Back in 2009, we saw the beginnings genre-defining game series. Look at Angry Birds—not the first of its kind, but the game that launched a thousand clones. Defender Chronicles [$1.99 / $4.99 (HD)] felt like one of those really important games. Yeah, it was tower defense, but it was a huge, sprawling vertical tower defense game, and that felt like something special. So it's kind of strange to be here in 2012 with few similar games to look at, and a sequel that hasn't had to outdo years of design iteration.

Not that this is strictly a negative. If there's one area where Defender Chronicles II: Heroes of Athelia [$1.99] shines the most, it's at being a faithful followup. It's shiny, new and improved, but its skeleton is the same vertical tower defense title we fell in love with in 2009. Whether you're coming at it fresh or looking for a blast from the past, it's hard not to fall for it fresh—or all over again.

We took a long look at how the sequel compares to the original in our preview, but let's assume that you're not already hyped for this game. If you're into tower defense titles, you're really going to want to give Defender Chronicles II a shot. The cool thing about vertical tower defense is how much every decision you make affects every other decision. Since there are layers of defenses stacked on top of each other, ranged units are extra valuable when positioned carefully. But enemies will walk right past them, so melee units are also vital. Each unit type fills a vital part in the game's strategy, so deciding which static position will make the best deployment is of the utmost importance.

That's the best part. The worst is the game's over-reliance on imperial tokens. These babies buy everything - new heroes, new abilities, items, the works. You'll even need to spend a big chunk of them if you want to unlock 4x play speed over the usual 2x max. Getting them can be a pain. If you're good and you're on a second or third playthrough, you can earn them pretty quickly on the highest difficulty modes. Or you can earn them at double speed in freestyle mode. On the other hand, if you're slogging through the lower difficulty tiers and not making much progress, you can always open things up a bit by buying an IAP pack or watching an ad in exchange for your daily disbursement of free tokens. It's not a paywall, but it's sure not ideal.

But here's the thing about tokens—they work out perfectly if you consider the length of time you can put into this game. There are ten levels, each with five difficulty modes to work through. And it's not like those modes range from baby's first tower defense to reasonably challenging. Novice should be pretty easy for most players, but all bets are off for anything beyond that—even Casual feels like anything but. If you want to max out your performance, you'll have a long climb ahead of you.

Once you work your way through the game with Melwen, the elven mage you start the game with, you can replay the whole thing with another hero, the General. He comes with a different set of abilities and a whole new set of stats to level and items to equip. Once you've burned through both of them, you can pay a rather steep price in tokens to unlock two more heroes to start fresh with. All of that, and we haven't even left the campaign mode. Once you work your way through the story (attractively told through comic-book cutscenes) of each level, you can try it again on any of the five difficulty modes with the randomized waves of Freestyle, or the endless onslaught of Extended mode.

When you throw in the Classic modes, which give you the pure, competitive experience of an even, artifact-free playing field, we're looking at something north of 50 full playthroughs of each level to complete every smidgen of content Defender Chronicles II has to offer. Obviously most people aren't going to work through the vast majority of that, but if you want to earn tokens and get your money's worth, there is absolutely no shortage of opportunities. That's not the only test your dedication will face—you'll also be looking at levels that have upwards of 100 waves of enemies, where one slip-up means the difference between earning a rating that could best be described as decent and earning top marks with the maximum number of stars.

If you're looking for a game to seriously sink your teeth into, Defender Chronicles II is a great choice. It has a ludicrous number of challenges to work through, with a list of loot that approaches Diablo-levels of variety and four heroes to level and equip. It's an ambitious volume of rather entertaining content. Me, I lack the dedication to play through each level a dozen times or more, but the option is there, and the rewards are significant. And all of that is before we even consider nearly 100 Game Center achievements and over a dozen leaderboards. Athelia is quite the proving ground if you're looking to test your mettle in tower defense strategy.

