CastleStorm 2 Demo Hands-On: Why Pick Just One Genre?
Sir Gavin is kind of a tool. He's haughty, arrogant, and kind of a dummy. That said, he has a glorious beard, and he's very good and wrecking enemy troops. That's why I'm glad to see him back in action in CastleStorm 2, a sort of kitchen-sink approach to gaming. Sir Gavin is the series' de facto mascot, grinning and slicing his way through a variety of the forces of evil.
CastleStorm 2 is a mashup of several different genres. There's tower defense. Resource management. Real-time action. Even some turn-based strategy. It might just look like Angry Birds with knights — it's got plenty of that physics-based destruction, too — but there's a lot more going on than you'd think at first glance.
That's not always to its benefit, though. It can feel like CastleStorm 2 is trying a bit too hard to be everything, and is having trouble focusing on making any particular element enticing. Sometimes, focus is key, and CastleStorm 2 behaves a little too much like an erratic toddler. The minute you think it's figuring things out, the moment passes and you're on to something else.
We went hands-on with a demo of CastleStorm 2 to get a taste of what we can expect when the full game releases later in 2020. Here's what we thought in our short time with it.
The Beard is Here
Trying to describe all the different elements of CastleStorm 2 is a bit of an undertaking, but here goes.
The action takes place on a procedurally-generated map, where you move your "Commander" characters around to different points of interest. These might provide resources like food or wood, they might trigger an event, or they might start a battle. After you have used all your movement points during one of these phases, enemy Commanders can do the same. You can also build buildings and customize things like your castle and army, but we'll get to those in a bit.
The meat of gameplay CastleStorm 2 takes place in the game's battles. You spawn troops from one side of the screen, who march across and meet with enemy troops coming from the other side. There is a large number of different troop types, and each counters certain enemies. The key is predicting what you'll see from your foe and adapt your army accordingly.
You can also directly affect each battle, as you control a massive ballista that can fire several different types of ammo, each with its pros and cons. The default ammo is a cheap, efficient arrow that does decent damage to soldiers, but very little damage against buildings. Build up your armory and you can start adding giant boulders (among other types of ammo) to the mix, great for breaching castle walls.
That's where the Angry Birds comparisons start to fly in: CastleStorm 2's biggest battles involve some physics-based destruction, as you try to push your troops into an enemy base under a barrage of enemies and magic. If you feel like you're not doing enough with your ballista, you can also sling some magic spells around or take control of one of your commanders, helping turn the tide more directly on the battlefield.
Setting Up for Success
There are a lot of customization options available in CastleStorm 2, and the most important is probably setting up your army. You can hire a variety of different commanders during your campaign, each capable of summoning different troops, such as archers, footmen, and cavalry.
You can also order these commanders to hit the battlefield directly, giving them a chance to earn greater glory by killing enemies and leveling up. A stronger commander means stronger summoned units, but a wounded commander is less effective unless given time to recover; it's a solid risk-reward bit of strategy.
Castles can be customized, too. The Angry Birds-style siege battles often come down to one side wrecking the other's base as quickly as possible. Building a castle with strong foundations is sure to be a key to success in these defensive battles, something we didn't have to worry about in the demo.
A large part of the strategy also comes from managing your resources and the types of ballista ammunition and spells you bring into battle with you. Spells, in particular, seem very powerful but difficult to recharge. You'll want to use them sparingly, and only when victory looks like it's slipping away.
What More Could You Want?
The big issue with CastleStorm 2 is that so many of its ideas are only 3/4 of the way there. It feels like all of the game's different genres are added as an afterthought, and the game's description of itself — a "genre mashup" — throws more fuel on the fire. Ultimately, it feels like these genres are smashed together more as a gimmick than a true, coherent design. CastleStorm 2 comes across almost as half-assed tower defense, half-assed physics-based destruction, half-assed strategy, and half-assed RPG.
Whether that makes two whole asses is up to you.
For me, I found myself wishing it was a little more focused and a little quicker paced. Everything about CastleStorm 2 feels like a mobile game: the design, the layout, the graphics, the implementation of mechanics. Oddly, there is no mention in any of the material we've seen that it is releasing on mobile; so far, CastleStorm 2 is only hitting PC and consoles.
It practically seems like a given, considering how it's designed, that regular PC and console gamers will find themselves struggling with the game's pacing and why things are set up in certain ways.
The demo we played through was a little over an hour long, so it's possible there's more to CastleStorm 2 than we got to see. It has a lot going for it, and it will be interesting to see if the game builds on some of its early promise.
From the taste we got, however, that doesn't seem terribly likely. Currently, it's... fine. I found myself already getting bored with several aspects as I approached the end of the demo, not a good sign when you've only been playing for a short while.
CastleStorm 2 will definitely appeal to a certain subset of gamers, but beware if you're looking for a game to sink your time into.