Friday, 9 May 2014

GemCraft - Chasing Shadows

Okay, so I've been posting exclusively about being crazy lately, but while not doing so I have been playing a lot of GemCraft - Chasing Shadows.

This, to me, is a real nerd's paradise of a game.  Tower defence games are often very frustrating, and aren't often great games.  Gameplay goes like this:

  1. Well, I have 100 gold and a tower costs 100 gold so I guess I'll build one.
  2. Oh, there are 10 enemies, my tower killed them, they were worth 10 gold each, I guess I have 100 gold, so I'll buy another tower
  3. Repeat
But then devolves into:
  1. Well, I can buy the tower that kills fliers, or the one that kills big guys, or the one that kills swarms of little guys.  I guess I'll just pick one?
  2. Oh, the last wave was big guys, I lost, I guess I'll play the level again and pick big guys this time
  3. Repeat
These are puzzle games with limited numbers of moves where the "difficulty" is often derived from your inability to see the future.  To combat the build-and-wait gameplay there is a whole spin-off genre where you have both towers and a first- or third-person fighting game where your character does a lot of the killing themselves.

I actually didn't really like GemCraft or GemCraft chapter 0, but GemCraft Labyrinth really brought the pure tower defence game to a new level where I feel like I'm actually playing a game.  GemCraft - Chasing Shadows builds on that.

What makes it so much better than it's peers?  First of all, you don't just build towers that shoot enemies, you can build other structures, and you can even build them on the path enemies walk to make the path longer or divert their flow.  That is, you can alter the playing field.

You don't just have speed up and speed down buttons or the ability to call waves of enemies early, you can enrage the waves of enemies by building gems and bombing them, making those waves more powerful with more enemies.  That is, you can alter how many enemies you are facing and how strong they are.

At the beginning of each level you can choose modifiers that multiply the experience you receive and also change how the level plays.  They can make certain kinds of enemies more power and more common, make waves come faster, and do other, stranger things.  That is, you decided what challenges come with each level.

Tower defence games have a huge amount of passivity built into them.  GemCraft has become more and more active.  Not in a click-wildly sense, but in a make-choices sense.  And for all that customization, the game still manages to make the different fields interestingly different from one another, and put up unique challenges as you go.

The advancement system is very cool, and the addition of the talisman - a 15 socket equipment screen to fill with random drops - is great.  Amazingly enough, the minimalistic story line is great as well, and the grand villain is actually substantially menacing with the black static that appear on the screen before she sends her horrible creations after you.

Apparently this was greenlighted on Steam but you can play it for free on Armor Games right now.  There is a $4.99 option to buy the "Magician's Pouch" which unlocks a few extra traits and skills.  I made a point of playing it for quite a while before buying just to experience the unaugmented game, and not only is the free version very playable, but the paid version doesn't ruin things.  If you want to play this game a lot and rack up millions of xp and super high rarity talisman fragments then you probably want to buy it as it unlocks chain hit gems on every level, although there is a work-around that makes it not-very-necessary which I don't want to post here because it's big-time spoilery.

This game feels like it has a huge amount of play to it.  I'm only barely over level 200 right now, and I certainly plan on getting that to at least a thousand.  I'll probably get back to Diablo 3 with the next patch, but for now it's GemCraft all the time.

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