It might have been better if the vertical tower defense genre had seen a bit more growth in the past few years. In some ways Defender Chronicles II feels like a throwback, and leaning on IAP isn't the best way to make it feel more modern. But this sequel takes what was already an excellent game and cleans it up in all the ways that count. The sound and music are still excellent, the visuals are better than ever. It's the perfect starting point if you're looking to get into the series, and it's a great place to pick up if you've already put in a few hours with these heroes. On that score, it's hard to see the wait as anything less than completely worthwhile. If you're interested in learning just how much depth there is to the game and seeing hints of the content to come, check out our discussion thread. Just be prepared to dig in for a while.

TouchArcade Rating

  • PallaZ

    I am in love with this game. So many units. And every hero changea your playing style. Really enjoy this game and hopefully the dev bring new content with updates like in DC1

  • Hans

    You completely glossed over the fact that the game is so freaking hard so you'll have to buy IAPs.

    That's a dealbreaker as far as I'm concerned.

    • Adams Immersive

      Hard is good, forcing you to think and adapt. The original DC was equally hard long before there was such a thing as IAP.

      I never bought any DC 2 IAPs—and in fact didn’t even upgrade my heroes’ gear much at all—and I have beaten all the maps on the default difficulty in a few (very enjoyable) sittings).
      I used the General, and I emphasized Cunning when leveling up; followed by Morale. I unlocked a few library secrets, but not most, and have stockpiled about 800 tokens, which I’ll use on gear once I break through to the next reputation level.Next I’ll start over with Melwen, AND start over with the General at the next highest difficulty rating. Rinse and repeat... it only gets harder! But I also get stronger, and keep unlocking new units/abilities/secrets that change the nature of the game. I just got fire arrows for marksmen! Suddenly I can use new approaches. So the “grind” isn’t even repetitive the way it could be.And then, fom what I hear, once I beat everything with the General and Melwen, I should have plenty of tokens to unlock the other heroes.

      The way you play can burn tokens quickly, or it can build tokens up. I play for the latter: Freestyle with lots of Morale is good for earning tokens, and I don’t buy much gear: I save my tokens for the very best items.

      You have three steady streams of new tokens other than IAP:

      1. Tokens from winning every match (and even a few when you lose). The higher level you play at, the more you win—so your small early winnings will become big hauls in time.

      2. Spoils of War which you can trade back to the store (but I think they may be worth more after an update, IIRC, so I’m not trading any yet).

      3. The free daily tokens, which do have an annoying ad, but it’s a static ad with no timer: you can skip it instantly. You don’t get many usually, but you might get a lot, so may as well check!

      Now, I wish I could have those other two heroes NOW! They sound fun. But this is in part an RPG, and grinding/leveling up/gearing up are the name of the game. Those other heroes come AFTER you’ve made huge progress, not before. Want to skip all that middle stuff (and hours of fun)? Buy some optional IAP.

      Best of all, the stuff you get from tokens and IAP isn’t temporary for the most part: you unlock something and it’s yours!

      So the IAP is both optional and non-temporary. That puts this game in a whole other league from your average IAP trap. 

    • John Whitley

      There is definitely a learning curve -- the game really demands strategy and good tactical implementation.  The wrong strategy on a given level, or uneven execution of the right strategy, will reduce your results.  Sometimes this is outright "Defeat", other times it's just a failure to nail that four- or five- star rating you're shooting for.  The game can make you work for victory, and the "lightbulb" moments that accompany figuring out a tricky level are most rewarding.

      Speaking as a veteran of the original DC, I absolutely love DC II.  I feel like the new additions to the game add spice and interest to the original formula.  So far, it simply feels like a very lively game.

      The IAP items raised an initial eyebrow.  I was a touch worried that IAP would negatively impact gameplay.  I'm no longer worried about that.  I feel like the team has done a fine job of providing a solid core game without bringing IAP in the mix.  Reports that the testers didn't have access to IAP seem fully believable to me.  Likewise, IAP will relax gameplay for folks who want that but doesn't completely blow out the game.  More powerful items are restricted in use and store appearance by the current Hero's Reputation score (experience).  I see IAP as having two best-uses: smooth out gameplay for newcomers who are having trouble, and (perhaps) speeding up progress later in the game for those of us who have lives and can't spend 80 hours a week on the game.  😉

    • Lawliet L

      You don't have to buy stuff I have gotten really far and still going without using IAPs I have gotten imperial stars almost on all maps you just need to be patient and use strategy and also on casual/novice there are more enemies but they are weaker and on master and above there is less enemies but they are stronger and stonebreak is terrible for melwen and razortooth is hard with general hope that might help

  • UnSurreal

    Did the first game have IAP?

