some points. That is simply unacceptable for any game to have that poor a performance level, even if we ignore how ludicrous it is for a tower defense game to lag this badly. The performance doesn’t improve even if you set the game to its lowest quality. The game’s FPS drops just as hard regardless. I did contact the devs about the problem but they never got back to me. I’m not happy about that lack of communication. (At the time of this review, I have a quad-core CPU and a Nvidia 660ti. My computer should NOT be the problem here.)

PC Settings and UI
The graphic settings menu is worse than the game’s optimization. All you will find is a quality slider, resolution options and V-Sync, that’s all it has. Not having tweakable settings really bothers me. Anti-Aliasing is completely missing and so is Anisotropic Filtering by the looks of it. Both of which would have really made the game look better. I have no idea how it could have shipped without even AA in the quality slider. At least the audio settings menu is very competent, with plenty of sliders to let you change the level of music, effects, and how often the AI will talk. (I would set the frequency to its lowest.) Even the keys can be rebound on keyboard and mouse and controllers. So, to see such a lacking graphics option menu is really bizarre because everything else you would need/want is here. There are a multitude of subtle bugs such as the Temporal Tower not slowing aliens or dots not affecting aliens but nothing game breaking as far as I encountered.

I’ll give the game some credit, it gives you a lot more information up front and in-game with line graphs and heat-mapping to show how and what you’re doing. The UI at least feels more functional in most cases, even if I dislike how the menus are handled.

But there is one thing that really gets me and that’s how indistinct all the towers and aliens are. The animations are incredibly simple, the towers are difficult to tell apart and the sound assets are really weak. Gone is the epic rain of fire(s) from your meteor towers, the loud report of the cannon towers blasting aliens away and the mini-explosions from concussion towers. Instead, all you can hear is bullets from gun towers, the occasional laser being spat out and that’s about it. All of which looks & sounds really unimpressive. Sure, you can hear the rest of the towers if you really strain your hearing, but that’s not the point. It lacks distinctness. All the towers just melt together to disappointing results. Then there’s the tower upgrades, I hate the new system which has you building towers on platforms and then selecting an anti-shield upgrade, a power upgrade or a score-increase upgrade. It feels overly complicated and unnecessary compared to how DG1 handled it with the command tower. The alien designs are much worse and have the same basic problems as the towers do. They have less character and feel indistinct as you slaughter 1,000s of them per level. You only notice the different speeds each one moves at. For a game on a new engine, this leaves a lot to be desired.

Individual Level Design
I’m not inspired by the level design at display here. Graphically, they are just ok. A few of the levels they showed off at PAX and other big public events were the best they had. Only one or two others were a bit different from the norm, Checks and Balances, which comes really late in the campaign, has a unique gauntlet run with six different lanes to stop. Another is Split Decision that has you defending two core stations, though the difficulty spike in this level is unreal. I was really hoping they would go all the way with this new feature they had announced a long while ago that has different parts of the level opening up as the level progressed. I had hoped this would require us to change tactics on the fly but it really doesn’t. Its relegated to a few levels and doesn’t really do much more than extend the maze you’ve built up. But here’s my main issue. Each level feels aimed at having only one way of accomplishing it and you have to stick to that one goal, otherwise you’ll fail.

Workshop Anti-Support
Workshop support for this game is abysmal. Basically, level makers have to get their maps upvoted by the community and then approved by Hidden Path Entertainment to be sold. Yes, that’s right. Sold. Sold on the in-game store. While they say that royalty will be paid out to the level makers, I have to wonder how much. It’s little wonder that this game only has 16 items at the moment. The way that the Workshop support currently works strikes me as greedy. There hasn’t been any DLC made for the game yet but why bother when you can just sell what other people make. It’s….disgusting.

Final Thoughts
The more I play Defense Grid 2, the more I loathe everything about it. Getting through the main campaign of around 10 hours was a chore unto itself. I got to the point that I set it to easy just so I could see the ending, which wasn’t worth it. I didn’t try multiplayer, I didn’t try the different modes for each level, I didn’t give Steam Workshop a go, I didn’t do anything besides the main campaign because by the time I finished the main campaign, I was done. I wasn’t having any more fun. I do not recommend DG2. As a long time player of Defense Grid, there is a sheer lack of enjoyment to be had in this sequel.

Thanks for reading and until next time…


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