I've had Deathtrap on my Steam wishlist for a while, since I'm a sucker for Tower Defence games, and when it was on sale a few weeks back I finally bought it. I hadn't read anything about it beforehand, but thought it looked good and a little different in atmosphere to most TDs, being part of the Van Helsing universe (which I know nothing about). While most TDs tend towards a light-hearted, bright style, here was something a bit darker and advertising 'Knee-deep in blood' as a selling point. Would it prove to be any fun?
It's technically a tower defence/action RPG hybrid, but I tend to class any games with a serious TD element as a tower defence more than anything else - if you have a game with static defences where those static defences aren't vital to your survival, then I wouldn't call it a tower defence anymore. Deathtrap is definitely a tower defence game, where your powers as an individual are nothing to be sneered at, but won't be able to compensate for bad tower placement. Well, I couldn't while playing as the Sorceress (there are three classes to pick from, with Mercenary and Marksman being the other choices), but since she's more of a support character perhaps that's why. It sounds like the Mercenary would do much better at blocking and delaying creatures. Good use of your character powers can certainly help, but I never felt my actions really made the difference between success and failure, except in the odd case of picking off weakened creatures that had almost made it to the exit, but that's only related to the basic ability to attack creatures, and hardly counts as smart play.
You have a lot of choices in levelling up your character, and there's even an equipment and loot layer on top of this along with a basic crafting system. It's a lot to consider, and while the game unlocks extra tiers of abilities at a good rate to prevent you being overwhelmed, I sometimes wondered how much difference some of the incremental changes to powers were making (a little extra damage, a little extra range, doesn't really feel much different in the game). One thing I really like is that the creatures you face don't arbitrarily get tougher in each wave - there's a wide range of enemies, and it's their numbers and combination which makes later waves harder. This means you'll always have the same effectiveness against a given monster, rather than becoming almost useless in later waves (which I thought was a bit of a shame in Sanctum, for instance).
There are also a lot of decisions to make regarding the traps - they all have three battlefield abilities which much be purchased in battle (e.g. a trap might have three levels of damage upgrade, but you'll need to research those first, and then buy them for every trap in each battle, if you want), and there are two passive abilities which don't need to be activated in the battles. Traps are split into five categories, and placement locations in each map are pre-defined - there is no maze building in Deathtrap, and you can't simply use the same strategy every game since the mix of tower types and locations will be different. I thought this was a really good way to get me to consider the different types of trap available and try to prepare a range of options to counter particular enemy types (many traps are strong or weak against particular enemies, which are split into Normal / Horde / Giant and Armoured). If I have the choice, I like using mechanical floor based spike traps against armoured enemies, but if there aren't enough of those available I have a mystical tower to provide the needed piercing firepower.
The game provides excellent information on enemy wave composition and the capabilities of each monster. Where in a lot of games I feel I have to figure out the strengths of my opposition with a sort of trial and error, or vague paragraphs with unclear strengths and weaknesses listed, it was refreshing to be able to easily link spawn points with particular monsters, and just click through to a nice entry with all the relevant information. You could argue that this takes away any uncertainty or surprise and makes things more mechanical, but it's a tower defence game - I don't think many people play TDs expecting surprises as such, and often you'll be replaying maps looking for the perfect score anyway. In Deathtrap I'm never going to fail a wave just because I didn't realize quite how many flying enemies were coming. You can't see the details future waves to my knowledge, but so far the game hasn't pulled any cheap tricks by totally changing the monster type composition in the last wave or anything like that.
The action RPG part isn't the best, with mouse control often a clunky way to try and move around - sometimes the UI gets in your way when trying to retreat down a narrow route or dodge back and forth to avoid enemy ranged attacks. I'd love the option to move around with the WASD keys rather than mouse clicks. Also, the promised gore and spectacle doesn't really happen. Yeah, there's a fair bit of blood, and some nice effects when monsters get frozen, but for me Orcs Must Die 2 felt much more visceral with the loss of limbs and such doing a much better job of conveying how nasty some of the traps were. The killing in Deathtrap is fairly bland, but there's still satisfaction to be had seeing a mass of horde monsters collapse shortly after passing a lava trap. The game also has multiplayer, with coop and some kind of competitive mode, but I'm not sure if I'll get the chance to try those out. Overall, I've enjoyed my time with it a lot - only four hours so far, but I'll be going back for more.
What's All this then?
I like making and writing about PC games - mostly strategy games. Expect after action reports, thoughts about design and gameplay, and maybe even a few prototypes.