Jonas Holgersson of indie studio Holgersson Entertainment knows a thing or two about strategy games. Last year I reviewed his PC puzzler Terraform that had players reshaping whole planets via carefully planned out geological and meteorological events. In his latest title, Fortify: Special Edition, the scale might not be as god-like, but the fate of a kingdom is still at stake. Is it worth the effort to rid the land of evil? Yes, but you’d better keep your pride in check even if you consider yourself a tower defense master.
Fortify: Special Edition puts players in charge of defending a castle from marauding monsters commanded by a an evil overlord. Enemies approach in waves from all directions of the top-down map, and units can be placed within or outside the castle’s walls to stop its destruction. The campaign mode requires the player to keep the castle standing for the in-game duration of a couple of weeks before finally facing the big, bad, boss man himself. Two additional game modes, Arcade and Multiplayer, extend the playability. Arcade mode ramps the difficulty up to the highest setting to see how many rounds the player can last. Multiplayer (LAN-only) tasks each player with attacking the other player’s castle while still defending their own.
The player’s combat units are represented by various soldier types – including ranged and melee – with different abilities for range, attack power, skills, etc. They are purchased using gold earned by defeating enemies as well as with resources collected on the map (more on that later). Because enemies approach from different directions and each unit has a limited field of view, they must be moved either individually or as a group. This is where a lot of time is spent in the early part of the game, and it is a source of frustration as combat units are fairly dumb. Units will only attack if the enemy is within their f.o.v, even if the enemy is standing right next to them. It eventually becomes less of a problem once enough soldiers are purchased for maximum coverage in all directions.
As with many tower defense games, there’s a decision to made between trying to overwhelm the enemy with sheer numbers versus using valuable resources to purchase upgrades. What helps separate Fortify from lesser games in the genre are the vast number and types of upgrades available. On the lower end of the scale, players can boost the castle’s defenses and add towers to improve offensive stats. Perform enough of these upgrades and that unlocks the ability to move the game – and castle – to newer ages of technological advancement. With those evolutionary changes come new soldier types, new player-executed attack options (i.e. catapult, oil slick), and buildings that open up even more upgrade paths.
One of my favorite twists on the genre turns the game into a bit more of an RTS. There are three outposts that are located on the map. Each outpost is associated with a different resource – lumber, iron, and stone – and can be mined for that resource with the proper care and attention. A building must first be built on the location, and then workers must be purchased and sent there. Resources are mined incrementally over time as long as there are one or more workers at that location. This all sounds well and good, but it’s not as easy as it seems. These outputs are typically fragile, and since they’re outside the castle’s confines they are open to attack. Workers caught inside when the walls fall are killed. As with the castle, outposts can be upgraded with tougher walls, stronger defense measures, and increased capacity for workers. So with all of the other issues for the player to contend with, they must also repeatedly decide whether to dump valuable resources – as well as the player’s attention – into the main castle or these outposts.
This factors into the game’s biggest weakness: the pacing of the difficulty. I’m normally a default-to-Normal kinda guy, but I highly recommend starting at the easiest difficulty setting to get a handle on how the game plays. The early game tends to be the hardest part because the need to constantly adjust the combat units can keep the player from making much – if any – progress towards the longer-term objectives. Some of the individual combat units have special skills or stances that the player can activate, but I found I never had time to use them while they were still useful. There’s simply too much to micromanage, not enough time to assess, and it can lead to frustrating failures. The player can pause the game anytime to get a better look at the battleground and read all of the upgrade options, but that goes against the natural flow of playing an action game. On the flip side, if the player can manage to survive the early onslaught, build and maintain some outposts, and start mining resources, the game pretty much plays itself during the last few days. This problem is nothing new to the genre since the goal of most tower defense games involves creating an undefeatable juggernaut.
Fortify: Special Edition is one of those games where I quickly thought I had my mind made up about it. During the first couple of times I attempted the campaign, I lost and was left with a sour taste in my mouth. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, especially when overestimating one’s own ability to take on a new game in a genre they’re well acquainted with. After easing myself in at a lower difficulty, learning how and when to work towards the long-term goals, and generally just figuring out how to actually play the game, I came away much more satisfied with the experience. I don’t know that this is a game that I’ll keep coming back to once I’ve conquered the harder difficulties, but it’s a solid tower defense game in spite of some issues with the difficulty pacing.
This game was reviewed using a PC copy provided by the developer for that purpose. Version 1.02 was used in this review. It is available for PC and Mac through Desura, GamersGate, and IndieGameStand. The original Fortify is available as a free download from Holgersson Entertainment.
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