The game already looks very polished. The title screen is futuristic, the menu is simple yet elegant, easy to use and fairly quick to get into. This was a competitive multiplayer game mode, so when Waldo and I began our game together we decided that I would play the Tower Commander, and he would play the Human Convoy.
I would of course like to take this chance to remind everybody that this was a press beta that focused on the competitive multiplayer mode, and it is still very much in development. During our play the game was updated three times, so this is definitely a work in progress. We were also asked to submit our feedback on the gameplay, so I am confident that the studio is working hard to balance the game. For a look into the single player side of the game you can read another article by Jolly here.
So, how does it play?
Kit: Playing the part of the Aliens, the defending force, I felt in control of the situation as soon as I saw the map. At first the UI and tower placement was confusing, but as soon as I got to grips with the placement mechanics I began to spread outwards. You play as an Alien commander, and it certainly begins to feel like that as you start to place those destructive towers down.
You begin the game with a set of generators, each worth a varied amount of points to the Human player. The towers themselves can only be placed within a set radius of each other on the placement grid. After a tower is placed your grid expands, and you can move towers further afield, but you can only have a limited number of towers down at any one time. There is a strategic element to this, as you need to keep some towers back to allow you to build and react quickly to the Human player's movement.
There are several commander buffs - the Heal which does exactly what it says on the tin, healing your towers, the Beserker which increases your damage rate, the Taunt which protects a tower from damage and the Kamikaze which destroys a tower in return for massive damage against the convoy.
These can be activated on any tower at any given time, although you can only use them on one tower at a time. Some of them have areas of effect, such as the healing ability, which can then be stacked over other abilities. This, I feel, is a little too powerful. Perhaps limiting the area of effect on the ability to one or two adjacent towers would be a better approach to balancing this, as it was very easy for me to simply apply beserker to all the Towers in range of the convoy, stack a heal on top of that and add a few taunts to quickly overpower what the Humans had coming.
There are many towers to choose from, and each tower has a range of abilities that can be used to destroy the Humans. One of the most essential towers is the Harvester, which can be used to increase your resource pool or buff pool or to just push you closer to victory. Unfortunately this variety doesn't often get used until later into the game, I found that I really only needed to use the first, basic cheaptower over and over again in large quantities near the Human player. Perhaps the game could benefit from having some restrictions as to how many of one type of tower can be placed in the same few squares.
Waldo: Playing as the Humans, the assaulting force, things felt a bit on the clunky side. You play as a commander that tells his convoy of heavily armed vehicle what route to take on their quest to destroy the Alien generators and towers, gathering supply drops to deploy more vehicles or upgrading them and collecting power ups that help in the war effort along the way.
Vehicles have two forms. The first is just a standard tank of some sort, the secondary form is usually a robot. These two forms work very differently from each other, and while it is obvious that some forms were built to work better in certain situations, I found myself sitting my vehicles in one mode more than the other simply because the way it worked was far better. It was hard to justify switching my artillery tanks from their robot mode when it could shoot in every direction with a good deal if oomph while the tank mode was only able to fire directly in front of it.
Handling and Interaction
Kit: Building a tower is a very simple task. You wait for your resource pool to reach the level you want, then pick a tower and place it within your build radius. In build mode the game highlights available build squares, so its pretty simple to get used to. Pick a tower, click it, place it down. This is easily spammed to quickly build towers, especially if you upgrade your tech to allow faster placement.
You move around the map with the WASD keys. There is also a tactical map, which highlights the movement of the Human convoy, as well as marking out all of your towers and defendable objectives. Using a mixture of the map and your standard view quickly becomes very important, as you have to be able to react to the Human movements very fast. This often requires selling and replacing towers over the map rapidly, so its important the tower player has a smooth and easily accessible control system. This is probably why the tower player has a huge advantage over the convoy player, who could use a little help in the way they place and position abilities, as currently they are at a huge disadvantage in not being able to move while they decide on placement, units or abilities.
Waldo: Anomaly 2 unfortunately feels as though it was developed to play primarily with a controller. There are certain things that I feel I should be able to do that simply can't achieve with the available game controls.
The most painfully obvious of these is the use of powers. You have two choices in how to deploy them - A) Run your commander to the exact spot you want it in and hit the corresponding power ability to deploy it without seeing just how far its radius will reach, or B) Click on the power and lose your ability to move while you decide where to deploy it. On the bright side, you do get to see what will be affected by your ability.
I would have preferred being able to use the keys and see the radius around my commander before hitting the key again to confirm its placement. Better yet, being able to move while I used the mouse to place it would be an improvement, as the current set up leaves you hilariously vulnerable to enemy towers.
Speaking of planning out your route and transforming your units, there's really no quick way to do this in Anomaly 2. Players have to pause the game to transform their units rather than simply clicking them. Changing the route of the convoy involves scrolling out to a map and adjusting the path from there, rather than having a means to do so while running around and dodging the Alien towers popping up all around the player's commander character and their convoy.
Difficulty and Balance
Kit: As the Alien side, I felt immediately that I was in control of the situation. This is a important feeling, I believe the Aliens should feel superior because they own the planet. The Human convoy has to follow set paths, which puts them at a huge disadvantage when faced with a Alien opponent. I was able to predict the path Waldo would follow and simply make sure my build radius would extend that far, allowing me to quickly rain death upon him with sudden placement of towers. To counter this, I would suggest that the convoy has either a inherent inhibitor to build around it within a larger range, or perhaps a new cheap unit that can be used to stop the Alien player placing towers within a set radius of the convoy. This is definitely something that could use some work.
