GiR by GIR: Deathtrap

An action-based tower defense game in the vein of Sanctum or Dungeon Defenders, Deathtrap by NeocoreGames managed to win me over despite my serious skepticism after a few enemy waves. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoy a good TD and have been playing them as far back as custom maps in the original StarCraft, but, after an underwhelming experience with Defense Grid 2, I wasn’t exactly eager to jump back into the genre; Deathtrap has completely changed that.

Deathtrap manages to feel familiar but be wholly different at the same time. Monsters come from spawns and traverse along an indicated path towards a gate which the player must protect by defeating said monsters. Unlike most TDs there is no mazing element or using objects to block the path. Instead there is a strong focus on placing the best combination of traps, or traps that synergize well with the player's gear, in optimal and efficient locations. I found this change refreshing as it keeps the player actively engaged in helping fight enemies instead of simply building a giant labyrinth and letting towers or other siege weapons do all the heavy lifting.

The camera provides a third person vantage similar to what you’d find in Diablo or Torchlight rather than the first person view you get with Sanctum or Dungeon Defenders. To enhance the ARPG experience, NeocoreGames has included loot drops, side quests, and crafting to the mix as well. This active participation during battle and level of character management in between missions is one of the key differences from other TD games which, consequently, made Deathtrap so compelling to me. While it’s true there's a simple perks system in Sanctum and some leveling aspects in Dungeon Defenders, NeocoreGames draws on their past ARPG experience (they made The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing) to excellent effect here. With 3 classes, with over 50 unique skills, a level cap of 100, 25 unlockable traps with 150 potential upgrades, there’s plenty of grinding and leveling for those who want it.

Your three choices of class are the Mercencary, the Sorceress, and the Marksman. The Mercenary is a melee brawler with a focus on mechanical traps and dispatching foes personally. Meanwhile the Sorceress’s skill set has a strong focus on mystical traps as one might expect, buffing elemental damage, and slinging spells from afar to take down threats. Lastly there is the Marksman who seemed to be a blend of mechanical traps, poisons, and battlefield mobility; a blend of the previous two classes that never really reached the full potential of either. Personally I felt the Marksman to be the most under powered but, honestly, I spent the least amount of time with him so maybe I just didn't find that sweet spot where his skill set truly shines.

While each class may have a specific trap affinity, no trap is class-specific, and all are available once unlocked with a given character, allowing players to tackle each wave and mission pretty much as they see fit. The only real restriction comes from the lack of free placement in combat. Unlike other TDs, as noted earlier, there is no mazing element or obstructing. Instead, each trap type can only be built on a corresponding node/location. For instance Gun Towers and Blade Launchers, which are mechanical, can only be built on pillars adorned with gears while Lighting and Ice towers, which are Mystic, can only be constructed on pillars with an altar at the top. Another distinction is between pillars and floor traps, the latter, which you may have safely assumed, also have specific types of tiles which must correspond with their placement.

Sadly with all this good comes some bad; very minor bad, one might even say quibbling. The art direction is properly grim and gritty akin to a Diablo or Grim Dawn, as opposed to bright and colorfully cartoonish like Torchlight or Dungeon Defenders which may or may not appeal, depending on your personal tastes. The soundtrack is decent but nothing truly epic to match the sense of scale and desperation your struggle is portrayed as. Finally, the story is ultimately generic and forgettable. Though, to be fair, picking up a TD game looking for a sweeping epic legend is akin to picking up Taco Bell looking for authentic Mexican food. My only real complaint was the UI, specifically how the UI worked with a controller, which it defaulted to. The tutorial prompts all displayed controller buttons but the actual text seemed to refer to keyboard controls. This should have been a red flag to me. Now these could all be personal problems, but I often found that some functions simply would not work, like putting items in my stash, or trying to hover over various things to generate tool tips. I haven’t had any issues using a mouse and keyboard yet, but I am wary. Part of what makes this so frustrating is that I actually preferred the controller to use during the combat and missions themselves, but the menu navigation and inventory interaction was so flawed I was forced to switch to M+KB  after a few hours.

The last thing I feel I should touch on are the Co-Op and Multiplayer aspects. It’s true that more and more TDs are starting to offer this option, but Deathtrap by far and away has done it the best. In Co-Op loot is localized so everyone is free to grab whatever they see fit and while Essence (your incrementally earned ability to upgrade certain traps) is split between players, it is not shared from a single pool so you never have to worry about using up communal resources or getting the last hit because you wanted the shiniest trap. There’s an online leaderboard and Steam Workshop support, the latter of which functions in tandem with a custom map maker for future adventures when you run out of campaign to grind. There is also a versus mode which I've dabbled in but not fully examined. It seems one player takes the traditional guardian trap builder role while the opposing player can buff waves and possess/control specific individual mobs to provide a more cunning enemy than the mindless AI marching on your gates. 

Bottom line is that NeocoreGames has really impressed me with a game I might have otherwise overlooked in a rush of releases lately. I definitely see myself  making time to play a level here or there going forward regardless of what else my hit my already overloaded plate. Deathtrap is out now on Steam for $19.99. If you enjoy TDs and ARPGs then Deathtrap is like an enemy spawn rushing towards your portal: it’s not to be missed.   

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