Prime World: Defenders augments the traditional tower defense (TD) genre by divorcing the concept of towers as rigidly set game elements confined within the arena alone to a “trading card” you use both off and on the battlefield. I put that in quotes because while you won’t be trading any of the cards in PW:D as it’s a single player game, the idea that the cards are both finite and expendable applies. This alone is a very interesting twist for the genre because pretty much all TD games give you a range of defenders with varying attributes – range/spread/DPS/DoT/augmentation – but they are always available (well, some TD games have a tutorial section that guides your through the use of different towers before giving you freedom). But in PW:D, since a tower is a card, you can expend them to the benefit of other cards.
And here is where PW:D gets interesting and also a little bit disappointing (but understandable). Let me explain. Like most TCGs, there are two distinct meta-games. One is building out your deck and the other is playing with that deck in an environment bound to certain rules. One way of conveying the idea that cards are both rare and expendable is through sacrifice. Sacrifice for what reason? Well, PW:D employs the leveling mechanic found in RPGs on both the cards and the avatar you control. Specifically for the cards, which are split up into three different categories – Tower / Magic /Artifact – (all but artifacts can be upgraded), there are two methods of leveling up a card, one is fusing and the other is evolving. I’ll touch on fusing a card first.
Recalling back to my thought on simultaneously interesting and disappointing, let me give you an example. The first card you can directly use is a wooden tower. It’s your basic DPS tower. Reasonable range, adequate power, decent firing rate. Let’s say later on in the game you get a flame tower which has excellent firing rate, so-so range and abysmal power. Here’s the interesting part: You can take your base wooden tower and fuse it with the flame tower. Now here’s the disappointing part: Your wooden tower doesn’t get any of the fire (element), firing rate, range or power properties – now, I’d like to point out that if they allowed this type of system, the idea of a trading/collectible card system goes out the window. Continuing with the fusion mechanic, instead what happens is your card (tower or magic) has tiers. Depending on the rarity of the card determines how much experience (so-to-speak) is awarded to your card. Gain enough experience for your card and it levels up. Each added level increases the base stats of the card.
This is also where artifacts come into play. Artifacts have the sole purpose of being more effective when fusing with a base card. There are also different rarity levels of artifact cards but they don’t really mean as much as the rarity of your tower and magic cards. But inherently with the example I demonstrated above, you just sacrificed your flame tower which is better at handling large groups of low HP enemies. Generally speaking, strategy in TD games are reserved for the field. Once again PW:D alters this dynamic and twists your thoughts on the repercussions of sacrificing your cards outside of the field.
So, How do you get another flame card? Well there are two ways; You can either get cards randomly by certain battles or by purchasing them in the shop (Which thankfully right now there doesn’t seem to be an IAP system which would literally be a pay to cheat system in this game.).
There are two forms of currency: coins and stars. Of the two, stars are much more finite and hard to come by. The currency is legal tender in two areas: the aforementioned shop and talents for you avatar. While your avatar does level up, the only real benefit is that a once-restricted tier of talents opens and you’re awarded stars per level. The very basic and clear difference between leveling up your cards vs leveling up your avatar is one of investment. Leveling up your cards earlier on affords you instant beefing on a select few cards. Leveling up your avatar will make the end game rewards far more rewarding thus allowing you to splurge on your entire deck. Distilled: If you can be patient, level up your avatar first.
In my play-through I managed to secure a reasonably rare mortar tower and just leveled it up as much as I could. By all means, this is my ace card and it sits in my deck forever. One draw back of dumping your load on an ace card is the other side of card-upgrading: evolution. Because it is a relatively rare card that I’ve dumped all my artifacts and spare tower cards into, when my (now) beastly mortar tower is in use on the battlefield, I can’t level up the tower. What prevents me from leveling my tower while on the field is that my card is only on it’s first tier of evolution. To get to a second and third tier of evolution, you need to have an additional rare card. And even though I have an uber tier one card and I can grind earlier levels like nuts, you can’t grind indefinitely. Eventually previous levels will no longer reward coins. So it appears there is a limit on grinding.
In most tower defense games, one of the most important aspects is micro-management of your economy and space. Space is fairly limited in the battlefields of PW:D. Maze building and placement of towers is important, but not nearly as prominent as in other TD games. Similarly, economy while on the field doesn’t feel as crucial. Between the ability of your avatar talents to increase your prime (mana) generation and getting additional prime per Touched (the enemies) killed, it’s a bit of a balancing act. You can see the balancing act in the method of increasing the cost of a tower if you are just spamming it all over the board. An example would be my mortar spamming, the first four cost 80 prime each. Then they cost 104 prime. Now you only need to put two more mortars and the prime cost jumps to 144.
The game also rewards you with different swag by just coming back each day and it appears that there is a new “special” in the store every day as well, so there is a compelling reason to fire PW:D up just to see if you can snag something rare on the cheap.
Do I wish Prime World: Defenders had a better tower-building-block system? Yes. Do I understand why they used a strict, less-tangible tower alteration scheme? Yes. Have I played other TD games that required more strategy? Yes. Is Prime World: Defenders addicting? Yes. Can I recommend it to TD fans? I think so.
TL;DR version: Prime World: Defenders uniquely mixes an earnest single-player collectible card game with tower defense trappings. Rare and exotic cards feel precious and at the same time manage to make the grinding sessions for more coins/stars far more enjoyable, as PW:D leans closer to brute-force at the intersection of strategy. Its TCG roots push the focus of the TD strategy on a personal level. The playing field isn’t a puzzle to solve, instead it’s a stage for your finest actors to perform, directed by you.
Verdict: 8/10. More parts TCG than TD but 100% addictive as both.