Sanctum 2 Preview: Tougher And Leaner
Sanctum was a game of many different virtues and flaws. On the one hand, first-person tower defense games were – and still are – almost unheard of, and Sanctum made the obvious move in merging the two. On the other, it suffered from the exact same problems the tower defense genre struggles with: too many enemies with too much health breezing past what looks like an impenetrable defense. Sanctum 2 looks to correct the mistakes of its predecessor, and is already shaping up to be a vastly better game.
The basics of Sanctum and Sanctum 2 are the same, and adhere heavily to tower defense conventions. In both games, you are given a large battlefield of tiles to place walls and turrets on. At one end of the battlefield is the enemy spawn point, and at the other end is a core that must be protected. The best way to go about doing this is to set up a maze of walls to force the enemy units to take the longest path through the battlefield, eating fire from your turrets the entire time. The range, damage, and fire rate of these turrets is upgradeable if you have the resources necessary. Once you’ve finished building, you start the wave and the enemies begin to make their way toward your core. You can’t actually block the path the monsters take, so they will always find a way through your stuff. Some monsters can wreck your maze as well, opening up the path for monsters behind it to beeline to the core.
You aren’t totally helpless against these hordes if you have no turrets, though. You are allowed to carry guns with you, which range from the standard assault rifle with grenade launcher combo to an incendiary rocket launcher with swarm fire mode. These weapons have both a primary and secondary fire, and do not require ammo in the traditional sense, although you do have to reload them when your clip runs out. Sanctum 2 tweaks this from the first game in that your weapons will continue reloading if you switch to a different weapon. It’s a lot easier to keep up a continual wall of fire now, if you are smart about it.
Sanctum didn’t really have a story, but Sanctum 2 does. It’s not anything special – fight aliens, kill aliens – but it ties the battles together in a way that will keep you playing. It makes the game feel more like an actual progression and less like a few selectable battles you can grind for achievements. There’s also the matter of the cutscenes, which are styled after comics and wonderfully drawn. You can view the cutscenes for any level you’ve unlocked, and sometimes I do just that to enjoy the art. I’m especially fond of the character designs, as they show a lot of creativity instead of simply being another palette swap.
Changing For The Better
Mechanically, Sanctum 2 does some massive tweaks to the tower defense formula. The biggest is that bounties for monsters are gone. Instead, weapons are consistently powerful, and turrets are built using two resources generated each round from the core: resources and cores. Cores are used to place down walls, while resources are used to build turrets on said walls. The essence of mazing from Sanctum is still around, but thanks to the limit on cores, building smart is far more preferable to building long. This system is far better than the money system of Sanctum, as it allows you to delineate what resources go where more precisely. No longer will you have to blow upgrade money on lengthening your maze. The only qualm I have with it is that you have to run back to the core to pick up the resources, which seems unnecessary.
A granular, but extremely important, change – both from Sanctum and from the tower defense norm – is that monsters are tougher but spawn in far less quantities. This is the change I most appreciate, despite it being one that most people outside of TD fans won’t notice. Each enemy, instead of being a component of the horde breezing through your defenses, is a challenge in their own right, and utilizing a combination of turret-based weakening and a weapon-based finishing blow is essential to victory. Your handheld guns are also powerful from the start of the match instead of after a few upgrades, and can’t be upgraded during the match. You’ll always be dishing out those huge damage numbers, from the first wave to the last. This stands in stark contrast to Sanctum, where you felt less like a powerful killer and more like a turret with legs.
This change also means that playing single-player in Sanctum 2 is entirely possible and potentially even preferable, which stands in stark contrast to the virtually-required co-op of Sanctum. I have yet to play a co-op match – mostly since Sanctum 2 is a beta – but I’ve been churning through the levels at a decent pace by myself. This is thanks to the aforementioned shift from lots of medium strength enemies to a few strong (but with weakpoints) ones, as the fewer-but-stronger wave design allows me to pick and focus a target instead of having to spread out my damage. It’s also awfully empowering to gib an enemy into bloody alien chunks by placing a sniper shot between the eyes.