by Chris Hedgpeth
When I started writing these game reviews, I decided to set a price limit of $10. This week I’m breaking that rule by reviewing a $13 game because I’m so excited about what I like to call “the Dark Souls of tower defense”. Gemcraft – Frostborn Wrath is the most recent installment in the Gemcraft series by developer Game in a Bottle. It’s a lot like their last game, Gemcraft – Chasing Shadows, with a few exceptions, which I’ll discuss during the review.
Frostborn Wrath is an archetypal tower defense game. Waves of enemies travel along a path toward your Orb of Presence (you’re a wizard, by the way), and you have to stop them using magic gems. Frostborn Wrath has six colors of gems, compared to the nine in Chasing Shadows. Each gem has special abilities based on its color.
Five of the gems have returned from the last game: Critical hit (yellow), mana leaching (orange), armor tearing (purple), poison (green), and slowing (blue). The new red gem has a bleeding effect that amplifies damage.
Gems can be combined and upgraded by spending mana, which typically comes from defeating enemies. To use the gems, they’re “socketed” in one of four structures: towers, traps, amplifiers, or lanterns. The genre-eponymous towers cause gems to shoot projectiles at enemies when they come within range.
Traps are activated when enemies walk over them. They do less damage than towers, but have stronger abilities. A poison gem in a trap, for example, does almost no damage when it hits an enemy, but that enemy takes a considerable amount of poison damage over time.
Amplifiers socketed with gems enhance adjacent towers, traps, and lanterns. New to Frostborn Wrath, lanterns are similar to towers except instead of shooting projectiles, they pulse regularly, damaging nearby enemies. Like traps, they do less damage than towers, but excel in affecting enemies with their abilities.
Like in previous Gemcraft games, there are three standard types of enemies: reavers, swarmlings, and giants. As the game progresses, flying enemies begin to appear, along with special boss enemies and watchtowers that randomly destroy either an enemy or one of your structures. In most levels, you can build walls to change the path enemies take to your orb.
Each level has three modes: Journey, Endurance, and Trial. Journey is the standard mode where the story unfolds, Endurance is a longer version of Journey with more waves, and Trial is a mode with unique challenges and limitations. There’s a very steep difficulty curve near the end of the game that requires you to replay previous levels until you’re experienced enough to take on new challenges.
As of this writing, I’ve put about 75 hours into the game and it feels like I’m about half done. There are 636 achievements to unlock, some of which include snippets of a secret code used to unlock in-game “mods” that are required to complete 100% of the game. I feel like Frostborn Wrath is on par with Chasing Shadows. Not better or worse, but certainly as addictive.