Tower defense is one of my least favorite genres to play. They tend to be boring, repetitive, and lacking in a reason to to continue playing. However, Soul Locus, one of Travis Williams's choices for his Best of PAX Prime 2015 article, manages to take tower defense and make it compelling. Soul Locus manages to be so compelling because everything about the game is made to be charming and delightful.
In Soul Locus, you play as a Luminary, a person who is trained to fend off the forces of Chaos. The people of Soul Locus were once beset by the God of Chaos, who sent massive waves to swallow all of the land. Since humans generally don't enjoy tsunamis, an explorer sailed out to the edge of the world to beg the God of Order to help them. The God of Order decided the best course of action was to lift all of the land into the sky where the sea couldn't get them, and everybody lives there now. Now that the people were safe from the waves, the Chaos now attacks in the form of black goo. As a Luminary, it is the player's job to keep the goo at bay. By using animals with superpowers to fight them off. And those animals are adorable.[caption id="attachment_55145" align="aligncenter" width="660"] Seriously, look at that pig! Look at how happy he is![/caption]
Soul Locus banks off of its charm to make up for its simplistic game design. The developers describe the game as "Tower defense meets Pokemon," which the designers managed to nail perfectly. Each level has a goat that they must defend for a reason that will probably be explained when the game is fully developed. All of the levels are 2d with enemies spawning off screen at set locations that the player is told before the level begins. Before starting the level, the player chooses where to place their Guardians (that's what the creatures are called) from a number of posts in order to optimally defend their MacGuffin goat. When the player has set their Guardians, the game begins and the gameplay becomes about managing the team as best as possible.[caption id="attachment_55246" align="aligncenter" width="660"] This becomes much less chaotic looking once you realize the player is doing none of it[/caption]
The Pokemon aspect of Soul Locus comes from the way Guardians and goos interact based on their types. Each Guardian begins with a base range, attack, and attack speed that can be leveled up between levels. There are six different types of Guardians: Bold, Charming, Joyous, Keen, Sly and Valiant. Each type is based around a role that they would play in a team, and they have abilities that help them in their own way. For example, a Valiant Guardian is a heavy hitter in the late game because the Valiant perk gives it +1 attack and range for each kill it gets, while a Joyous Guardian is a support because each time it hits an enemy it adds to "Focus," the resource that the team shares. Pairing these two up will start a snowball that leads to your Valiant Guardian carrying the team later in the level. Other Guardians will have other abilities such as slow on hit, area of effect attacks and +x attack to all members of the team. These are all things that the player must consider when deciding how to spend their Focus.
As a Luminary, the player manages the group of Guardians and spends their resources to improve the team during the level. To do so they must spend Focus, which represents their magical power. Focus, which is gained by killing goos, is used mainly to improve Guardians' attack, range, and speed or to evolve them. Some Guardians can evolve to a higher form, increasing all three of their stats and improves their abilities by raising bonuses from abilities.
Each time the player evolves a Guardian, it becomes more expensive to evolve all Guardians, while raising a stat makes all of the stats more expensive to raise on that Guardian alone. For that reason, it is sometimes better to focus on raising stats than to evolve a Guardian. A good example of this is leveling up attack speed on Joyous supports during the early game because more individual hits by a Joyous generates more Focus. The in-game management gives Soul Locus more strategy and makes the player feel like they are leading an actual team, which is one of its main draws.
The developers understood what made Pokemon stand out from the other JRPGs of its time and does the same to tower defense with Soul Locus. Pokemon took standard JRPG combat and added enough variety to allow players to find their own play style. They achieved this by creating a massive amount of potential party members that can be chosen from that all have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. Soul Locus has six types of Guardians, each with their own pure and hybrid Guardians, which can be created via a crafting system using resources the player can earn in-game or purchase with currency earned in-game. Each type then has their own abilities that make each Guardian unique in their own way that contributes to the team.
Another parallel that Soul Locus draws to Pokemon is that the player actually does train and improve their Guardians in-game. At the end of a level, the player can improve the attack, range or speed stats of Guardians that have leveled up. This also brings up a Pokedex style entry of the Guardian, which shows their stats, abilities and a brief description of the Guardian itself. And yes, each description is adorable.[caption id="attachment_55263" align="aligncenter" width="660"] You know you want one as a snuggle buddy.[/caption]
Since Soul Locus is still in beta, and there are a few things that are missing. At the moment, there are only 24 levels available and two levels that are endless waves of goos, though more levels as well as boss levels have been announced. There is one town hub that is under construction, and going there will only have a shop and a bunch of houses that will offer quests when the game is ready. One thing that I would want to see added is attack animations for the Guardians themselves. Right now the Guardians look more like statues that fire off missiles than living creatures. The addition of attack animations would add to the feeling of actually leading a living, breathing team. Finally, the story hasn't been fully added into the game yet and currently consists of a single screen of lore that serves to contextualize the world. Right now the best way of describing Soul Locus' progress is that it has a solid foundation down and the team is in the middle of building the game up from that foundation to build a very good product.
Soul Locus is a solid tower defense game that just oozes charm. Everything from its stunningly gorgeous drawn aesthetic with bright vibrant colors, to Fox Amoore's soundtrack that wouldn't be out of place in a AAA title, to the level design that encourages players to set up their teams differently each time, to the flavor text for the Guardians is well-thought-out and well-executed. The quality of Soul Locus leads me to believe that it is being developed by a group of developers and artists that know exactly what they want to make and know exactly how to make it. Fat Loot Games wanted to make a fairly simple tower defense game with RPG elements that manages to be the cutest thing in the world, and Soul Locus is just that. As a product, Soul Locus is well-produced and well-polished, and fans of tower defense will most likely love it when it comes out. Soul Locus and its soundtrack has a planned release date of Fall 2015 and will be a $9.99 premium release on launch.[caption id="attachment_55256" align="aligncenter" width="660"] Don't act like you're not impressed by how blue his tongue is.[/caption]
This preview was done with the Soul Locus 0.8.0 Beta build provided by Fat Loot Games.