Today, a new game called Eden Rising: Supremacy hits Steam as an Early Access title. It's got a gorgeous science-fantasy art style, is being developed by industry vets who've worked on games like The Secret World and Age of Conan, and has some intriguing ideas about how to revive a genre that's long been cold. But let's rewind a moment first.
If you were playing games online in the mid-00s, you're probably familiar with sites like Newgrounds and Shockwave.com; massive repositories of Flash animations and simple games. It was from these corners of the internet we trace some of our earliest memes, and odds are it was there you were introduced to the ‘tower defense’ genre through games like Bloons Tower Defense (opens in new tab).
In a tower defense game, the objective is not to actively hunt down your enemies, but to strategically place defensive structures in order to stop waves of enemies from reaching the end of a designated path. It's a decidedly more passive experience than many, culminating in a zen-like state of bliss as you watch the computer struggle in vain against your army of dart-throwing monkeys (or, if you're not Bloons TD, whatever flavor your 'towers' are).
So yes, Eden Rising: Supremacy is a tower defense game. But it sure doesn't feel like one.
Take your towers with you
In Eden Rising, up to eight players log onto a shared persistent world - the titular planet of Eden. Your arrival has awoken mysterious alien relics known as Crucibles. Protect these machines from hostile creatures as they power up and you'll be granted godlike power, which you can then use to go forth and claim more land for you and yours.
But don't think that you'll be watching from a bird's eye view throughout all of this; Eden Rising plays more like a third-person action-RPG than a point-and-click Flash game, and developer Nvizzo Creations is working hard to make this particular blend feel inviting.
"The tower defense aspect is very interactive," lead designer Brent Ellison told me via Skype. "If you go out into the world and find a monster and you think it might be too hard for you with your current weapons, you can sort of set up an area to engage the monster in."
"So you can take the static elements of the tower defense genre and bring them wherever you want. Whenever you put down a turret, you can also pick it back up. And while you're out in the wild, you can find resources that let you craft these traps out in the wild and use them on the fly."
It may sound strange, but it's really not too far removed from, say, Fortnite (opens in new tab) or Monster Hunter. Only here, instead of building massive structures piece by piece or setting traps for a dangerous wyvern, you're plopping down turrets and traps to protect a designated area that you know aliens will be funneling through. And once you've set those defenses up, you'll still want to do some legwork yourself.
Craft your own playstyle
Along with crafting your defenses, you'll also be using Eden's flora and fauna to craft your weapons and armor. Each set corresponds to a different playstyle, giving you abilities and buffs to help you deal damage, soak up aggro as a tank, or help your friends as a support. In a community game, Ellison said, you need to appease a variety of players.
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"Some players, they really like to go off and do their own open-ended exploration. So we have a large world they can do that in and there are interesting things they can find within it. There are lore-related things they can discover, there are unique resources, there are different mini-challenges. But other players, they might be more focused just on upgrading or just on tower defense," he explained.
"We're not hard controlling it, but the way the tribe works is everything's shared. So when you discover blueprints, everybody in the tribe gets these blueprints. All the progression is also shareable - so your equipment is what defines your class and your abilities, and you can always take that equipment off and give it to another player. It's very open in the community context."
It might sound like Eden Rising is throwing a bit of everything at the wall here - there's an open world to explore, supplies to gather, equipment to craft, monsters to slay, and of course, towers to defend. And Ellison admitted there weren't many other games the team could model itself after due to this unique cocktail.
"In some of our early iterations, the players were motivated to run around the world, but not do the tower defense. So we put in systems that limited progression a lot more based on doing tower defense challenges. And then it felt like, 'I'm not getting much out of exploring the world, so I'm not gonna do it until I'm done with the tower defense stuff'. And that wasn't good either."
Ellison said the team has since found a sweet spot where test players are happy, and this is a major part of what spurred a move to Early Access. With the majority of test players now reporting positive feedback, the idea is to refine things further, get more input, and hear from a wider variety of voices in order to make the game great. The hope is to exit Early Access in roughly six months, but that timeline can change depending on how the playerbase feels about the state of the game.
If Eden Rising sounds like your jam, if you want to see how far tower defense has come since the days of killing time with Flash games, check it out; it's available now on Steam (opens in new tab) for $14.99 / £11.99 .