The Gemcraft Labyrinth tower defense game series has always been one of our top favorites. With the intriguing way that they have changed their style of delivering the classic tower defense gameplay, the well written narrative and the cohesively designed user interface and in-game graphics it takes very little arguing why this game would not be among our most recommended titles. So when the devs behind this great game series announced that they were making a special “Lost Stages” expansion, we were right on it the moment it came out. And it has been quite some time since then, we have played the stages over and over, fell in and out of love with the challenges and finally when all the amulets and upgrades have been gained, finally concluded that once again, the guys behind Gemcraft have outdone themselves again.
Simple Delivery, Great Story
For most folks, it is all about the imagery. After all, if you just wanted to read plain text, why go beyond a book right? But that kind of reasoning is nothing but amateurish, the fact being, any self respecting reader would never underestimate the power of properly written text content -and that is exactly what Gemcraft has. The story is simple, and starts out pretty vague and generic, but as you proceed through a couple of screens of light text, you get to witness something interesting unfold. This tale of a mage sent on what apparently was a random assignment now discovers a much deeper reason for his designation to a small town -especially due to the fact that just recently, all the citizens have fled in light of a massive assault from strange creatures.
But that is not where the adventure begins. For the lost stages, you, the mage, will be venturing off to an unknown dungeon, conquering it one part at a time in search of answers and in the meanwhile, fending off hordes of magical creatures.
Well, it is an interesting backstory at best, but yes, we are not lauding Gemcraft for its story (though we do acknowledge it as being delivered with an impressive florish). We are bringing this game to the forefront for its gameplay features. Now before we go on with how Gemcraft is different, let us take a quick look at all the basics of a standard tower defense game -after all, if we are talking about innovations. We need to appreciate the original.
Tower defense games will have you defending something against enemy invasions. This something can be a base that must be kept intact or items that enemies are trying to capture. Your task is to build towers -or any other defensive structures that will attack these invading troops. It is a pretty broad formula, but there are a few details that are pretty much standards (though never obligatory). First off, an earning system; you either earn experience points, currency or both. These consumable resources can then be used for using skills (or casting spells), building towers or upgrading defenses and player abilities. Enemies will always come in waves -and while these will arrive in set times (or after you kill off all units in a previous wave), many games allow you to call a wave in early, often providing a bit of a bonus when you do.
The big factor here is that for most game developers, the innovation comes with changing the way players level up, gain new towers, or cast their spells. With Gemcraft, it is all about building better towers and defenses.
As the title implies, you will be crafting gems -magical stones that will be the source of power for your towers and traps, which means that without any gems, any defenses you build are completely worthless.
The key currency of the game is called mana -magical energy that you generate automatically. You will earn more mana by killing enemies and also by using attack towers that will absorb mana from targets. Once you earn enough mana, you can use it to create, duplicate, merge and explode your gems. Mana is also used for building the structures of towers, traps and walls and also, for activating other abilities.
The developers have done away with the typical upgrading system. Instead of earning upgrades for your towers you must merge gems in order to make them stronger -which means that strategizing your build order is a big factor in the game. Since merging is the only way to make a gem stronger, it means that you will be sacrificing the effectiveness of a one tower by removing a gem and merging it with another. If you choose to not buy lower tier gems while waiting to earn enough mana for high level gems, you will end up with a badly defended stage -which makes merging gems an important ability for all players.
Now, aside from upgrading gems, players also have to decide where to place them: on traps or on towers. Traps are laid down on the very path that enemy troops walk on. This means that it is likely to affect many targets. The drawback to traps is that they have significantly less range and attack power than towers and also, once a target passes over it, the trap can no longer do affect it. The big advantage of traps is that if they are placed in the right tile, they can be very devastating. Towers on the other hand provide the usual type of base defense -projectile based attacks. Naturally, towers will have range, but these are affected more by the traits of the gems on it.
One unique structure that the game offers is the amplifier. The amplifier will increase the specs and stats of all gems in adjacent tiles -of course, the amplifier itself will need to be powered up by a gem, and naturally, the bonuses it provides are influenced by the gems placed on it.
Going Up the Ladder
Aside from winning battles and proceeding with the story, players will earn experience for every stage played, this experience point value is based on a base number that each stage has and that value will be increased according to multipliers applied to the stage and any bonuses that the player has managed to earn. The game will reward players for creating certain gem combinations, reaching high combo values, calling in waves early and doing a whole assortment of tricks. The bonuses are either XP points awarded straight up or additional multipliers. Either way, increasing your bonuses in a stage will certainly be better for you.
The experience points earned will increase the player’s levels, which in turn provide skill points. These skill points will then be distributed by the player to special passive skills that provide helpful boons to the player’s game such as more starting mana, lower mana costs, better gem stats and more.
Earning levels also allows the player to set special stage rules as well. Stage rules can be altered to provide player handicaps, while it makes the game harder, having handicaps automatically provides massive multiplier bonuses to experience points -making these extremely important for high level players (also, it makes earlier stages worth playing for the additional earnings and challenge, effectively increasing the game’s replay value). Some players will also enjoy the fact that by using the right combination of handicaps, they can gain a great amount of experience points from the multiplier bonuses on a very lower level stage without having to worry about losing at all.
In The End…
The only reason that you should not play this game is if you have not played the original Gemcraft Labyrinth -and you should. Either way, it would not even hurt at all to make Lost Stages as your first. As a game, Lost Stages has plenty of merit when it comes to gameplay, story, delivery, and of course, addictiveness. The difficulty is also accommodating to players of varying strengths, allowing both newbies and veterans to enjoy it. Tower defense games are pretty similar when it comes to form, which is why having Gemcraft Labyrinth Lost Stages is such a great thing.