ValeGuard is a tower defense strategy game from Lost Tower Games and is currently in Early Access. Due to attacks from demons, undead, and orc alike, the player must help various settlements across the land, building up their defenses and resources to repel an invasion from one of the three factions in each map. As far as strategy games go, ValeGuard starts slowly, but eventually builds to an enjoyable rhythm of resource management, building, and fighting.
In the starting villages, players are subject to a basic tutorial, showing them how to place buildings, create troops, and fend off a wave of attackers. Playing through this initial level gives players all the information they need to play, but also misleads players about the rhythm and challenge of the game. The first few rounds of enemies are understandably meager, but they - along with the first few villages - also set a poor precedent of the game’s difficulty. Walls, towers, and other defensive structures are among your tools for creating a sturdy village, but the majority of the game isn’t difficult enough to require more than a few spearmen, some archers, and your hero units. Seemingly out of nowhere, the last few stages of the game’s campaign suddenly ramps up the number and strength of enemy units, requiring players to build fortifications and use some tactical prowess if they want to survive. The difficult ending was the best part of the game, but a more consistent difficulty curve would alleviate the sudden pressure brought on by the difficulty spike.
Players are brought to a small village and are told that enemy creatures will attack at the end of a set period of days. Each day consists of establishing building projects, then allotting which villagers will work in each area, such as farming, building, or gathering resources like wood or iron. The monotony of managing the village is occasionally broken up by attacks or, more commonly, random events. Helpful shamans, homeless wanderers, and refugees will randomly appear to you, asking for coin or a place to stay. Even the choices that cost you resources can end poorly, resulting in lost resources or a debuff applied to your buildings, making these events more of a gamble than they’re worth. Once I had gathered enough resources, I was secure in making choices, but losing all of my wheat when my village was already starving nearly ruined my chance at victory. Once the player survives to the end of the set time, they have won the map and can move onto another village.
After beating the first village, the game creates a branching path to the end, allowing players to pick which villages they want to save, and presenting them with rewards and heroes for doing so. In my playthrough, I inadvertently selected the lowest path each time, and I was ultimately unhappy with my selection of buildings and units, but subsequent playthroughs could play completely different, giving me access to stronger walls or better turrets. Additionally, the design of the villages is a large factor in how players will defend them. One village started with an unfinished ballista that players had to complete themselves, along with a trebuchet that needed villagers to construct. Another was a race against time as players tried to complete a bridge to escape before enemy forces crushed them. Having only played a small portion of the maps, the prospect of other cleverly designed villages adds a fair amount of replay value.
As mentioned above, players can train units with which to defend, such as archers, spearmen, and others. Each level also grants them access to an additional hero character, like a Ranger, Paladin or the Barbarian, who I unlocked through a special event in my playthrough. These characters are the strongest units that players will control, and they all have a special ability to help in combat, along with a stat bonus each time they level up. With a tanky Paladin and a pair of Rangers, I was able to defeat a majority of the waves I fought. Later villages had more sizeable invasion forces that required some smaller generic units, but they were largely forgettable outside of their use as cannon fodder. Heroes could be outfitted with armor and horses if players possess those resources, but in the case of my Rangers, riding on horseback changed their special ability. My eventual trio of Rangers possessed a rapid-fire ability but giving them a horse reduced them to melee attackers with a snare ability. To switch back, I had to allow their horses to die in combat when they could have instead gone to other heroes or units. More transparency about ability changes would have helped in the final levels, where I was almost defeated.
Ultimately, ValeGuard is a fun tactical diversion with some minor issues. Random events are too risky to enjoy early on, the difficulty spikes near the end which can lead to ruin, and the map becomes incredibly cluttered when a large number of buildings and units - friendly and hostile - are present, making the hero characters the only ones players can control (since they can be selected with hotkeys on the number keys.) As an Early Access title, some of these issues can be addressed before an official release, but despite them, ValeGuard’s campaign and map design are clever enough to prompt a couple of replays.