Prime World: Defenders preview – Tower defence and CCG, together at last

Prime World: Defenders

By on May 13, 2013 at 11:50 am

It seems like collectible card games are turning up everywhere these days. They’re one of the biggest growing genres on mobile devices, have enjoyed a recent revival in the physical format, and are even getting the once-over from major developers such as Blizzard. Now, thanks to indie studio Nival, the standard tower defence is getting shaken up too with Prime World: Defenders.

After a comic-book style introduction into the world of Prime, the substance called Prime and its influence on magic and technology, the game begins. The concept is pretty simple, with the player having access to a variety of towers and magic spells. The former requires Prime (money) to build, and the more you use a particular tower, the more expensive it becomes.

Magic, on the other hand, functions as a panic button of sorts. Some spells will slow the enemy, others function like a grenade. There’s no cost to magic, although some spells come with a lengthy cooldown, but I found it was largely unnecessary for most fights. But it’s once the CCG mechanics are introduced that the game really starts to become more interesting.

Every tower or spell in the game is accessible in the form of a card. Before each mission, you can review your upcoming enemies and adjust your “hand” — what towers you can play — to suit. It’s a nice little touch, acting as a great warning when you need to prepare for airborne enemies and so on.

Since every tower and spell comes in the form of a card, occasionally you’ll get double-ups. Those cards can then be combined to level up the original card, a process called “evolution”. Evolving cards unlocks upgrades while improving the attributes of the base tower.

You can also combine, or “fuse”, towers with other towers or special cards. Artifact cards, for example, increase the effectiveness at which a tower can be fused. Fusing is another method of upgrading your towers, and it’s a cheaper and more readily available option. But it’s also less effective; you might need three or four cards to upgrade the more expensive towers.

All of this is paid for with silver, earned from the completion of levels. Silver can buy items and booster packs from the in-game store as well, while special, rarer cards are available through gold, which you earn through bonus challenges and levelling up. Each level gives you extra little bonuses here and there — 10% extra silver, an extra slot for magic, more room for towers and so on — but you need silver to pay for that too.

Given that the fusing mechanic is the only thing in Prime World: Defenders that is actually cheap, you’ll need to grind quite a bit if you want everything on offer. The levels don’t change in these side missions, beyond one or two spaces being blocked, allowing you to reuse the same tactics over and over again.

The main missions thereafter are more perplexing. You’ll be defending waves from two or three different directions, with three, four or more antennae that buff the attackers. These can be killed if you place a tower nearby, although often the locations are strategically irrelevant. If your initial line of defence is broken though, the attackers are almost impossible to stop even with emergency magic or a last-ditch tower, so it’s a tight balance.

Not everything in Prime is to my liking. The camera, for instance, only rotates smoothly if you draw a circle with your mouse, shaking wildly and moving only inches with any other standard movement. I’ve also got this nagging feeling that there’s an in-app purchase somewhere around the corner, even though I know that is definitely not the case. Perhaps renaming the store or gold to something that sounds a lot less like a transaction of hard currency would do the trick.

As for the rest, I’m pleasantly surprised. I’ve enjoyed my time with Prime World: Defenders (even though the game refused to load when Steam was in Offline Mode!). It’s an impressive little title from Nival, and definitely something worth following up on if you’re a fan of the genre.

Prime World: Defenders is available now for pre-order on Steam for US$12. The game launches on May 22.

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