GAME NAME: CastleStorm
DEVELOPER(S): Zen Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Zen Studios
PLATFORM(S): PC, Xbox 360
GENRE(S): Action, Strategy, Indie
RELEASE DATE(S): 29th of July, 2013
Long, long ago, a century or more. Two strong, stubborn kingdoms waged terrible war. Knights drew longswords; barbarians the axe. The earth shook in concert with fearsome attacks. On ground black with fire and red with their blood. With tears in her eyes the Peace Goddess stood. Her tears turned to jewels and fell to the ground. And all the combatants turned at the sound. The blue gem was taken by the King of the land. While the Vikings took up the red one in hand. These gems put an end to warfare and strife. Their bearers were blessed with unending life. But no one pays notice to tales of yore. And gathering clouds bring rumors of war.
Hark, for an era of peace never lasts long. The Kingdom has lost its jewel, along with the customs of peace it has cultivated for so long, and is now open to invasion from their long time adversaries, the Vikings. So it’s up to King Edgar, Sir Gareth and you, the player, to halt this incursion of beards and horned helmets. And that’s the entire premise of CastleStorm in a nutshell, there’s nothing overly elaborate or verbose about the game’s narrative at all, and that’s the way it should be. That’s because CastleStorm is all about wrecking men, dragons and castles alike, and nothing else.
The easiest way to explain CastleStorm is for you to imagine Angry Birds’ physics based projectile mechanics and combine that with a tower defence-like strategy game, and throw in a little action for good measure. The basic idea is you play a castle, a castle trying to defend itself by hurtling all manner of objects at your opponent’s castle. To aid in that quest, you’re able to cast an assortment of spells as well as conscript various units to defend and/or fight for you. And if that isn’t enough to avert the Vikings from your keep, you have the ability to summon up your mighty hero, Sir Gareth, whom you control directly, to fight on your behalf. All of this culminates into an effective action, strategy game that works quite well in most cases.
There are numerous modes in which you can test your mettle and worthiness as a protector of the realm. The most prominent and enjoyable mode is the campaign. The campaign involves a few different types of mission strung together, with little facets of story placed in-between, and away you go. Mission types vary from controlling only Sir Gareth, in a bid to halt the enemy’s infantry from stealing your gold with Sir Gareth’s bow; to having to defend against waves of enemies while trying to raze your opponent’s castle with a limited set of equipment or unit types. Then there are boss-like fights, flag capturing missions and everything in-between. As long as the game’s mechanics appeal to you, there’s very little to dislike about CastleStorm’s campaign.
The other single player game modes are Skirmish, which pits you against an AI based opponent in a bid to be the first to demolish the other’s castle or capture their flag using whatever strategy works best for you, be it units, magic or your ballistic arsenal. It’s a fun distraction and a good way to practice for what multiplayer offers, but you’ll get plenty of that exact same thing in the campaign. The other two single player modes are Hero Survival, where you play solely as a hero, and Survival, where you get your castle’s full compliment and arsenal, in which you need to survive against as many waves of enemy as possible. Both are relatively enjoyable and being as high on the leaderboard as possible can make it quite addictive and highly replayable at times.
In order to aid you on your quest, you have the option to adjust and level up the numerous magical abilities, units, castle rooms and ballistic weaponry you control. With the castle editor, which can, at times, be a little unintelligible, you can create your own custom castle and equip it with the rooms you might need for victory, each offering unique passives and unit production capabilities. That said, it’s often easier, and just as viable, to just pick one of the many pre-assigned castle layouts; they’re just as good and let you jump straight into the action.
Unfortunately, not everything is so peachy, though I suppose it is war and so why would it be, in the land of knights and Vikings. For as well paired as a mouse’s ability to accurately aim and a game that makes use of archery styled mechanics is, CastleStorm can become a little bit of a cluster fu… ehrm… a muddle of buttons. In the more intense situations, you will almost certainly fire a weapon you didn’t intend to, fumble to cast the right spell and hire the wrong unit. However, it’s not that big of an issue, you won’t lose from a single mistake and you can always amend it by firing, hiring and casting everything available to you; it usually befuddles your adversary.
The only real issue with the game, and it may be a big one for some of you, is the serious lack of balance within the multiplayer. The problem is simple, most strategies involving units and magic are rendered redundant as anyone who levels up the ballistic weaponry designed to siege and destroy the castle, and their associated cooldowns, will usually win if spammed at your opponent. The only way around that is to effectively level up your units and magic, as well as the things that effect their cooldown and production, until you get to the point where your opponent can no longer win so easily. The problem is that to get to that point, you need a sizable amount of gold, earned through winning ranked matches, and to do so, requires far more gold than the ballistic spamming strategy requires. And so anyone unaware of that, and who uses the small amount of starting gold to level up units and magic rather than your ballistic weaponry, will almost never win a game, and so never earn any gold and will then be effectively shut out of multiplayer altogether. It’s a real annoyance that they need to fix if they want multiplayer to be taken seriously. I suggest a way of resetting your gold, even if it means resetting your win/loss stats to boot.
As far as the game’s look and audio track is concerned, like the game’s narrative, its aesthetic and tone are relatively simple, but that’s not to say it isn’t any good. And accordingly, the soundtrack is basic and while it won’t rock the world of anyone listening to it, it won’t ruin their day either.
CastleStorm also has the odd, infrequent, bug or two, but they’re far from game-breaking. Well… they do break the game in the sense that alt+tabbing does, on occasion, cause the game to crash, but that’s about it, and it’s not enough that you won’t immediately restart the game and continue on. Oh, and even less frequently, though this is a bug I wouldn’t mind replicating, is your hero can sometimes warp through the enemy’s door if you hit it just right. And while this doesn’t prevent you from attacking it, it does prevent the enemy from attacking you; lovely. Foibles and niggles aside, like the odd game crash and, for the moment at least, pending a potential update, the questionable multiplayer balancing issues, CastleStorm is an enjoyable game and easily worth $9.99. If 2D physics based mayhem sounds right up your alley, CastleStorm is for you.