Tower defence games are all about making sure your enemies are in the right place. The very best games in the genre understand that, and create tactical ways for you to use the weapons at your disposal that are built around that simple fact. And Kingdom Rush Vengeance does it better than most games we've seen in a very long time.
Sure, it looks the same as all of the other games in the series, but this is a sequel that's been a long time coming. It feels polished and refined, stripped of some of the older ideas from other Kingdom Rush games and pushed out to stand on its own two feet. And it does that wonderfully.
It's a shame there isn't any multiplayer here, and some people are going to find the IAP in the game a little annoying considering there's a fiver to pay up front for it, but all in all this is one of the finest tower defence experiences you're going to have in 2018.
Vengeance is mine
Anyone who's played a Kingdom Rush game before is going to be comfortable from the get-go about what's happening here. So much so that the tutorial lasts a few seconds before you're left on your own to face off against waves of good guys. Oh yeah, that's the twist this time round - you're fighting against the elves, dwarves, and other races that you've played as in the first three games.
Every level is made up of a path and a base. Sometimes there's more than one path, often there's more than one base. Your enemies walk along the path to try and break into your base. Let too many of them reach you and it's game over. To hold them back you've got a number of different things at your disposal though.
Foremost of these are your towers. You start each level with a pot of cash that you can spend on your first round of defences. You'll earn more gold as you kill attackers, which you can use to build new towers or to upgrade the ones that you've already plonked into play.
Your towers sit along the edge of the paths, and there are set places where you can place them. You could fill up a level with simple archer towers, if you wanted, but you wouldn't last very long against the swarms of different heroes and snitches that are wandering towards your precious base.
Instead you need to think about how to combine the towers. There are towers that are designed to slow down oncoming attackers - put one of those next to a tower that first out goblin rockets, and you've created a bottleneck where the enemy force will stall. And then get goblin rockets fired at them.
You don't just have towers at your disposal though. You've got a hero for one thing, who moves around the battlefield at your command and gives you a set of moves you can play when you need them. These are on a cooldown timer, and they differ depending on which of the game's heroes you've got equipped.
Kingdom Rush Vengeance asks you to keep an eye on almost all of the theatre of war. You'll sometimes find yourself attacked by units that have rolled in from the scenery. There are tells to let you know when that's going to happen though, so keeping an eye on every nook and cranny of a level is key.
Different enemy units have different strengths and weaknesses too, so you need to ensure that the defences you've built are designed to withstand any attack. It can be heartbreaking to make it all the way through a level only for the last wave to walk straight into your base and destroy it.
Interestingly though that highlights one of the little niggles we found in Kingdom Rush Vengeance - the levels are just a little bit on the long side. Most of them feature 15 waves, and while you can call waves early, the strategic nature of your hero and special moves mean there's no way to speed up the gameplay. That means some of the levels are a little on the long side for a quick commute play.
Vengeance might be yours
That's only a problem because we're looking for them really though. There's such a wealth of experience on display in Kingdom Rush Vengeance that anyone with even the slightest affinity for tower defence games is going to enjoy every second they spend trying to ensure magical ice wolves don't smash up their secret hideout.
This is a game that revels in the potential of the tower defence genre, and balances itself in ways that newcomers or veterans can get the most out of the experience. It feels like the pinnacle of what Ironhide began with Kingdom Rush all those years ago, and anyone who's stuck with the series from the beginning is likely to notice that.
Kingdom Rush Vengeance is a great game that builds on its predecessors. It's sharp and smart, and surprisingly tactical when it wants to be. Yes it's a tower defence game, but what did you expect? It might not quite reach the heights of Iron Marines, but it's still well worth a large portion of your precious time.