Every so often, you receive the good fortune of running across a game that feels made just for you. Aegis Defenders is one of those games for me. Just the description of the game as a Metroidvania/tower defense hybrid was enough to catch my attention instantly. Fortunately, it's also a very well-made game. If you're looking for frantic action that demands your whole attention and snappy yet strategic decision making, Aegis Defenders is for you.
Aegis Defenders takes place in a world where humanity is in another dark age due to a calamity said to have been created by the ancient weapon, Aegis. Playing as Bart the machinist/engineer and his hunter granddaughter Clu, you discover this Aegis and embroil yourself in a plot against an empire who wants to resurrect the weapon for their own benefit.
As someone who actively seeks out good stories in games, it's odd for me to come to the conclusion that Aegis Defenders' narrative wasn't all that necessary. The gameplay speaks for itself and only needed a rough, serviceable framework to keep players engaged. Overall, the story is a generic one that's only as interesting as the world it's set in. Your mileage will vary, but if you like a world that mixes the primitive and the high tech into one, you'll like learning more about Aegis Defenders.
The story isn't terrible but I did start to get frustrated as it delayed my return to Aegis Defenders' incredible gameplay. The sheer variety of mechanics on display for a game of this size is astounding. Each level features a new mechanic, which gradually get more complex as you progress.
Levels always have two parts. The first is the Metroidvania section, which is competent enough but not the real meat of the game. If you're looking for some groundbreaking platforming, you won't find it here. Some sections will make you pause as you try to figure them out, but you're mostly going through the motions to learn a new mechanic or two that will be used in the tower defense section, which is at the end of each level. It's the tower defense gameplay is where Aegis Defenders truly shines, featuring frantic, win by the skin of your teeth gameplay.
The tower defense sections devolve into frenzied chaos. Every victory felt like I was a moment away from it all falling apart. I felt that if I had not been engaged the whole time, I would have failed. Enemies have multiple spawn points on both sides of a level, and the spawn points for enemies change each wave. Each enemy is associated with a color, which informs what weapons and structures are effective against them.
That's all pretty standard for tower defense, but a few key choices in game design up the frantic nature of Aegis Defenders by quite a bit. Once you place down turrets, traps, or the many other structures you can build to defend, they are stuck where they are. Those five things you just built? They could be useless in the next wave and you won't know it at the time. A simple timer is the biggest reason Aegis Defenders is so demanding of your attention, however. In a short 45 seconds, you have to strategize for the oncoming wave of enemies, build your defense, but most importantly, collect the resources you need to build. Scattered around each level are the various resources you need to build structures. All of that forces efficiency, as it's not as simple as just building what you need but planning your movement around a level to have the resources to build what it is you need. More often than not, you're not going to complete all of that in 45 seconds.
Those are just the basic, core mechanics of the game. As you progress through Aegis Defenders, the mechanics continue to layer on top of one another into something incredibly complex. From simple platforms that move up and down, which can be quite disruptive, to portals, the various mechanics can change the how you think dramatically. For example, one level features portals that will teleport enemies to another section of the map. When you first begin, the portals aren't there. They show up after you're a few waves in and move around the map after each wave. Now add in those simple platforms that move up and down. Those change which tiered pathway an enemy will travel on. Then, as seen in the screenshot above, let's add in areas only a certain character can go to and build defenses, which is denoted by the colored door. Imagine having to consider all that in the 45-second window between new waves as well.
Not only do you need to build up defenses, but utilizing the four characters is imperative as well. Each of them has their own structures to build, as well as a color they are associated with, so moving them around a level to build what you need is important. Thankfully, you can control each one individually, telling those you don't control to stay put as you swap between them easily. This is important as these characters can act as structures themselves. When you plop them down in front of a wave of oncoming enemies and aren't controlling them, they'll still attack with whatever weapon you have equipped to them. Planting those characters around was a valuable resource that changed the game quite dramatically.
Each character has a unique ability and structures, which will be used throughout levels to complete them. Characters can combine their structures, as well, which can be an important decision as that usually makes the new structure effective against two different color types of enemies. Characters also have two different weapons, each associated with a different color. That, of course, plays a key role in where you'll place them while defending.
Clu is the obvious character to control throughout a defense, as she has the best weapons. The gun and bow combo is easy to use and dishes out a lot of damage quickly. So, there wasn't much incentive to invest in the other characters until I found out how valuable they could be in a level functioning as their own structure. Because Clu remains the clear best option, she relegates the other characters to being nothing more than builders and towers themselves. In rare occasions I found myself utilizing someone else, but that was more due to their position to take care of a problem Clu was too far away from.
Upgrades for defensive structures and weapons are tied to two different currencies. Both are collected throughout a level and gained from bonuses at the end, like getting all the collectibles and not letting a single enemy through while defending. They are so closely tied to those bonuses that without them it seems impossible to get upgrades without them. That seemed to have a cascading effect, as the difficulty would rise faster than the upgrades would come.
I played the entire game solo, which I think attributed to the chaotic feeling I got from Aegis Defenders. Having to juggle four different characters to build up a defense and collect resources in a short time, then to monitor the various waves of enemies coming your way was reduced dramatically in co-op. With someone else, suddenly you have halved what you have to accomplish in the same amount of time. This means that even at the easiest difficulty, Aegis Defenders is a challenge in solo play. For co-op, the higher difficulties will still give you and a friend plenty of trouble.
I had built up Aegis Defenders in my mind as it was a game I wanted to be great, and I am pleased that it definitely met my expectations. It looks great, controls great, and the gameplay is downright fantastic. The Metroidvania portion will hold your attention and is competently done, but the tower defense portion propelled itself right to the top of the genre. If you're a tower defense fan, Aegis Defenders is a must.
Aegis Defenders fuses two genres seamlessly, providing one of the best tower defense experiences in years.
- Frantic, Engaging Gameplay
- Wide Variety of Mechanics
- Great Art
- Deep Tower Defense
- Uneven Progression System
- Story Gets in Way of Gameplay