By Chris Picone, 02 August 2023
Thronefall is a minimalist tower defence game that lets you control the main character directly; it also utilises an unusually prescriptive build system which takes a lot of thought out of the building process, allowing you to focus on the action instead. There's no idling in Thronefall and I love it.
Thronefall offers a low poly and minimalist presentation which I found a little underwhelming at first, although I'm very happy to say that it grew on me - it is kinda cute, don't you think? It's functional, too; this is a tower defence game after all, so eventually you're going to face swarms of enemies and there will be arrows flying everywhere, so the low poly look will let lower end machines run the game smoothly.
Thronefall feels a little odd when you first start playing because the developers have opted for a zero-interface approach, where you instead manage absolutely everything through your main character. It also feels a little limiting at first, because not only are you only allowed to build on nodes, but you're also only allowed to build the building the node wants you to build. It makes sense as you progress though, because as you upgrade your castle building, more nodes are added, so it adds to the decision making. Each turn you earn some money; do you want to use it to grow your economy, or build new defences, or upgrade the ones you've already got, or upgrade your castle for greater flexibility? In fact, the game's full of decision making. Once you trigger the start of a wave, everything automates except the main character. You determine when and how you're going to support - your character can fight directly but you can also use him to command units in different parts of the map, directing them to new areas, strengthening weak points but potentially creating new ones. The overall effect is that, unlike most tower defence games that focus on the planning and leave you idling through the combat, Thronefall accelerates the planning and then gives you tons of player agency during the battles. It's addictive. As a final note, other than having tons of stuff to unlock as you progress through the game, you're also presented with challenges that encourage you to replay levels using different strategies. It's great for replayability.
Tower defence games are a dime a dozen these days, so for any game in that genre to grab me, it really has to stand out. Thronefall does. While sticking to fairly generic themes and units, the developers have opted for a range of mechanics and design ideas that I've seen other games experiment with, but they've tied them together into a cohesive whole that presents as something new. It's well-made, fast-paced, all-action, and really fun to play.