    • Adams Immersive

      No, not when I played it--but they added it later as an option. They didn’t take anything away, just gave you a way to “fast forward” through earning tokens on your own, same as DC2.

      I’d rather advance by my wits and strategy, earning every new ability by sweat and blood! I don’t want to just plop down a buck and get ahead. So, no IAP for me.

      Supposedly most of the DC2 testers didn’t have access to IAP, so it’s definitely not a requirement.

      It IS a temptation though 🙂 Simply because there is SO much content in DC2 (units to unlock, new abilities) and it’s hard not to want them NOW! But resist temptation...

    • Ahiru Nakamura

      it did, but like this one, it is optional and you're buying them as "cheats" to progress faster in the game. but I do feel tempted like @AdamsImmersive:disqus ....

  • Ryan J Gill

     I think the first game may have had IAP, but I can't recall exactly.

    I don't think the game is so hard you NEED IAP. Like the first game, you're going to hit some levels where the enemy deployment floors you (like those damn slime things). But you can replay levels on multiple difficulties- so this is where the RPG elements come in. You go back and grind a bit. Get your Hero's level up, spend her/his ability points on buffs for your units, and go in with the knowledge of when and where the enemy is going to hit.

    Also, you can change to the General almost right away if you want. You don't have to do a full play-through with Melwen. Mel can get pretty OP, but I like how the General stations himself at the "gate." Sometimes with Melwen, I'm not even sure where I'm supposed to be guarding right away!

  • Noah

    I can't get the IAP to work. It says connecting to app store, then just goes back to the purchase screen. No popups appear. *shrug*

  • pecet

    I like it so far, but equipment management is broken at least on my 3GS. You must drag items several times from inventory to armor or weapon slot to actually equip something.

  • kfcdelivery

    Lovin it from morning...

  • Doug

    I was a huge fan of DC. This one is good, but doesn't fix several weird, glaring problems in DC. And the IAP begging is atrocious. The worst I've seen in a paid game.

    Would give it a 4/5 optimistically.

  • Ahiru Nakamura

    IAP or not, man I caught myself the other day deciding whether I ground my way up in DC2 or played diablo 3, no kidding.

    and IAP is totally optional, you can always get free tokens once a day, and luckily enough godly gear always show up when you are later in the game... DC2 is absolutely worth it for TD grinders and game center achievements hunters.....

  • Timothy Polumbo

    ugh I hate tower defense games... blah

    • jonathanjk

      You should take a stab at Kingdom Rush. It's different enough.

  • Ahiru Nakamura

    there's a huge letdown though, it doesn't seem to support multitasking... simply leaving the game brings up the splash screen and main menu all over again... (iphone 4s, dunno if it's only me)

    •!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

       The pre-release version I played for the preview had multitasking, and I'm hearing from some people that it does work for them in the release version. It doesn't on my 4S either, but I'm willing to give Gimka the benefit of the doubt - it's probably a bug.

  • REkzkaRZ

    I like it a lot, find IAP more 'in your face' than first version.
    Nonetheless, this game has a super 'hook' -- the time just flies by!!!

  • malohkan

    I absolutely love this game.  The original was my favorite, and this one is way better.  I did buy the IAP to earn more exp+tokens, but that takes an equipment slot and actually makes you WEAKER as you play, and yet I'm starting to attempt Legendary difficulty (the 4th one) with both Melwen and the General after only 3 days of playing.  If you think the game is too hard and requires IAP, you're 100% wrong.  In the original, I needed to look online for help with strategy.  So far I haven't needed that yet, but if you're struggling, I think that's the thing to do.  All of a sudden you'll change your tune to "oh wow I can blaze through this level now with this new strategy, and now things make more sense."

    On a side note, I assume the "doesn't seem to support multitasking" thing to be a bug, but luckily the game loads pretty darned fast and has never failed to save my state mid-game so I've never lost any progress.

Defender Chronicles II: Heroes of Athelia Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 4.5