Archives by Day

CastleStorm II

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: Sept. 23, 2020


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PC Review - 'CastleStorm II'

by Cody Medellin on March 30, 2021 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

CastleStorm II is a castle-bashing, tower defense, and hack-n-slash game set in a new randomly generated world map that adds a considerable new focus on strategic conquest.

The original CastleStorm was a seemingly simple game that mixed up some versus tower defense gameplay with the projectile-launching madness of titles like Angry Birds. It wasn't a deep experience, but it was an enjoyable one due to its mix of simplicity, challenging difficulty, and gameplay. When CastleStorm II was announced, the expectation was that it would be more of the same, but when we previewed it several months ago, we found it to be a much different and deeper experience. Whether that depth is warranted is up for debate.

Set a generation after the events of the previous game, CastleStorm II starts players in the role of Sir Gavin, son of the first game's hero and new protector of the kingdom. After a period of peace, a series of earthquakes known as The Great Calamity has rocked the kingdom and changed the landscape. The event has also awoken a great evil from the East that is marching to the kingdom just as they're starting to pick up the pieces. As the defender, your task is to halt the invasion.

The battles take place from a side-scrolling viewpoint and will feel familiar to those who have played the first game. Players are in charge of defending against the attacks of invading forces, while some missions task you with capturing an enemy flag or destroying their castle. Most of the time, that means commandeering a ballista and firing mighty javelins at the approaching foes. Later in the game, you can switch it up with different projectiles, such as large spiked balls and giant stones that break into smaller stones after initial impact. Most missions have you dispatching your own troops, from basic swordsmen to magicians, although their addition can prove to be a hindrance since they are also subject to friendly fire.

Aside from operating the ballista, you can go onto the field to play a more direct role in the fight by possessing a soldier who's already on the field, but you'd only do that if you wanted to lose, since your soldiers are pretty weak. You'll likely control Sir Gavin, since he has more stamina and strength than your other troops. You have light and strong melee attacks at your disposal, with the former being useful in creating combos and the latter that can be charged to kill most enemies in one hit. Sir Gavin can also defend from attacks with his shield, use a bow and arrow to hit enemies from afar, and use some magic spells in a pinch.

There are limits in place to ensure that you don't flood the field with troops and projectiles. For your ballista and magic, that means paying attention to energy meters that fill up at a decent pace but require pacing if the selected projectiles and spells require a decent amount of energy to use. The energy meters also exist for your troops, and there's a limit to how many you can have on the field at any time. Regardless of energy, 10 is the max. Also, taking control of any character means losing access to your ballista, forcing you to think about when you want to stand back and when you want to get in the trenches.

All of these things were present before and, taken by themselves, they still build an experience that's enjoyable in short bursts. There are a few changes to these mechanics that make them feel a bit new. For starters, all of the battlefields feel larger now, but the lack of a camera zoom means that you can appreciate all this up close but not from afar if you wanted to get a better view of the fight. The arc has been replaced with a cursor, so shots can feel more accurate.

The big change is that combat is no longer the sole focus, as CastleStorm II has been infused with more strategy elements, specifically of the 4X variety. Instead of automatically moving from one stage to the next, you'll control the hero character across a hex grid world to look for the next fight or move into an area of importance. New castles can be built so you can lord over territory, and you can build structures to help with the production of raw materials like stone and gold and wood. Battles now have a reputation system, so a high rep reaps more rewards. Armies can be replenished and leveled up, and there are several approaches to each battle, so you can solve several conflicts without a battle.

The reception to these elements depends heavily on your preferences. On the one hand, this is a much deeper experience than in the original title, since the mechanics work well together. On the other hand, the pacing feels stunted due to so many systems at play. The action limitations are fine for a strategy game, but it is aggravating to have these limited moves in play when most of the enemies on the field choose not to move. Getting mercenaries isn't ideal, since your own troops are better armed and stronger, and the same goes for the castles that you build and take over. Most of the castles rarely get invaded, so upgrading them feels like busy work. The leveling system feels rather slow, but without the ability to replay some missions, grinding becomes difficult in case you run into a difficult challenge. The menu system works like Destiny, where you navigate with a mouse cursor even when using a controller; it's functional, but it feels rather alien. In short, while the additions are nice enough, it feels rather slow with unnecessary padding.

While those issues may be tolerated during Sir Gavin's campaign, they are amplified when you take on the game's back half, where a new story is headed up by new protagonist, Luna. Compared to Sir Gavin, Luna's abilities outside of combat are drastically dialed back. Her resources are also more limited, and she has fewer places where she can build up her armies while on the field. For at least half of her campaign, you're basically playing in Hard mode, since she has so many handicaps and the situation doesn't improve as you get further into the game, making her scenario a low point in the campaign.

Aside from the campaign, the only other mode is Arcade, which is certainly more straightforward than the campaign. You play a level, beat it, get a three-star scale grade for your endeavor, and move on to the next level. It works well for those looking to emulate the first game's experience, especially since it has a two-player mode. Unless Zen Studios is keen on including more via DLC, that's all there is.

Portions of the presentation have received an upgrade compared to the first game. The use of Unreal Engine 4 might not mean much if you're playing the game using the ballista, since the cartoon style makes the title look exactly the same as its predecessor, but the engine shines when you're on foot due to the background blurring and seeing some corpses get thrown toward and away from the screen. The steady 60fps also helps things out, even when there's a bevy of effects and characters on-screen. The only knock is for the dialogue sequences, where the characters seem much too large for the screen. Speaking of which, the cut scenes also highlight a flaw with the audio, as the characters go from grunting to saying a sentence's worth of words. Half of the sentences fail to either capture the mood of the scene or have nothing to do with the scene. Beyond this, the voices in battle are fine, as is the music, which is similar in style to the music in the first game.

There's a good chance that you'll have a love/hate relationship with CastleStorm II. The combat remains as fun as ever, but the strategic elements feel like an unnecessary add-on. The hampering of Luna's chapter also feels cruel, and the pacing of the game feels slow, especially with so many loading screens bookending each screen. There's still some fun to be had, but if you haven't already, you're better off playing the first game.

Score: 6.0/10

More articles about CastleStorm II
blog comments powered by Disqus