The Nardio Review
Is Hero Defense Worth Your Time?
No. Not unless you don’t mind boring and pointless grinding.
How it Plays:
Hero Defense is an active tower defense game. Instead of traditional stationary towers you manually move your characters around the board to stop enemy waves. The heroes are the towers. It’s an interesting premise that is utterly kneecapped by its convoluted upgrade and currency systems.
Let me first explain to you the currency problems.
Hero Defense plays and feels like the developers wanted to release this game as a freemium mobile game and then, at the last minute, slightly tweaked it and made it a Steam premium game. There are two currencies: gold and gems. You earn gold from completing the campaign levels and replaying them on different difficulties and challenges. You then have to use gold to upgrade buildings and also to buy gems. Some building upgrades allow you upgrade your stats in certain ways and others will allow you to do more things. For example, upgrading the bank allows you to buy more gems with ever increasing amounts of gold. You will always need to farm gold because the building upgrade prices always get more and more expensive. You will also use the gold to buy runes which I will explain later.
How do you get gems in game? You can get them by completing side missions, but those are insanely hard bordering on impossible to get any decent amount that way. You will mostly get them by buying them with gold from the bank. But it’s not that simple. The amount of gems you are able to buy with gold depends on the level of your bank. This is an infuriatingly stupid gold/time sink. You upgrade your bank by spending a lot of gold…all so you can spend a lot more gold buying ever larger sums of gems. It’s convoluted and stupid. It’s horribly frustrating game design. But it only gets worse. Because using gems is an absolute necessity in game. Want to upgrade your characters? Gems. Want more power up shrines on the game map? Gems. The cost multiplies the more of them you place! Like not even a little. It’s infuriating. Then comes the worst gem sinks.
You see your characters unlock items called runes after beating missions. These runes go into weapon slots that give your characters very important boosts. Let’s also not forget you need lots and lots of gems to upgrade your weapon to get more slots for runes. The better your runes the better you do in game. You also get runes from replaying certain levels on harder difficulties. These are very, very hard to get. There is also a Merge system in place to combine runes. There is no explanation for this system whatsoever and I’ve actually found myself wasting runes because of this.
Or you buy them in trading cards packs. The catch is that you will get them randomly. Yep, nothing says freemium premium than wasting lots of farmed money in the hopes of ending up with something hopefully useful. But wait, the freemium runs strong here! You can only get the best packs with gems!
Discovering these gem gates is maddening and depressing. Wanna upgrade your hero’s weapon with very much needed attack power and more rune slots?
5 gems>10 gems>20 gems>40 gems>200 gems.
I’m only up to the 200 gem gate, so I can’t tell you what is past that stupidly high amount.
This stupid gem pricing is the stuff of bad freemium mobile games that flood the app stores. This isn’t supposed to be in a darn $10.00 premium game on Steam. Your ability to upgrade your characters is also stuck behind a gold gate. You need ever increasing amounts of gold to upgrade your skills otherwise you can’t even use the skill points you earned. Why? Seriously why? Why gate progression as if this is a free Gameloft game on the iPad? This sort of progression gating has no place on a paid game. I’m sorry to be so salty here, but it’s really frustrating to be constantly forced to grind gold not only for gems but for everything else in game.
Remember when I was explaining the building upgrades? For the most part these building upgrades don’t seem to make a big difference as you play. Both the attack boost and the town hall boosts seem negligible. Since enemy units seem to randomly get stronger there never really seems to be much progress. Even when you go back and farm earlier levels and challenges you never feel that much stronger. This makes all the upgrade gates just seem like a waste of time. I’ve upgraded the skill building several times only to still have some unusable talents. It’s beyond frustrating since not only can’t I progress in campaigns but character-wise because I haven’t grinded gold enough. This isn’t supposed to be about grinding gold, it’s supposed to be about defense isn’t it? I get the feeling later on this game will be re-released as free giving players the “option” to buy gold. The only thing missing from making this a proper freemium game is the ability to buy gems and making the game totally free.
I know I’ve ranted a lot about everything other than the main gameplay, but all my complaints make the gameplay all the more insufferable. Any time I lose an area I know my only option is to grind seemingly endlessly. But sure, let’s go into the gameplay.
First and foremost you will find yourself with a pitiful tutorial. You are going to lose a few games just figuring things out. Like how to keep moving your character. I’ve found the most reliable way to move a character is to select their portrait and then dragging from there. Oddly selecting them manually and trying to move them is a frustrating, broken affair. Next, you discover your characters awkwardly follow roundabout paths to get around the map. It’s painfully slow and frankly punishing. This is especially bad when your heroes are grouped up on one side of the map to finish off the last mobs and the next pack comes in from the other side of the map. You helplessly watch as your heroes use the longest, most indirect way possible to the destination. I was having classic Carmen Sandiego flashbacks. I’ve had several wins due to flat out luck thanks to this weird mechanic.
The next glaring problem is that enemy units are randomly stronger and weaker from level to level. Some starting levels you can solo the first wave. Other times you struggle. The same happens with enemies as the stages go on. Enemies just get tougher but look no different. At least use different skins or something. The enemies with shield icons are sometimes weaker than those without. It makes no sense. This problem could have easily been fixed if the developers added more units to the game. The amount in game now is pitiful and detracts from the overall experience.
