Developer: One Up Plus
Publisher: Goblinz Publishing, Klabater
Genre: Tactical RPG, Tower Defense, Roguelite
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Also Available For: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Defend the Rook is an interesting little twist on the tower defense genre that combines it with a tactical RPG and throws some roguelite elements in for good measure. You inhabit the role of The Magister, a powerful wizard in control of an equally powerful artifact known as the rook, which allows them to control battles from afar with the aid of the spirits of legendary nameless heroes.
Battles take place on a nine-by-nine grid, with an assortment of blocks in the terrain randomly generated for each one which in addition to impeding unit movement serve as the spaces you can build your towers on. Players are tasked with – what else? – Defending the Rook from waves of enemies that are also somewhat randomized. If one of your three heroes falls, you can still pull out a win and you’ll get them back for the next battle, but losing the Rook means game over. Naturally, the waves of enemies get progressively harder, but so too do you get periodic opportunities to upgrade your heroes, traps, and towers, whether that means straight increases to stats or added functionalities such as your rogue becoming un-targetable by attacks if he killed an enemy that turn. Your ability to upgrade is of course limited, but as with any well-balanced game that just means doing the best you can with the random cards you’re given.
Defend the Rook isn’t terribly hard, as roguelites go; at least, not at first. I was able to win on my first-ever run without much difficulty at all, after which I discovered that it has an ascension system for gradually ramping up the difficulty of successive runs. In addition, you can unlock variants of your three heroes, your towers, spell setup, give yourself persistent upgrades, and more between runs. Unfortunately, the game is also extremely unstable on PlayStation, plagued by frequent crashes and times when the game stopped responding to my attempts to control it. Towards the end of the second stage (out of five) of my second run, I ran into a consistent error that made the game crash within two turns every time I re-launched it and booted up my autosave. This didn’t so much take the wind out of my sails as it slashed them up, and I was not eager to continue wrestling against the port’s instability, so I didn’t.
Which, admittedly, doesn’t feel like as big of a shame as one might hope. Though the gameplay is fun and the somewhat stripped-down graphical aesthetic it has going on is appealing, I had issues with my time in the game beyond just the crashing and bugs. Foremost among these is a lot of visual clutter that makes levels unpleasant to look at when things get hectic. Though the individual models of pieces on the board are stylistically light on detail, the sheer number that can come to be on the board at once combined with the camera angle of the game make it occasionally hard to parse just what’s you’re looking at. I never found it reached the point of complete incoherence, and the turn-based nature of things certainly helps mitigate the negative impact on the gameplay, but it’s still not great.
The sound design, meanwhile, is kind of… nothing, if I’m being honest. Sound effects lack any real impact, which made me feel a bit disconnected from it all, and the score was so quiet even after adjusting sound settings that I couldn’t hear it at all without turning my tv up louder than I’m comfortable doing. There’s also the matter of the opening cutscene between The Magister and a Queen employing their services being voiced, only for none of the rest of the game to have any acting in it. If the opening scene hadn’t been voiced either, I wouldn’t have any issue, but it strikes me as shabby when a game is only partially voiced unless it’s an enormous visual novel or something.
Though there’s enjoyment to be had in Defend the Rook, I wouldn’t personally recommend it when it has so much competition out there. I definitely wouldn’t recommend the PlayStation port of it unless they fix the technical issues, so if you really have to get this one, do yourself a favor and get the PC version
Defend The Rook
Defend the Rook is a game with a solid gameplay loop, held back by being a bit hard to follow visually and some rather sever performance issues. If you can muscle past those, you're golden.