Defend the Rook
This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X.
Reviewed by: Oskar van der Vliet
Defend the rook came out in October of 2021, and was developed by One Up Plus. The game later got ported to Xbox and Playstation on the 16th of March 2023, being published there by Klabater. The review was completed on Xbox one X. Defend the rook is an Isometric tactical roguelite with tower defence elements.
Visually the game is nothing special but there aren't really any glaring flaws either. To be honest that's almost the thesis statement for the whole game, but we will get to that later. The presentation is a largely generic style that still has its charms, properly emulating the general fantasy style which was clearly the point, especially with the primary units. Music is generally forgettable but I never really find that to be the biggest downside. I would much rather underwhelming music than a noticeably bad soundtrack.
There is dialogue and set up but you'd be hard pressed to call it a story as opposed to just setting the scene and giving context. You play as the magistrate who has been hired to protect the castle from the invading hordes. As a pretext for the game it does its job, But there is very very little to actually invest yourself in. You could really glean everything the game tells you from the character design of the heroes and enemies. There isn't really any benefit in the game telling you what's going on as it really can be boiled down to "fantasy setting". Any of the unique aspects of the game like the gameplay and chess-like interface aren't really given an in-universe explanation, only the parts people could already fill in themselves. But overall it doesn't insist on itself in any way that would soar the experience, it just made me think about these kinds of plots and what the point of it is.
Now the gameplay is the crux of this title. And I have mixed feelings. First of all, controlling this game on console is very grating. Due to the isometric view, all your controls are off. Rather than moving the cursor up it moves it left. It is incredibly annoying, and while I got used to it in my time playing I really can't imagine any reason you would buy the console version as opposed to the pc version. But beyond the controls the actual systems themselves are lacking. There isn't too much actual strategy involved. I am not incredibly well versed in strategy RPGs, but I have played enough Fire emblem and Into the breach to feel how paper thin shallow the minute to minute decision making is. You only have three units, who can only do 1 thing each. The only choices you can make are where on the square map you fight the enemy and the upgrades you apply between waves. Those upgrades are actually pretty engrossing, and could be an engaging system to character build, but you are only given one choice per character each round, so you aren't really making an interesting choice to decide to construct your characters. There aren't any equipment options, or class shifting, or any other system that can add any layers. You just wait for the random number generator to give you something good. Then there are the tower defence elements, which really just comes down to placing one of your three buildings on the map. And again, the only interesting choice you have is where to put it. In a better game that could be enough but since the maps are incredibly dull and the enemy placement is changed every wave with no way to plan ahead, so it boils down to another bland "decision". There really isn't much gameplay decision making. The skills upon level up only offer 2 options per rank and it's very easy to increase, I nearly maxed them all out on my very first run. The thing you purchase with gold are simple hp increases without anything else to offer.
I don't mean to be overly critical or cynical, I think there is actual merit to what this game is going for. It is pretty nice to just sit down while listening to a podcast or something while just kind of mindlessly killing enemies. I don't think there is anything wrong with that at all, and if that's what you are looking for I think you will get everything you want. But if you aren't looking for that specifically I think you will be severely disappointed. I will give it a 3 out of 5 stars overall, with that previous caveat in mind.
Reviewed by: Oskar van der Vliet