Got a problem? Use a gun. If that don't work, use more guns.
Sanctum 2, as you might have guessed, is a game of tower defense! What makes this one special? It comes with the twist that lets you actually take part in the defense rather than simply hoping that your best laid plans work out.
Prior to this review I didn't have any experience with the Sanctum series, but luckily STEAM was having a free weekend and I was able to get to grips with the original game. I can safely say that Sanctum 2 feels leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor.
So what's new?
Well, my brief time in the original Sanctum made the differences between it and the sequel much more obvious. The first noticeable change comes at the start of the game, when you choose a character rather than just editing a load out. Each character comes with its own specialty weapon and a special ability. They're not terribly flashy, but they're all very useful. My favorite of the characters has to be Sweet Autumn, with her hilariously large Rex missile launcher that has such heavy recoil that she can actually use it to propel herself. This also happens to be her special ability! Just be careful playing this one on maps that have pits to fall into. Very early on I worked out how much kick the Rex has by shooting myself off a rooftop.
Just remember, this was a press build and so things may have changed before release!
After picking a character you edit their load out. This involves selecting a secondary weapon, deciding which towers you're going to bring and selecting perks to further customize your character or towers. Early on in the game your options are limited, since you level up with every mission you run. As you progress through the ranks you unlock more perk slots, tower slots and toys to play with in every mission. I haven't reached level cap yet, so unfortunately I haven't gotten to play with every toy available, nor have I seen just how many slots are available for each part of your load out.
Once on the ground, players are given resources at the end of each wave. These resources are extremely precious, and must be managed wisely in order to fight off the horde of Lumes coming after them and the core they are defending. Unlike the original, Sanctum 2 does not let players place every single turret that they can afford, instead it limits them to ten turrets at a time. This forces players to be much more careful in their placement of both turrets and walls.
Speaking of walls, if I had to pick a favourite new feature from Sanctum 2 it's the walls, because I can now see and move around with ease. In the original Sanctum, creating a wall meant putting up an enormous blockade which covered up so much of the game's beautiful scenery. It also forced players to go through the exact same lanes that the Lume would be funneled through, unless you placed teleporters around. Luckily the new, much more proportional and better looking walls make movement a breeze. Movement in general feels improved, which is good news as it is such a crucial part of the mobile defense aspect of the game.
Towers and weapons
All the towers in Sanctum 2 that I have gotten my hands on are damn good at their job, with the exception of the gatling turret. That particular one feels a little bit on the weak side, even when it comes to dealing with the weaker, speedy enemies it's supposed to be specialized against. Also unlike Sanctum, where they felt as though they could be upgraded indefinitely as long as the resources were there, they can now only be upgraded three times. The weapons handle very well, although the assault rifle has a hilarious amount of recoil. Also, unlike Sanctum, weapons can't be upgraded. But that's fine, the weapons players carry on them pack a nasty punch, especially when gunning for enemy weak spots. It makes me wonder why I can't just strap them to turrets and call it a day, but oh well!
If you're looking for brilliant AI however, this isn't the game for it. The enemy AI is pretty simple and straightforward, which isn't a bad thing seeing as this is still essentially a tower defence game and a massive overhaul would be needed to make the AI was smarter than your average tower defense AI. They will walk through the valley of death without a care in the world, even if the path in front of them is bristling with guns. If they're out in the open enemies will take the fastest route towards the core, and if the player is anywhere near them they will try to eat their face off. There are a few light enemies that ignore the player, but that's because they're made of paper and are meant to hunt down the core. On the bright side, they're varied enough to keep things interesting, and some even require a personal touch to get through or around their tough armor in order to kill them. Bosses are especially fun since they don't care at all about the walls or defenses a player has built. Unless the player has become their priority, they will destroy walls and turrets and generally make a mess of your dastardly schemes.
Sanctum 2 also supports co-op with up to four players. Each specialized role can be filled by friends, and you can bring along a total of sixteen different towers between four players. The tower cap still stands at ten however, and resources are not shared, so communication and planning are key when deciding who gets which resources and when. What I'm not sure about is whether or not the difficulty of missions scales when more players join a match. As this was a preview copy I was only able to play with a few other reviewers and a couple of people who somehow got early access, so unfortunately my experience with multiplayer was more limited than I would have liked.
Speaking of difficulty...
I didn't see any traditional settings for difficulty. There was an easy mode, but when it came to increasing the difficulty the only way I saw to do this was to add in feats of strength. These are basically modifiers which let you pick and choose how the difficulty is increased. Unfortunately I didn't see an option to increase enemy spawns. I guess there's always survival mode which goes on until you fail. Each feat of strength also increases experience gain by 20%, so if you're looking to power level, going for survival mode and activating every single feat of strength sounds like a great way to go about it.
Story? It's kind of there.
Sanctum 2 tries to include a story but there isn't a whole lot of it. It's told through a beautiful set of comic book pages that you gain every mission. While the art is impressive, there doesn't seem to be a lot of story to help drive players to keep playing the game if the tower defense just isn't enough for them. It is enough to get a good grasp on all of the squad members personalities, so there is that at least, and it does help you find out just what the Lume are if diving through wikis for information isn't your cup of tea.
I actually wouldn't mind having a comic book or graphic novel just for the awesome art, although a good storyline would kind of be crucial for that to be a success!
A beautiful far away world.
Did I mention I love the new walls? I can't stress that enough. With these new walls, which look pretty cool when they deploy and link with each other, the environment is actually there to be seen! While it certainly won't be much more than a background once the Lumes start flooding in, it's certainly beautiful to look at before the onslaught begins. It made me wish that there was more to Sanctum 2 than tower defense, like travelling between the locations and fighting out in the open without the support of walls or turrets, or exploring some of the abandoned facilities later in the game. I guess that would deviate a little too far from the game's roots.
The UI was pretty clean, but it was also the source of my one and only complaint about the game. The marker on the minimap that shows where you are currently located and the direction you are facing in is blue. The tiles you can build on and the ones that mark where you have placed walls are also blue. This makes it a hassle to figure out where you are at any given moment and what direction you're facing on the map, which makes using the minimap in order to respond to threats in later levels a bit of a hassle. That is my one and only complaint!
The sound track was a really good mixture of relaxing tunes, waves and action music that was still oddly mellow, not that it made some situations any less tense! Sounds for each of the different weapons and towers were also pretty good. I can't help but feel that some of them should be beefier sounding, but that's just me.
Worth the pick up?
In a nutshell? Yes. Sanctum 2 is 100% better than it's predecessor in every way. If you loved the original Sanctum or you like defense games in general you will love this game. If you hated the original Sanctum it might still be worth checking out the sequel! Just be sure to bring some friends so your collective box of tools is that much bigger. It's a great game, and with the season pass it's likely to keep me busy for quite a while.