It’s weird to think of a tower defense game without towers, but no better phrase exists to describe Hero Defense – Haunted Island.
Rather than relying on stationary units to defend against waves of enemies, Hero Defense cleverly tweaks the formula by relying on mobile heroes to defend against waves of the undead.
One of the primary focuses of the gameplay in Hero Defense is its micromanagement of your heroes. In contrast to traditional tower defense games, the heroes that you control are mobile rather than stationary and are capable of intercepting the predetermined enemy paths. Each hero is designed to be effective against different types of enemies, i.e. the red hero, Jack, does more damage against the red vampires. The blue hero, Barrows, does more damage against blue skeletons. It’s a pretty straightforward system, but the challenge lies is positioning all of your heroes at the spots where they can maximise their damage. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to position your hero in one spot for the whole round, so keeping track of all your heroes and constantly moving their position is important. It’s this constant micromanagement that keeps the player on their toes, and allows for some fun quick thinking.
The multiplayer works in a similar manner by pitting you against another player and seeing who can survive longer. The multiplayer types change from week to week, offering a bit of variety, but without a large player base, it can be very time consuming waiting for a match. My own experiences had me waiting for almost 15 minutes at a time.
Every level of the game makes smart use of 3D design to create multiple routes that the monsters can take. The layout of every level determines what positions you’ll want to place your heroes. Scattered throughout each, there are also encampments where shrines can be placed, which can provide bonuses for your heroes as long as they stand on them. The shrines are absolutely essential to conquer some of the more difficult levels, and add a certain level of critical thinking that other aspects of the gameplay lack.
The biggest downfall of the gameplay is that it feels more “reactionary” than “strategic”. Other than the fact the heroes do more damage to particular types of enemies, there’s a lack of variety between them, and I never felt like I was given the opportunity to take advantage of a hero’s abilities to better adapt to a situation; rather it felt like I was simply scrambling to get each hero next to their respective member of the undead. Couple that with the fact that there is no way to pause the game and que up orders to your heroes, the game feels like it lacks a certain level of strategic depth that you might find in other wave defense type games.
Since each level has multiple difficulty settings, as well as different challenges, each with their own unique reward, there’s always a challenge for Hero Defense to offer to its players. Some of the higher difficulty levels are absolutely brutal, and won’t hesitate to completely demolish your hopes of ever completing them. A lot of the higher difficulty challenges and levels require some trial and error to really nail down what sort of hero placement works best, although many of these difficulties can be alleviated by leveling up your heroes and purchasing new abilities and runes at the upgradeable town hub.
Of course, these upgrades don’t come free. Gold can be acquired by defeating enemies or completing challenges, and you still get to keep the gold even if you didn’t finish the level, which is an absolute lifesaver if you’re struggling on a particular level or boss. The other type of resource, orbs, only persist through one level at a time, and can be used to upgrade heroes with specific bonuses that you designate using runes in the town’s armory. It’s a much better system to be able to choose what stats or bonuses your character will receive rather than the generic power up, but be prepared to crack open your piggy bank or complete some insane challenges for the higher tier runes.
The game does a good job of keeping a reasonable pace of progression. It slowly introduces the you to the mechanics and ideas behind the game within the first several levels, and the five heroes that you will unlock don’t all get thrown at you at once, which is a good way to prevent getting overwhelmed. That said, the game can be pretty unforgiving when it first throws you into some of the later levels. Sometimes I would progress through an entire 14 waves of creeps before I got thrown all the way back to the beginning because one tricky boss got through my defences. While it was frustrating, it did force me to experiment with my hero and shrine placement as well as how I decided to manage some of my limited abilities like the frost bomb, which can slow down a certain amount of enemies for a limited time.
Hero Defense – Haunted Island is a great example of a game that makes micromanagement fun. Swapping between different heroes on the fly in order to prevent the undead from making it to their destination can be tense as well as challenging. It unfortunate that the game doesn’t really allow players to take a more strategic rather than reactionary approach to completing a level, but nonetheless Hero Defense – Haunted Island makes up for it by still providing rewarding challenges.