AAA RTS games are a rare breed these days. Besides the occasional Total War game, the genre probably had one of the final nails in the coffin hammered by the recent mobile C&C game announcement. Luckily, indie developers are increasingly picking up the slack to fill the market gap. The limited budget often means thinking outside of the box to deliver a fresh take on the genre that often ends up being more fun than a big budget title.
So is this the case with ValeGuard and what space does it occupy in the strategy games market? Let's break it down.
ValeGuard is available for purchase on Steam.
ValeGuard is a unique blend of turn-based city building and real-time combat with a simple premise. Set in a fantasy world inhabited by all manner of creatures, ranging from goblins, undead, giants, dragons, and demons that would wreak havoc on human settlements if left unchecked. It all gives a sort of Warcraft vibe and while some of the creature designs remind me of its early days, that's where the similarities stop. In ValeGuard you won't get any explanations, interesting hero conversations or any sort of story-driven missions so if you are looking for a compelling narrative – look elsewhere.
Your main and only mission is to build up a settlement with accompanying defenses to fend off an inevitable attack by any of the mentioned enemy factions. The game eases you into its many mechanics with a clear and to the point tutorial, but even there you can easily be defeated if you are not careful.
After finishing the introductory mission, you are treated to an overworld map where you can select your next mission, ie. the settlement you'll defend. These vary in their size, location and the number of paths that enable enemies to attack. Also, each one increases the difficulty by having you survive for more days (turns) with more enemy waves. Once you're in the thick of it, you might be disappointed that the game features no expansive map to move around but is a one-settlement, single screen affair. It might be extremely limiting but this tower defense-like simple system is what's at the core of ValeGuard and also the main source of its fun.
To win means to keep track of multiple things, mainly your resources which come in the form of manpower, gold, wood, iron, and food. Each turn you dedicate a certain number of people to a certain task and people are made available by building houses. The more people you dedicate to harvesting a certain resource or other tasks like construction, the more of it you'll have available at the beginning of next turn.
Despite you being mostly in control of what happens, there is also a random element to it all as enemy attacks can happen at any turn, sometimes even in two consecutive turns. This means the game can get very hectic and high-pressure where a decision to build another house instead of a wall or more soldiers can cost you the game. Luckily, this is somewhat alleviated by the presence of hero units which can not only be upgraded in several stats like health, armor, and attack but also have special abilities which saved my skin more than once.
There are also random events can happen each turn. These range from merchant visits for resource trading, black market seller visits for item purchases that upgrade heroes to events which require your input. These are often humorous where for example, your settlement is visited by a dirty forest dweller and you can execute him, send him away or provide him with shelter. Your response can net you certain resource benefits or penalties. There isn't much variety in regards to these events so they will often repeat and you'll learn how to respond to get rewarded or at least avoid a penalty.
In fact, lack of variety is ValeGuard's main problem. Each map is just slightly larger than the previous one. The aforementioned enemy factions are no more than simple reskins of light, ranged and heavy units. You don't even unlock any new units or buildings as you progress except for a few hero classes. You only get more turns so you have more time to save up for a more advanced unit or a building. And just as you get to a level where you have more turns to play around with more advanced units or defenses – you'll finish the game.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
Visually, ValeGuard won't blow you away. However, the game features a charming cartoony aesthetic that is very appealing to the eye. Despite reminding me of early days Warcraft, it has enough personality to stand on its own. The impression is further helped by the fact that the game runs flawlessly with no bugs or hiccups to speak of. The UI was responsive and features huge icons for everything important so there's no way you'll miss something.
In the audio department, the game is bare bones with the only couple of tracks and a handful of sound effects produced by the in-game units. It's all very tame and very quiet, even when your settlement is swarmed by numerous enemies.
ValeGuard is a fun little hybrid game that heavily leans into tower defense territory. The game can be finished fairly fast and while there's not much in the way of replay value but the small bursts of high stakes fun you can have with it is undeniable.
While it is impressive that one person made the game and that what's here is polished and mostly bug-free, the biggest problem ValeGuard faces is the lack of variety and the games you can purchase at the same price point that offer significantly more content. The fact is that the game itself could find better success on a mobile platform with a more appropriate price point.
|+ Short bursts of fun||– Very short|
|+ Charming visuals||– Lack of variety|
|+ Interesting spin on tower defense genre||– The pricing|