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‘Defenders of Time' a challenging tower defense that struggles with the details

"Defenders of Time" has six maps in total that range from easy to nearly impossible.

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By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 19, 2014

The best tower defense games offer up bite-sized gaming experience marked by frantic resource management and a low barrier to entry. The worst of them are derivative cash-ins that bring nothing new to the table besides a “me too” feel.

“Defenders of Time,” from developer Four Lights, sits somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, bringing a sense of familiarity with it, as well as some baggage that should’ve been left behind.

Like most tower defense games, “Defenders” tasks the player with protecting a base element from an endless swarm of enemies by building immobile attack units. Why are we asked to do this? The game never really makes that clear, but suffice it to say, the entire world hangs in the balance.

You begin the game with a basic firing unit that remains the only unit you can actually build. After you pick up enough points from killing the early waves of enemies, those units can then be upgraded to a variety of towers. The usual suspects are here. An area of effect tower, a rapid firing tower, a tower that slows encroaching enemies and aerial defense units all make an appearance. Each of those can eventually be upgraded to more powerful or utilitarian forms. It’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before in a tower defense game. 

That doesn’t mean the game is without any sort of creativity. Where you place units will warp the creep paths, which adds a new layer of strategy to the proceedings. Smart players will position dummy towers to funnel enemies into a kill zone from which there is no escape. Well, in theory.

In practice, the endless waves become more and more difficult so that defeat becomes an inevitability. The point isn’t necessarily to defeat the swarm, but to survive as long as possible. I never reached higher than the silver medal, and that was with the map choked with every possible square occupied by an upgraded tower. The game is no walk in the park.

What “Defenders of Time” brings new to the table is the multiplayer mode that has you fling units at opponents who are doing the same to you. Much in the same way that you can upgrade towers, allied critters can be outfitted with stealth, tougher armor, flight and super speed.

This mode is clearly the focus of most of the pre-release public announcements, and it’s easy to see why. Despite the somewhat ho-hum single player mode, this mode can be frantic fun.

I say “can” because the game’s multiplayer lobbies are dead. I had a lot of difficulty even finding a game to join and when I did, the wait was long. I tried this in times when both Europe and America should have been up and gaming, but there really was no discernable difference.

Luckily, you can invite a friend to play with you without having to buy another copy of the game. They simply download the free client, accept your invite and you can indulge in some fairly exciting multiplayer action.

Along with the matchmaking, some other minor annoyances mar the overall experience of “Defenders.” The story really is non-existent, which is somewhat understandable. It is, after all, a tower defense game — not a role-playing game. Still, the best in the genre — “Kingdom Rush” and “Plants vs. Zombies,” for example — make some effort to invest the player in what’s happening.

There are some technical issues as well, though far fewer since the Nov. 18 patch. The newly added fullscreen toggle has caused two different crashes to desktop and the links to explain tower and enemy unit details send players to an external website. Visually, the game is serviceable, but unspectacular. The music is a charming evocation of old-timey science fiction scores, though it repeats a bit too quickly for my tastes.

Overall, it’s hard to really recommend “Defenders of Time” unless you’re able to regularly corral friends into joining some multiplayer tower defense shenanigans. The multiplayer is where this game really shines, but the relying on the lobby to find a game is an exercise in frustration. In fact, for the entire time I’ve been writing this, I’ve be waiting for an opponent to play against to no avail.

Still, there is something to be said about a game that makes you want to play it. If anybody wants to hop on and get some easy wins against a tower defense noob, I’ll be waiting in the lobby.

Bottom line: Pick this up if you and your friends enjoy tower defense games or if you’re a diehard fan of the genre.

Rating: T for Teen.

​Platforms: PC (via Steam)

Online at thedefendersoftime.com

darnell.michael@stripes.com

This is an all too familiar screen, hours of inactivity in the lobby and excessively long waits for multiplayer matches.
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