The next problem is part of what has me stuck in the game currently, Wylde is a character introduced pretty late in the game, yet he is immediately needed. Unfortunately he is woefully, painfully, mind bogglingly under powered. Once you eke, and I mean eke, through the stage you need to grind especially hard to power him up. This is detracting to the overall experience and feels forced. Even with all the grinding I have done with him he still feels useless thanks to the random difficulty with werewolf mobs. Oh yeah, the werewolf mobs also heal themselves over time. Good stuff. That coupled with his pathetic attack damage is pretty much game breaking for me unless I devote myself to grinding for hours or even days. I’m three levels away from beating the game, but for the life of me I cannot defeat the last werewolf boss because Wylde is so freaking weak. Going back to town and seeing all those painful gold/gem gates is spirit breaking.
Next comes the unbelievably painful and god-awful voice acting and writing. I’ve never, ever complained about bad voice acting before outside of a Funimation dub, but geez this is just horrible. It’s like the voice actors recorded individual sentences and the developer mixed them together. Just mute this game. The music is forgettable and the voice acting is painful making Hero Defense that much more frustrating.
The power up system deserves some attention. Some stages give you more than others seemingly at random. The same can be said of the challenges. As far as I can tell you can’t upgrade these or get more of them for missions. This pointless boost system seems half baked. I wish they worked on a cool down system. Maybe with charges I could upgrade to have greater amounts. This could have been an interesting thing to be able to upgrade. Yes I know I am complaining about the horrible upgrade systems all around the game, but lot being able to boost my power ups and supply of them is just weird. I still have no idea whatsoever what boosting my villagers’ town hall really does. I was hoping it would give me more Angry Mob waves, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The game mentions the ability to recharge your waves but never explains how to do it! Considering how useful this ability is I find this to be a huge fail by the developer. Seriously how do I recharge this?
So why did I spend so much time eviscerating this game? Why did I spend so much time enduring Hero Defense? Because deep down there is an interesting game. Because despite the overly convoluted progression system I have been able to progress. (Although I did hit a wall I have not been able to pass for a long while now) albeit with lots of grinding that felt forced and punishing. Because, dammit, I want to love this game. The gamer in me feels like I should be able to beat this. To overcome the bad design and at least finish the game. The trailer was interesting, the gameplay has tons of potential and every once in a while I actually find myself enjoying the Hero Defense. But every single time I go back to town or look at upgrading my characters my good mood quickly turns sour. Now to upgrade my XP earned with my skill building I need 10 gems. Why?
I get the feeling so many of the problems I have with Hero Defense are either because of its very likely beginnings as a freemium game. The progression system practically screams, buy gems for $. You don’t even have the chance to get rare or legendary runes unless you farm an insane amount of gold and then buy and spend and insane amount of gems. All that and you still don’t know what runes you will even be getting.
It could also be because the developer couldn’t add more content and shoehorned in these convoluted grind gates as a way to make Hero Defense last longer and feel worth the $10.00 price tag. Sadly that is not the case. From the lacking enemy designs to the small amount of stages, I get the feeling this game was really stretched for workable content and the developers made due in the worst possible ways. Hero Defense would greatly benefit from several more enemy units at the very least. Fighting the exact same enemies over and over and over again is boring. Having those very same enemies feel stronger and more immune to my upgraded characters totally takes away from the experience. It totally flies in the face of everything a good defense game should be.
I love defense games. I love games with character progression and gameplay that allows player freedom. Unfortunately, Hero Defense almost feels like a linear experience since you need specific heroes to kill specific monsters. That design choice limits the gameplay and makes every level much less interesting and unfortunately punishing. I could understand if there was a damage bonus certain characters had with certain monsters, but that’s not the case. Here characters are so situationally useful and useless it’s maddening. It seems the first hero you get, Jack, can somewhat hurt most of the enemies, but not all of them. I feel like this only X hero can do significant damage to X monster needs serious tweaking and reconsideration. Maybe I need better runes, but that just drags me back to the stupid rune/gem systems and gates. Knowing that, I constantly feel like I am playing a freemium game here as I am being nickeled and dimed, but it’s a premium game doing this to me.
I feel with all of these grind gates my time is not being respected at all. All of these things detract from what could have been an amazing and refreshing experience. Every once in a while I want to go back to Hero Defense. I feel like I can make it work, but then playing it again and realizing how hard I am going to have to grind those thousands of gold demoralizes and honestly upsets me. Thankfully, I didn’t pay for this game. I think this review would have had more cusses and salt in it if I did.
Honesty, I’d like this game to do well. I’d like it if there were significant patches to streamline the experience. Maybe some more content so that Hero Defense feels more like a beefy adventure. The developer has recently added an event to encourage more players to burn through the content, but no one is ever on to attempt coop or PvP. This event gives me hope the developer is at least still interested in the game. But it also reminds me of freemium game events where the developers just want to keep the whales interested. It would be interesting if event specific stages opened up. But that is sadly not the case here.
The innovative ideas and interesting premise put Hero Defense on my radar. The occasional fun level or challenge kept me playing. The gamer inside of me who just wants to finish this damn game is why I kept going. Then when I wanted to just delete the game the game reviewer in me drove me to give it several hours more. Just to be sure. I don’t want or like to give games bad reviews, especially if they have so much potential. But at the end if the day, I found myself angry, frustrated and disgusted with Hero Defense. I totally would not be surprised if very, very soon Hero Defense finds itself offered for free on iTunes. It just feels like it belongs there.
As a freemium game.
A Steam game key for Hero Defense was given to me for free for this review.
- Normally $9.99 for the game on Steam
- Now $4.99 on sale