Review: CastleStorm is a polished game that doesn’t know what it wants to be
If the genre of “hardcore medieval-inspired arcade action strategy games” exists, CastleStorm, the newest offering from pinball kingpin Zen Studios, falls right in line with it. It’s sort of a tower defense game, but not really. It’s sort of a 2D action game, but not really. And, oddly enough, it’s also very close to Angry Birds in some ways, but again, not really. What we end up with is an arcade-style game that’s visually similar to Warcraft 3, fairly fun, and polished, yet it's not particular memorable or revolutionary. It simply “is”, and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that.
Basic gameplay sets two opposing forces across from each other on a 2D plane. They have castles with ballistae that are capable of launching various projectiles. Ballistae are controlled in real time by the players, who are defending themselves from ground troops, which they are also sending out against the enemy castle using automatically replenishing resources. At the same time, there are also spells that can be cast on the field, some of which enable you to briefly take control of a hero out on the battlefield, with simple 2D action combat gameplay. Your objective is usually something along the lines of defeating all the enemies or capturing/defending a flag, but there’s also always the option of destroying your opponent’s castle, a la Angry Birds. Oh yeah, and if you want, you can also fully customize your castle to have the exact rooms that give your units, heroes, and ballista the proper bonuses.
If that sounds a bit overcomplicated, it certainly is. Playing the game successfully requires equal parts strategy and finger dexterity, but fortunately for CastleStorm, the gameplay itself doesn’t really suffer. The game is very polished and deep, and the single-player campaign is structured so that you can unlock around 30 projectiles, units, and castle rooms, each of which can be upgraded about 10 times with the gold you get for winning.
Gameplay is based around a killstreak mechanic, which activates a frenzy mode where your projectiles no longer have a cooldown period for a few moments and you can spam your enemy units and their castle with your most powerful attacks. The flipside of this, however, is that if you don’t manage your upgrades in exactly the right way, the game becomes extremely difficult, especially during the last few missions. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t do much to guide you down the correct path. This requires you to go back and replay old missions to get the required gold to make the right upgrades, which can be pretty tedious, and it absolutely feels like the developers intentionally padding the game’s length.
That said, the game does have a star system, where completing all the bonus objectives in a level earns you more gold and achievements. You can also unlock a satisfying amount of side missions, which are often arcadey and more replayable than the story missions.
There’s also a bunch of different local and online competitive and co-op survival multiplayer modes, but there weren’t enough people online pre-launch for me to fully dive in to that aspect of the game. I played a few local matches, though, and they weren’t any less enjoyable than the campaign. The survival modes are particularly enjoyable, and the idea of splitting up the various jobs required of you in single-player makes the game more fun.
On the technical side, the game is very colorful, the lighting is absolutely beautiful, and the graphics are very well done. However, as I already mentioned, the game is made in that very Warcraft 3 style, which doesn’t make CastleStorm feel particularly unique.
The music is generic-sounding, but also very acceptable, even though the bass was insane on my surround sound setup. Also, its vaguely modern electronic style didn’t really go well with the setting.
The writing too was a little forgettable, consisting of little more than ham-fisted references ( i.e. “One liege to rule them all...”) and the skeleton of a plot. But I get the sense that the story isn’t the real intended draw of this game so much as the gameplay is, so take that how you will.
All in all, there’s not a lot about this game to object to. It sells itself as a tower defense/action/Angry Birds RPG, and that’s exactly what it is. If that’s what you’re looking for, cool; it’s very successful at being that type of game. However, there’s nothing here that doesn’t seem derivative, and the game is probably going to be a little too complicated for most. If you live for games like this, you’ll be very satisfied when CastleStorm drops next week, but anyone else might want to wait until it’s on sale before picking it up.