Enjoy Minimalist Base Building and Castle Defense in Thronefall

Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

Base building and tower defense games are normally pretty fun to play, especially for those who enjoy the defensive side of wargaming, or those who employ a turtling strategy when playing real time strategy titles. For the most part, those kinds of games are easy to learn, but they can also sometimes have complicated resource-gathering systems that can get in the way of the fun. Titles like the classic Stronghold, which was recently remade into the Stronghold: Definitive Edition is one example of a game that does base building right. On the tower defense side, there are a lot more choices, from a really complex title like Dwarven Skykeep to more comical offerings like Escape From The Red Planet. And many games, regardless of their genre, often have either base building or defensive missions embedded in them to some extent.

In contrast to many other titles, Thronefall instead strips out almost all of the peripheral systems involved with tower defense or base building games, or at least minimizes them, so that what is left is really the essence of those kinds of titles. The result is a surprisingly engaging experience that can be learned in just a few minutes, but which offers some great tactical challenges and lots of different options for defending your realm, especially in later levels.

Graphically, the developers of Thronefall have opted for a minimalist look, which is actually pretty pleasing to see. You can easily tell what everything is on the map, not that doing so is too difficult to begin with. It’s not like you are going to mistake a castle for a defense tower or a wall for a windmill. Enemy and allied troops are also easy to spot at a quick glance because they have different colored health bars over their heads. And your main character, a king who rides around the battlefield helping to patch holes in the defenses and strategically helping out with a few well-placed sword blows or arrow shots when needed, is easily identified by the gold crown they wear – and their speedy and trusty steed.

The soundtrack for Thronefall is also really well done. It kind of sounds like the music you would hear at Renaissance festivals, and it really sets the mood for the entire game.

The gameplay loop in Thronefall is both simple and addicting. Players start out with a blank main map with just their king in place and nothing else. There are little foundations scattered around the map where specific buildings, defenses, barracks or walls can be built. You need to place your central castle first and then many of the other spots will open up for you. When you approach one of those spots, an outline of the building appears along with the outline of how many coins it will take to construct it. Spending coins sees them magically float out of your coin purse and into each empty slot above the outlined building, very much like the very cool interface found in Kingdom: New Lands and the other titles in that series. Upgrading buildings uses the same elegant interface, only you will be spending a lot more coins than you did for the basic construction.

There are two phases in Thronefall, day and night. During the day, you plan out your defenses and spend your limited coins to make it as difficult for your attackers as possible. You have unlimited time to think during this phase, and only trigger the night phase when you are ready. The enemies will then swarm your town and try to tear down your little fiefdom, winning if they destroy your central castle. You always know how many enemies are going to attack, what types of enemies you will be facing and which direction or path they will be coming from because icons representing them are shown on the side of the screen near their entry point during the daytime. That is extremely helpful because if you only have a few coins, you can build up defenses where you know the enemy will be attacking from.

Your coins are limited, and one of the key elements to success in Thronefall is finding a balance between using your scarce resources to construct economic buildings like houses that generate coins after each battle wave (if they survive), or spending your gold on defensive structures like towers that can kill attackers and help you to make it through to the next combat. Anything that is destroyed during the battle phase is automatically rebuilt for free the next day, but you won’t get any coins from economic buildings that were destroyed.

Your defenses are pretty varied in Thronefall. Of course, you have towers that shoot at enemies and which can be upgraded into more powerful forms like fortress towers that attack multiple times at once, ballistae which are slow but pack a huge punch, burning oil towers which are great for killing lots of enemies at choke points and many others, most of which need to be unlocked as you keep playing. You also have walls to slow enemies down (which work great with towers nearby) and even little traps that can damage your attackers when they pass.

Your best defense however, or perhaps second best depending on how much you rely on towers, is probably going to be friendly troops, which are created by building barracks. Generally, you get four soldiers for every level of barracks upgrade. Troops can be archers, knights, spearmen, crossbow fighters, flail-wielding warriors or others, with better troops unlocked as you keep playing and earning experience. Each of your troop types have different strengths and weaknesses. Once deployed, they will wander to wherever there is trouble, or you can command them by galloping up to their formation and activating a magnet-like power that makes them follow you. You can keep leading them in combat or position them where you think they will do the most good.

The enemies you face are pretty varied too, from fellow knights on horseback to beefy guys who look like The Mountain from Game of Thrones. There are also archers and siege engines to stymie your defenses as well as flying enemies and other oddities like rolling cannon ball-like creatures whose only mission in life is to find some part of your infrastructure and gloriously explode.

Thronefall is currently in Early Access on Steam, but you can purchase it for $10, which is a really good deal. There are six maps that are playable now, and each one can be tackled multiple times using different parameters. There is also a new endless mode available for added value. Had Thronefall been fully released as it is right now, it would still be a pretty good deal, and picking it up in Early Access is not a bad thing at all. The fact that the developers are still adding new maps and features just makes it an even better deal because it’s already a really fun entry into the wargaming space, especially for players who enjoy a nice defensive challenge.

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