PAX East 2014: Defense Grid 2 wants to be the very best

Whether you realize it or not, you probably already know what you’re in for with Defense Grid 2. Did you enjoy the original? Well, I can say with some confidence that if you’re still in for that kind of experience you’ll probably enjoy DG2. If you’ve moved on from traditional tower defense games and into something more genre-bending, like the FPS/tower defense hybrid Sanctum 2, or the co-op antics of Dungeon Defenders, developer Hidden Path Entertainment doesn’t seem to mind. They aren’t straying from the formula to win you back.

That might sound like a bad thing, but as Hidden Path CEO Jeff Pobst explained to me, that expansion of the genre does not in itself negate what makes Defense Grid fun. Their goal isn’t to spread thin and make a hybrid genre game, but to make the best traditional tower defense they possibly can.

For DG2 that means better feedback to the player. A score chart at the top of the screen tracks your milestones throughout a match now, allowing you to see in real time how close you are to a gold medal or a friend’s high score.

Defense Grid 2

In the core gameplay the feedback goes even deeper. A line from the enemy spawn point to your base now shows the precise path the enemies will take through your tower positions. Drop a turret down and you’ll get immediate feedback on how that changes the enemy path. In my demo it made redirecting my enemies through a much longer path filled with deadly flame towers incredibly easy.

A new heat map view lets you see how your overall turret placement outputs damage. Sell a turret and you’ll see how that area of the map is affected. This is a good way to determine weak points in your turret placement.

Another new feature to the core gameplay is dynamic chunks of the map that modify the shape of the environment and open more strategic options. For example, in the map I played, a large piece rose up from beneath the map and turned a single lane into a much larger area. In other maps, players will be able to choose whether they want to open up these new areas or not.

While the original Defense Grid was a strictly single-player experience, DG2 adds co-op and competitive modes to the mix. Co-op maps obviously have two players working together, but sometimes that may mean each player has their own area of the map to protect. A reliable teammate will be key for those instances.

The competitive mode outlined to me by Pobst was even more interesting. The idea is not unlock a multiplayer puzzle game, where successful matches send junk titles to your opponent. Killing enemies on your map will send them to that same point in the map on their instance of the game, leading to a harrowing back-and-forth battle.

Defense Grid 2

Beyond that, the PC version of the game will give players the tools to create their own levels, and in fact the level creator will be the same one the designers use. He showed me how the entire game is divided up into nodes, making the creation process straightforward. The best user-generated maps can even be brought on as paid DLC, allowing the creators to get paid for their efforts if the content is good enough. At the outset, DG2 won’t offer full mod support, but it’s something they are considering down the line.

Unfortunately the Xbox One version of the game won’t come with a level editor of its own, which struck me as an odd decision considering how straightforward the node-based map design appeared. That said, Pobst told me there is some potential for the better user-generated maps to make their way to Xbox One down the line.

Either way, Defense Grid 2 looks set to offer players plenty of content and some smart new additions to the gameplay. It may be a lot of the same core mechanics with new weapons, levels, and some clever new design decisions, but I think that will be more than enough for tower defense fans. Here’s hoping Hidden Path achieves their goal of bringing out the best pure tower defense game out there.

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