The Third Installment in Ironhide Game Studio's Tower Defense Series
Written by Ray D. on October 24th, 2018.
Kingdom Rush Origins is a tower defense title by publisher Ironhide Game Studio. It is the third installment in the Kingdom Rush series and is available for PC, Android, and iOS. Gameplay is traditional tower defense bread and butter, with each map having branching paths that funnel enemies from one end to another. Your goal is to defend your end of the path by building towers in specified locations and micromanaging them throughout the course of several waves.
My first impression of Kingdom Rush Origins is that it is done extremely well. The details are very finely polished, the mechanics are solid and intuitive, and the maps are interesting and detailed. Players are encouraged to look beyond their towers and take it all in by discovering little secrets. On one map, there is a gnome sitting on a toadstool near a set of four colored toadstools. Clicking on this little guy while the waves are coming prompts him to challenge you to an old-school memory game in the style of Simon. Successfully clicking the toadstools in the right order will award you coins and allow you to try again with a longer sequence. There are secrets to be discovered on almost every level. Some unlock mini-games, others include special towers you can utilize, some act as special abilities, and others yet are just quirky fun. Taking the time to explore each map is always rewarding in Kingdom Rush Origins.
Complex, Not Complicated
Gameplay options in Kingdom Rush Origins seem to hit a perfect sweet spot. There are four towers to choose from: melee, ranged, spellcaster, and druid. Each tower offers a different form of defense and each can be upgraded. At the fourth upgrade, towers offer a choice between two specializations. The Archer tower, for instance, allows you to choose between a high damage, slow tower with great range, or a medium damage, medium speed tower that reduces enemy magic resistance. Each choice offers a different benefit, and each specialization comes with two unique abilities players can purchase.
Players are also given an upgrade tree that they can slot into by earning stars from successful missions. The tree allows you to upgrade the different towers as you see fit, as well as purchase upgrades for your two special abilities: a summon reinforcements call and a powerful lightning bolt. The tree is fairly linear and eventually you will be able to unlock every slot, so there isn’t a whole lot in the way of customization to be had. You can reset the tree at any time, which does allow you to tailor your choices to the level at hand until you can purchase all upgrades at once.
Aside from towers and the skill tree, players are also given gameplay options in the form of a hero. The hero is a controllable unit who can move anywhere on the map and gains experience the more you use them. Each hero has their own skill tree, which allows you to spec into different abilities for them, including a third global ability that goes alongside your two special abilities. Hero skill trees are all unique and helpful in different situations. My only complaint is that each hero levels individually, greatly reducing your incentive to swap heroes. Coupled with the fact that new heroes start at a higher level than older ones, it leads to players feeling far too incentivized to abandon older heroes and never return to them. Kingdom Rush Origins is not the kind of game that feels rewarding to grind out levels in. Heroes can fight and stop enemies, and can be defeated, causing them to go on a respawn timer. They are great for reinforcing tough choke points, taking out key enemies such as catapults, or chasing down single enemies that break through the lines.
Difficult to a Fault
Kingdom Rush Origins is difficult — insanely, frustratingly difficult. I tend to stray away from the tower defense genre for the exact opposite reason; I find most of its games are far too easy. A game isn’t fun when you can breeze through on the hardest difficulty setting or gimp the system to guarantee success, but a game also isn’t fun when you can follow a walkthrough to the letter and still lose a level on a normal difficulty setting, often due to some silly issue like your units being half a centimeter too far to the left. Part of this is a technical issue: units will sometimes ignore enemies that are clearly close enough to attack, but it’s also a design issue. Being bombarded by an impossible number of flying enemies and not having the funds to protect against them is frustrating, not challenging. The game is extremely enticing and keeps me coming back for more, but has an incredibly hard time striking a good balance between challenge and torture, even for a tower defense veteran.
Not Without Flaw
As I said before, Kingdom Rush Origins is extremely well polished, but not perfectly so. I’ve already mentioned that I had some issues with ground units not attacking enemies within their range, and there were a few other small details that felt missing or imperfect. One of my biggest complaints is the time it takes to progress through the game. Most tower defense games will have an option to move the game forward at a higher speed, but Kingdom Rush Origins does not. This is particularly frustrating when you are playing a level with a tricky gameplay hook in the last few waves such as a new path or a powerful enemy. Each time you restart, you are forced to play through a part of the level you have already mastered and take no joy in, at a glacial and painful speed. Any one of these imperfections is tolerable on its own, but together they make a merciless cocktail: playing a difficult level to near completion, losing three-star status because your unit let someone go they shouldn’t have, and being forced to play all the way through again at paint-drying speeds. The few flaws that did exist in the game were frustrating enough to sour me on a second playthrough.
Kingdom Rush Origins is a must-play for fans of the genre and series as well as newcomers. It is enticing, fun, and fluid. While it has a few key flaws that do detract from the gameplay experience, it is still well worth the time invested. I would not recommend binging on it, however. It is a great game to enjoy in small spurts.
The one thing I cannot recommend is the price. At $14.99 for the full PC version and potentially much, much more on mobile, it is a bit steep for what it is — a casual tower defense game built for mobile devices. If tower defense isn’t your all-time favorite genre, I would not advocate paying full price for this title. Wait for it to go on Steam Sale and catch it at a more reasonable $4.99 or similar. I cannot speak for the mobile versions of the game, but I have read reviews that state the cost to unlock all the content in the game would be close to $45, with the option to continue buying consumables afterward. That is reprehensible and unethical. I cannot advocate paying that price for this game in any form, or even paying for it at all on mobile with the missing content.
Gameplay: Solid, intuitive gameplay with a few hiccups and an inconsistent difficulty curve.
Graphics: Beautifully drawn maps and sprites. A pleasure to look at and interact with.
Replay Value: Replay value truly depends on you. If you're the type to unlock every achievement and star, you'll find quite a bit of extra content. If you're the type to play a game for the unique experience, I doubt you will want to go back and complete all the challenge modes.
Controls: Simple controls designed to be consistent across many devices. The game is easy to handle with only a few keyboard shortcuts.
Customization: The game offers a few different choices and then proceeds to nullify them. Skill tree doesn't matter at endgame, and new heroes will always be better than old heroes unless you like to grind.
Final Rating: 7/10. If you like Tower Defense, you will like Kingdom Rush Origins. Don't pay full price; grab it off a Steam Sale. Do not purchase the Android or iOS version unless you like being gouged.
Kingdom Rush Origins is a must-play for fans of the genre and series as well as newcomers. It is enticing, fun, and fluid.
About The Author
Hey guys, Ray here. I'm a lifelong gamer with a love for all things dev. I'm an Indie freak and wannabe dev myself. I try to look at all new games with a sense of wonder and admiration. Every game is somebody's pride and joy, and my hope is to help them share it with the world.