Towers can also spin around, and most of them are able to aim in any direction and rain fire upon their foes. This is a incredible advantage and really takes away from the tower defence aspect - rarely did I have to worry about the direction in which my tower was facing, or where I should place it. I quickly discovered that spam placement was immensely beneficial. Using the map to quickly sell my towers and then spam-build towards Waldo, I was always able to overpower him. Most of the time my death or loss was caused by not being familiar with the game mechanics or simply messing up placement of towers. To counter this, I would like to see the towers have less rotational ability. Tower placement should feel important and strategic, never disposable.
Another aspect of towers is that they each have an inherent shockwave ability, which can be used in various ways. Harvesters can instantly build around them, basic towers can electrocute the convoy, etc. These damage the tower when used, but I don't particularly feel as though these should be in the game, they just push the balance out of the window once you realise you can, for example, combine the heal ability with these to essentially keep repeating them. Perhaps these abilities could replace the current commander buffs, and instead one of the towers could be made to cast heals, so that you have a lot more strategic placement going on as an Alien player.
One thing I do not like is the Harvesters. They can instant-build anything within a certain radius as a special ability, they can then be set to produce resources, allowing the tower commander to tech-up faster, or abilities, allowing the tower commander to spam the buffs, or points to simply get a chunk of score. I can see the tactical bonus of the game here, but I actually found it way too easy to stack Harvesters in the most defensible position, place towers and simply point farm to victory. Its important to note that they can only produce one reward at a time no matter how many you place, but it still is a pretty overpowered mechanic.
I would also like to see the Human player get some sort of invisibility or strategic advantage. Currently they have a unit who can cause the convoy to become invisible, but this only works in battle, and so again, this allowed me as the Alien player to simply plot their route and place towers to stop them. The Aliens have a tower called the Scrambler, which makes their towers completely invisible to the tactical view, giving them yet another huge advantage.
Waldo: Playing as the Humans, it felt like an uphill struggle right out of the gate, and that wasn't just because the controls were clunky and made dealing with a player opponent countering my every move a hassle. Towers suddenly springing up around my convoy was a common sight, and since your convoy is incapable of going off road, the tower player has a pretty easy time guessing what the Humans are going to be doing.
To make matters worse, the hardest hitting vehicle Humans have access to can only shoot straight forward, while most all of the hardest hitting towers can fire in any direction and have a huge buff to their damage over a large area. This, stacked with a repair buff means that chances are the Humans aren't going to kill many, if any of the towers.
There's a final nail in the coffin for Human players; if they don't manage to destroy enough Alien towers or bring down any of their Generators and Harvesters, which tower players can also repair, they're not going to earn any points. Tower players, on the other hand, gain points just by plinking away at Human units. The multiplayer does feel pretty one sided and is in serious need of balancing, but it was still an interesting game to play.
Units and Towers
Kit: I have to say that my favourite tower was the Enforcer. This heavily armoured version of the basic tower had all of the perks the starting tower had, but it also has huge armoured shields that surround it and give it an immense defensive bonus. It was only a little bit more expensive to build than the basic one, and yet so much better. As to the buffs, I really liked the combination of the Heal and Taunt, allowing you to heal a tower while it takes a pounding but lower the damage it takes overall.
Waldo: My favourite unit was the Assault Hound in Hell Hound mode. While its range was hilariously short and its increase in damage and durability hardly excused the lack of range, it was still an awesome looking robot. As for abilities, Repair has to be my favourite just for being so goodat keeping my convoy alive. EMP didn't have enough of an area to be more than kind of useful and the decoy was always dropped about as quickly as any of my other units, so it didn't distract the towers for more than a few seconds.
Graphics and Interface
Kit:The art style is stunning. The game has some pretty impressive visuals, although I feel it would benefit from a true first or third person view for the commander of the Humans. The overview for the Aliens is sleek, smooth and highly functional, but I do feel that it could do with a touch of Alien flare to the UI to enhance the experience. Alien symbols, different colourations or other such graphical touches would really help to improve the Alien command feeling.
I do feel that the camera should be able to view the whole map in the tactical view at least, as it does get a bit painful to repeatedly scroll around to make sure everything is in working order. However, in regards to the rest of the gameplay perhaps this is intentional, giving the Human opponent a chance to sneak attack something.
Waldo: I did enjoy the art style of the game, but I can't help but agree that Anomaly 2 would benefit from a third or first person view. Being able to zoom in from the strategic and tactical views to the third or first person view of the commander on the ground would certainly make it all the more dramatic when you're running through a corridor with those large Alien towers covering the area in laser death.
Kit:The weaponry, fire effects and music all have a pretty good feeling to them, although the music is a tad repetitive. This is of course only a beta, so I assume that there will be a bigger soundtrack on release. I particularly enjoy the sounds that my towers make when they murder something, although I wonder if it would be possible to give the towers a more 'organic' feel, perhaps a death screech or something.
Waldo: The weapons sound solid, but I would be lying if I didn't zone out the music by focusing more on keeping my convoy alive and cringing every single time Kit decided to spawn a hall way of xeno horrors around my convoy's only path and viable exits.
Kit: I really enjoyed my look into Anomaly 2. I do feel that it currently has balance issues, but its a wonderful take on the Tower Defence genre. I hope for a co-op multiplayer mode though. As this was a multiplayer test we did not try out the singleplayer (although a VR training was provided), but all in all, the game promises to bring some interesting gameplay to the table. I look forwards to the release.
Waldo: Generally speaking I did enjoy Anomaly 2. I felt it's still a great twist on the Tower Defence genre and I have to give 11 bit studios a pat on the back for taking a chance on throwing competitive multiplayer into the mix. It just needs a few balance passes so it feels like both factions have a chance at winning. I would still love to see a co-op mode for Anomaly 2, however!