This will the final review in my tower defense series. This choice wasn’t simple as there are plenty of tower defense games out there that I’ve played and enjoyed. I thought of doing one of the Orcs Must Die games but figured it was too much like Sanctum and so decided to choose a relatively straight-forward tower defense game. This gave me options such as Defense Grid: The Awakening but I was a little sick of the over-the-top British euphemisms. I also had the option of Field Runners, a tower defense game initially only available on iOS but which then spread to Android and PC. But I wanted a game with a little more substance.
I finally decided to go with a wild card, a game I’d never played before and only seen advertised on Steam. Shad’O is a relatively new game, having been released late last year by French developers, Okugi Studios. And after several weeks of playing it (sorry for the delayed review), I finally decided that I chose poorly.
Shad’O isn’t a bad game, not by a long shot. It has everything you want from a tower defense. Plenty of various towers, plenty of various enemies to kill with said towers. It also has an interesting story-line and structure with some unique game elements. I just had two major issues with the game. The first was that the unique elements, while being thematically relevant, didn’t really add much to the gameplay itself, but only served as slight annoyances, hindering you in a way that other tower defenses don’t. This lead to my other issue with the game and is something I’m a little reluctant to complain about since it sounds whiny… but the game was hard. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an issue with hard or merciless games, nor find it strange if I’m struggling with a game. But the difficulty arose from the design elements of the game itself. This is a tower defense with unnecessarily long levels. If you had to spend 15 minutes on a level, and then fail the level 3 or 4 times, you ended up spending hours on the same level. This resulted in the fact that after three weeks of playing at least once a day, I still hadn’t passed the first chapter. I’ll look over each relatively unique feature of the game and you can gauge for yourself whether I’m being too hard in my assessment.
Every time you complete a level, you gain an upgrade point that can either unlock a new upgrade for your towers or a spell that you can use on the field. After unlocking 3 spells, I found that only useful one was the spell that healed all your towers for a certain amount of hit points. The other spells, while useful didn’t really compare to the actual towers themselves. I would have unlocked more spells, but the need to unlock tower upgrades was too great. Unfortunately, the upgrades didn’t permamently upgrade your towers, only grant you the ability to upgrade them for your cost. To me, this seemed like making you pay two currencies where other tower defense games only make you pay one.
Levels filled with shadow (Fog of War):
Anyone who’s played a RTS game will know of ‘Fog of War’, an unseen area unless you have units near that area. Each level in Shad’O starts off covered in shadow except for some lit points. By placing towers, you reveal more of the level so you can place more towers. But why? Thematically, it makes sense as you’re trying to stop forgetfulness from erasing your memories, the shadow being an element of that but I’m only a fan of gameplay relevant to story when the gameplay is actually good. All it does is hinder your progress. It also doesn’t help that this is the only tower defense game I’ve played where tower positioning is not based on a grid. The end result are small pockets of towers inter-dispersed throughout the shadow that do a poor job at defending.
Mana and money:
Instead of gaining money from killing the waves of creatures, you instead gain mana for your spells. This isn’t a bad system in itself as you guys your little character from above absorbing the mana. Unfortunately, money is derived mining wells of light, placing a limited of towers around these wells. While this is standard for an RTS game, all it does in tower defense is force you to add extra towers around this wells, meaning you have to defend your income source as well as your defense point (which in this game is a memory).
I found this feature slightly redeemed the game for me. Mr. Electro spawned forgetful monsters (the monsters weren’t actually forgetful but manifestations of forgetfulness) while I used my defensive towers to not only defend, but also to attack. Place towers around the monster and you defeat the monster. Unfortunately, the fog of war meant I had to work my way up placing them around the boss. And since the boss has an all around stun AND damage attack that recharged faster than my healing spell could, he constantly destroyed my towers and mines, making this a relatively hard first boss battle of a game.
Admittedly, Shad’O was a bit of a disappointment for me as it was a good example of poor game design and ‘game features’ that took away from the game rather than adding. An interesting story was developing in front of me and I’ll probably never see the outcome as I can’t get past the first chapter.