A real Dungeon Keeper
Never one to shy from taking on established genre leaders, Neocore Games has turned their attention from Diablo’s stomping grounds to the heady heights of tower defence with their latest labour of love, Deathtrap. Like the Van Helsing games that precede it, Deathtrap takes what we know to be familiar and builds upon it in interesting ways to forge an experience greater and far more entertaining than the sum of its parts.
Taking its cue from the tower defence interludes glimpsed in Neocore’s hack and slash focused Van Helsing games, Deathtrap tasks the player with defending a number of floating islands from an encroaching horde of murderous beasties. As is the modus operandi for tower defence titles, victory can be attained in familiar fashion; the player must set up towers (called ‘traps’ here) to destroy wave upon wave of increasingly difficult monsters before they reach the other end of the map.
Additionally, Deathtrap dutifully embraces other tenets of the genre with players earning currency, or ‘essence’ as it is called here, by killing enemy units and thus providing a means to build new traps or upgrade existing ones. It’s a well-trodden path for sure, but Neocore manage to keep things fresh by introducing the sort of Action RPG elements into the game that other developers might normally shy away from.
It’s an approach that immediately makes an impression on the player, since upon launching the game Deathtrap immediately requests that a character is generated from one of three very distinct classes of mercenary, sorceress, and marksman. As one might reasonably expect, each class suits a different playstyle with the ranged talents of the latter two classes giving way to the melee based proficiencies of the former.
So then, rather than just having you sit back as a part-time spectator and watch the carnage unfold from your towers, Deathtrap demands that players participate in a very direct way in every battle and in doing so, the experience feels a fair whack fresher than it might do in other tower defence titles. Quite honestly, laying into enemies while your traps are doing the business all around you is a satisfying feeling and one that the game replicates with delightful frequency.
Neocore haven’t just put this sort of additional player agency in the game for kicks either, as the developer clearly grasps how to mould the challenge around it. On the more challenging maps and harder difficulty levels especially, the player ends up running from place to place as they strive to stem the rushing tide of enemy forces where it appears that they might overrun beleaguered defences. Essentially, it’s the sort of pressure-cooker style gameplay that should typify the genre and Deathtrap has it absolutely nailed down.
Ink portals meanwhile help expedite player movement around the maps from point-to-point while enemy bosses make for interesting foes as each usually requires a very specific strategy to be vanquished. Some might send out drones to paralyse your traps while they fight you, others though might have an impenetrable shield that can only be dispelled by killing the enemy responsible for generating it in the first place.
Coupled with the usual chaos which is intrinsic to tower defence games, the developer’s insistence on direct player involvement ensures that Deathtrap pushes the sort of furious pace that genre stalwarts might not be completely used to, but yet remains consistently enthralling all the same.
Where things become a touch unglued is in relation to the actual traps themselves. Besides not being immediately clear from a visual perspective just how well upgraded any given particular trap is, a far more egregious trespass is that they can only be placed in pre-defined locations. As one might well imagine, this certainly limits the amount of tactical versatility available to the player and seems a little backward when compared to other entries in the genre.
Still, if such niggles threaten to dampen the experience they fade away swiftly as Deathtrap reveals substantial depths elsewhere that impress with aplomb. Chiefly, it’s the sheer expansiveness of the Action RPG elements that leave the most indelible impression, as it’s clear that Neocore have successfully parlayed their experience with the latter into something really quite special.
Aside from being able to take your plucky on-screen avatar around the map to wollop things with steel and spell alike, Deathtrap encompasses a deep character progression system that enables players to specialise and diversify their hero in a number of ways.
With each victory comes the promise of experience points that can be invested between combat, trap and world skill categories. Of the three, combat skills do what they say on the tin, enhancing the amount of damage that can be dealt through augmentation of standard and special attacks. Trap skills exaggerate the effects of certain trap types while World skills serve to buff the player and debuff the enemy in various ways.
In addition to character progression, research points (also accrued at the end of every mission) can be put into use too; allowing the player to enhance and set upgrades for the traps that they have unlocked. Finally, money and equipment can be collected throughout the game and in the case of the former, such currency can be used to purchase new items, trinkets, weapons and armour to make the act of monster slaughter a little easier.
The robustness of Deathtrap’s Action RPG DNA comes to the forefront here, as the urge to drive on through the campaign is arguably bolstered by a cloying need to progress to a better equipped, more powerful character. Such a quality lends Neocore’s inaugural foray into tower defence a compelling quality that many of its stablemates simply do not possess, yet it’s also one that fans of hack and slash titles should find some solace in, neatly expanding Deathtrap’s appeal beyond its usual audience as a result.
Those looking for a decently layered narrative though will be disappointed, as Deathtrap’s plot, though tangentially related to the lore glimpsed in the Van Helsing games, sadly stands as little more than a thin excuse for all of the game’s tower defence and monster mashing shenanigans.
In terms of value and longevity, Deathtrap has a veritable ton of content for budding trap lords to get stuck into as well. Not only does each mission have a number of different difficulty settings that allow higher rewards depending on how tough the player makes it for themselves, they also include various additional scenarios too where specific objectives need to be completed in order to proceed.
Adding yet further variance to the proceedings are side quests that have been artfully integrated into each mission. These usually entail the death of a particular creature or the recovery of an artefact, but more significantly, they change up the rhythm of the on-screen action considerably as players can duck out into the wilderness, away from the noise of the battleground to seek out lost treasures and hidden dangers.
Rounding out the package further are a smattering of multiplayer modes too, both competitive and cooperative and a surprisingly well-featured and robust map editor that allows players to design their own levels and share them with other folks online.
Longevity then, is something that Deathtrap has in absolute spades.
Technically speaking, Neocore’s latest doesn’t exactly set the world alight, but its gothic and fantasy stylings, not to mention the explosions of gore that follow every kill, certainly lend the game an eye-opening aesthetic that is ably complimented by the thundering orchestral score that accompanies its visceral action.
In borrowing so heavily from its heritage, developer Neocore could have quite easily overburdened the somewhat narrow tower defence formula with pointless additions and misery inducing micro-management busywork. As it is, Deathtrap approaches the qualitative apex of its craft and niggles aside, sets a splendid example of how to marry two genres together to make a superlative whole.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Getting up close and personal with the enemy while your traps tear them apart. It never gets old.
Good vs Bad
- The melding of ARPG and Tower Defence elements is excellently executed.
- A large campaign, multiplayer modes and map editor provide huge longevity.
- Narrative is forgettable and thin.
- Traps can only be placed in pre-defined areas.