I've not played a tower defence game in years, largely because the genre has been utterly drowned in cheap, poorly balanced clones and clones-of-clones. So when I heard a recommendation for Dungeon Warfare 2 on the Cortex podcast, complete with explanation that it was not only well-balanced but also avoided the trap of going too hard on the puzzle-game elements, I took note.
Overall, I'd say that recommendation does hold true, but it's still not quite the on-the-go entertainment I was hoping for. Don't get me wrong, DW2 is genuinely very well-balanced, and it has some pretty interesting game mechanics. There's the typical loot drops, skills trees, and level-based unlocks, all of which serve to make grinding lower levels more rewarding, but each of these systems also interacts with the others and has many possible completion paths.
But that strength is also its biggest weakness. What starts as an enjoyable, light-touch piece of trail-and-error gameplay quickly devolves into overly specific strategies and impossible to guess combinations. Each enemy has its own specific weakness. Each enemy! And there are dozens of them. Keeping track of which items and weapons do what is hard enough, but then you have to build things in specific orders for specific levels, and keep an eye on various resource pools to ensure you always have something in the bank. And that's before you even get into the whole rune-esque system of power ups, boosts, and buffs.
So whilst it does a good job of giving you a fairly paired-back form of gameplay – survive the waves by building increasingly ridiculous weapons – and whilst the design is fun, interesting, and enjoyable to both play and watch, the complexity still got to me. I want less than a half-dozen Pokémon-style "strong against this, but weak against that" at most. I don't want to have to memorise dozens of possible combinations. Of course, looking back at where the recommendation came from, this was predictable. If you're someone who doesn't just play Magic: The Gathering, but is actively good at it, you won't struggle with the meagre number of enemy charts that DW2 uses. But if you find the first generation of Pokémon a bit taxing to keep track of, then this may not be as lightweight as advertised 😅