The Final Countdown: Sanctum 2

When the original Sanctum launched for the PC back in 2011, it introduced a new way to play tower defense games. Coffee Stain Studios set out to put players on the battleground rather than relegating them to planning out strategies and watching the action unfold from afar, and the developer succeeded for the most part. Sanctum wasn't without a handful of flaws, however. Specifically, the game included a small number of levels at launch, and it didn't offer too much in the way of variety. Still, the experience made for a fun time, and it paved the way for a potentially great sequel.

I had the chance to check out Sanctum 2 at a recent preview event, and after both watching it in action and playing it for myself, it's obvious that a lot of time went into evolving the formula set forth in the original game. Yes, this is a direct sequel, but it doesn't just use recycled mechanics and animations. This time around, Coffee Stain has further developed the way you'll play by adding some nice nuances to the game.

Four Distinct Playable Characters

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The first Sanctum starred a single character named Skye. While this particular protagonist has returned to kick more ass in Sanctum 2, she's now joined by three newcomers. If you're looking for an all-around good character who's skilled and can hold her own, you'd do well to stick with Skye. If you plan on playing a bit differently, though, any one of the new player characters is a viable candidate.

First up is Sweet Autumn, who I had the chance to play as during my time with Sanctum 2. This delightfully cheeky character can hold her own against hordes of enemies thanks to her launcher, which fires three projectiles consecutively or all at once for a powerful offensive blast. She always has a bunch of quirky things to say, making her a lot of fun to play as.

If you'd rather get in your enemies' faces, perhaps Haigen will be more to your liking. Despite being one of those scrawny types, this dude's covered in some heavy-duty armor and can take a pounding. Close combat is Haigen's deal, and his high level of health will likely make him a great choice for action players.

Last is SiMo, who acts as the sniper of the group. With his long-range capabilities and solid aim, this robotic hero can pick enemies off from a distance with great finesse. While the earlier levels in Sanctum 2 are fairly small, later stages can get quite sizable, allowing SiMo to attack from afar and even scout baddies from high perches.

Full Campaign

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Unlike Sanctum, this sequel features a full campaign right from the get-go. This mode will take you across 16 levels that get progressively bigger and tougher. Rather than dishing out a punishing challenge immediately, Sanctum 2 slowly builds the difficulty so as to not alienate players. Rest assured, the game will get a lot harder the more you play, but now you'll be properly trained for it as opposed to being tossed into a world that kicks your butt right from the start.

As you play, you'll unlock Feats of Strength. These optional components alter the gameplay experience by making enemies tougher, faster, and so on. Clearing Feats of Strength rewards you with more XP than you'd normally receive, allowing you to further enhance your character.

If your priority is to simply play through Sanctum 2 without putting much emphasis on the little extras, you'll probably be able to do so in about 20 hours. That's a fairly beefy campaign in and of itself, but you can easily spend more than double that time if you want to complete Feats of Strength and unlock more content. Completionists are looking at around 50 hours of playtime. There's also that important little factor known as co-op, which allows up to four players to team up and encourages multiple playthroughs.

New Leveling System

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The leveling system in Sanctum 2 is largely revamped from the first game. Leveling up rewards you with new weapons, different types of towers, and additional perks. You'll want to exploit all of your spoils to their fullest potential if you really want to best your foes. Perks will allow you to do exactly that, and these character upgrades can do anything from increasing your rate of fire to granting you a double jump that deals damage if you land on top of your enemies. Who says that privilege should be exclusive to overweight Italian plumbers?

As a result of a more complete campaign, your stats will transfer over across the game's 16 stages. This will ensure that you're constantly working toward something and are being properly rewarded for your efforts. Due to the fact that you constantly need to face tougher enemies and build more resilient defensive towers, the overhaul in the leveling system will let you get stronger right alongside those fools who are trying to take you down.

More Aggressive AI

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Enemies in Sanctum 2 aren't just brain dead oafs looking to destroy the core you're so valiantly defending. While that's certainly their main priority, they won't just continue to attack if they sense a threat. You have the ability to gain aggro, so you can draw enemies' attention away from the core and toward you. Sure, that means you'll have to put up with these bad guys attacking you directly, but that's why you're a hero! So suck it up and fight.

Great Stylistic Elements

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Visually, Sanctum 2 is easy on the eyes and boasts a particularly pretty visual style. The game runs on Unreal Engine 3, and Coffee Stain has utilized the tech to give this project a personality all its own. Bold colors and clean environments make Sanctum 2 stand out in terms of graphics, and the sci-fi setting is interesting, to say the least.

Nice lighting, shadow, and motion effects have been added to give the game a great modernist touch. New animations are also seen throughout, adding more to the overall vibe of Sanctum 2. One example is when you stack guns on your towers. Rather than just seeing them pop up on the screen and on top of your tower, these offensive add-ons fall from the sky. It's a nuanced touch that fleshes out the world just a tad more by infusing it with the inherent style seen consistently throughout the game.

Speaking of style, comic book panels give more insight on the story and characters in between missions. These usually pop up during loading screens, and they continue to pretty up the presentation with a neat flair. These scenes go hand-in-hand with the sci-fi setting and work really well.

Expansion Pack Currently in the Works

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In addition to prepping for the launch of Sanctum 2, Coffee Stain is also toiling away on some DLC for the game. Details on this post-launch content are still under wraps, but it’ll be geared toward expanding the main game’s story. I wouldn’t fault you for being skeptical about DLC already being developed for the game, but a lot of emphasis was put on the fact that this is more of an expansion that will feature more gameplay and story elements as opposed to a simple add-on, which is certainly exciting.

Sanctum 2 is due out in just a few days on May 15. Unlike its predecessor, which launched solely on the PC, this upcoming title will hit Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and PC. Whether you played the first Sanctum or not, if you're looking for a different kind of tower defense game that gives you some engaging new mechanics to work with, keep a lookout for Sanctum 2. This sequel has all the potential to turn a really good series into an absolutely great one.

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