June 18, 2024
Sauntering into Early Access, Thronefall is an enthralling, challenging and beautifully good time. The Finger Guns review:

As I muster up my knights to follow me into battle against the adorable horde of creatures bearing down on my castle, I come to a realisation. I’m really hooked on Thronefall. Barely scraping through the night and surviving the wave, I agonise over how to spend my precious coin. Do I invest in upgrading my barracks for more knights? Do I throw my last coins into a new defensive tower? What if I need that barricade instead?

Thronefall perfectly encapsulates the beauty of a simplistic set of mechanics but a challenging cognitive stress test. Your mind doesn’t have to worry about combo strings, twitch reactions or having a degree in quantum physics to predict your next move. Instead, the entertainment and challenge comes from your moment-to-moment decision making. Where are your troops placed, what structures are most important, have you invested wisely?

A tower-defence, city-building hybrid with a luscious art style and wonderful sense of charm, will Thronefall be one to pick up in Early Access? Or, would it be prudent to return once content reinforcements have arrived?

Rise of a Kingdom

Thronefall isn’t really one for narrative, as of yet anyway. You are a king of some kind. Your duty is to travel the (currently) four available lands, erect your fortified strongholds and lead your soldiers to victory. What the game lacks in cutscenes and dialogue is made up for with a superbly charming graphics style and a sense of atmosphere.

Monsters, fiends and enemies are coming to destroy your makeshift castles. It’s your job to put a stop to them, any means necessary. To do so, you’ll start every mission setting up your base of operations. During the day you can invest in structures which plop down from the sky. When you choose to move to night-time, you’ll face off against the hordes of foes aiming to bring ruin and destruction.

Your input is limited to using the analogue stick to move around, holding A to build structures and using the same button to use your special ability. Your king automatically attacks enemies and by-and-large you’ll be relying on your defensive units and buildings to do much of the dirty work. Wouldn’t want to get your lordly hands covered in blood, after all. What do you think this is, cute Game of Thrones?

The controls are very easy to pickup and play, while the interface is slick and there’s very little HUD to distract you. It all makes Thronefall incredibly accessible and easy to engage with both in short bursts and for longer play sessions. Rather than demanding you have the dexterity of a thumb war master or the mental arithmetic of a mathematician on steroids, it simply lets you have fun and enjoy the ride.

Thronefall review

Stand Your Ground

While Thronefall might be simple to play and easy on the eye, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a walkover. This is no idle clicker you’d find on the pages of Miniclip back in the day. Quite the contrary, even from the early showings here, there’s plenty of tactical depth you’ll need to navigate if you’re to overcome the game’s challenges.

There’s a constant balancing conundrum happening in every level. Do you prioritise economy buildings like houses, mills, mines or shipyards to increase your spending power in later rounds? Doing so means sacrificing an extra defensive tower, or an archery range who’s crossbowmen may be invaluable in the next round.

Each building has separate traits and upgrade paths, meaning there’s a consistent feeling of tension as you try to form a strategy. I thoroughly enjoyed this element of Thronefall. It creates a tense, engaging decision-making system as you weigh up long-term and short-term decisions. Especially on levels 3 and 4, my poor strategising at the start meant I was absolutely steamrolled towards the later waves.

Yet Thronefall never really deters you despite the setbacks and failures. Defeat is a learning experience, giving you a helpful indicator of what you can do differently next time. A new enemy type you’ve learned how to counter, what starting weapon you’ve selected, how to better invest your hard-earned gold. The game will cast defeat on you when you’re careless, but it never feels punishing.

Thronefall review

The Castle Is Breached

One area I think Thronefall would benefit from expanding is the upgrades to buildings themselves. While there a few options available already, most buildings seem to have a more “optimal” route that negates other choices being as viable. The ballista towers for example are so effective that selecting armoured ones feels redundant.

Having said that, the game feels very well balanced already between throwing insurmountable odds at you but still providing a sense that it can be overcome with good planning. I can’t quite capture just how engaging it was when as I was smoothly positioning my knights to cover chokepoints or breaking the enemies’ charge with a squad of crossbowmen.

There’s an addictive quality to Thronefall that’s already worming it’s way into my mind. This is only aided by being able to add mutations, making levels harder but with higher rewards. Perks unlock as you level up, providing ample opportunity to try out different tactical approaches. Your choice of starting weapon (bow, spear and sword so far) will further determine your own damage output and abilities to utilise.

With so much potential oozing out of every castle wall, I couldn’t help but keep playing with a massive smile on my face. Even when the final level’s boss smashed me to pieces multiple times. It’s left me feeling very excited for what’s to come in future, and the ingenious ways Grizzly Games will build on this fantastic foundation.

Thronefall review

A Confident Charge

The biggest sticking point for Thronefall thus far is content. I finished all four currently available levels within 3 hours, including my failed attempts on mission three and particularly four. Based on what I’ve played, the potential replayability with multipliers and the like however, I’d still heartily recommend it. The fact there’s more coming in future only adds to the feeling that something special is brewing with this game.

As I mentioned before, the art style is minimalist but thoroughly gorgeous. Thronefall has such a unique almost cell-shaded look it’s incredibly tough not to get distracted by it. Each level has a very distinct colour palette and the variety in level design contributes greatly to the act of playing the game, as well as just looking at it.

To think this has been made by just two people genuinely blows my mind a bit. We often hear how the indie space and Early Access have been used to show the deficiencies with AAA gaming and Thronefall is another wonderful example of this. Selecting units might be a bit fiddly and I got stuck on geometry a couple of times. Honestly though, the pure blissfulness of getting caught up in the defence of my quaint little castles overshadowed these issues significantly.

Whether you’re a fan of tower-defence or city builder games or not, I think there’s more than enough to recommend you just try Thronefall anyway. It’s accessible yet challenging, visually arresting with the gameplay systems to match, and it’s just a pleasurable way to spend a few hours of your time. Plus, there’s more to come, the thought of which will help me through the trials of beating every level with every mutation.

Despite it’s short offering of content, Thronefall’s Early Access build already shows the hallmarks of a wonderfully entertaining and accessible tower-defence/city-builder hybrid. A game with the heart of a knight and the steel of a king, there’s much to look forward to as this kingdom continues to grow.

Thronefall is available now on PC via Early Access (review platform).

Developer: Grizzly Games
Publisher: Grizzly Games

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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