Released late last year on PC, Defend the Rook is making its Nintendo Switch release tomorrow. I never checked out the game on PC, but the premise behind it seemed intriguing. I have never been the biggest fan of rogue-lite games, but Defend the Rook seemed like an interesting twist on the formula as it looked like a combination of a board game and a tactical strategy game. Defend the Rook is an interesting and fun little game even if it is better in shorter doses.
In Defend the Rook you play as a mage. Dangerous forces are threatening the kingdom. The Queen has asked for your help in defending the kingdom. You have control over a magical rook, towers and a group of heroes which you will need to use wisely to stop the invading forces. Can you save the kingdom?
In a way Defend the Rook feels like a combination of a number of different genres.
The main mechanic feels like a sort of mixture between a board game and a tactics style game. The game takes place on a board similar to a Chessboard. The game is separated into a number of different worlds with each world consisting of five different waves of enemies. To help in your battle you get to control a number of units. You have your rook which basically acts like a King in Chess. If your rook is ever destroyed, you lose. Additionally you control three other characters including a warrior/close range attacker, a rogue character, and a magic user. You will also get to place a few towers and other traps on the board to help in the fight.
Each of your units as well as the enemies have health, strength, defense/shields, movement and range stats which impact what they can do in a battle. You and the enemy take turns choosing what you want to do with each of your units. You can move them around the board to new locations to attack enemies or avoid their attacks. When attacking you deal damage equal to your strength plus any modifiers, and then you subtract whatever defense the attacked unit has. If you deplete a unit’s health to zero they are eliminated. At the end of each world is a boss with special abilities that you must defeat in order to move onto the next world.
After successfully completing each wave you will get to choose an ability to add to either your warrior, magic user, or rogue. These can range from healing the hero to giving them either a passive or active skill which will help them in combat. At the end of each world you will also get to use the experience you gained to acquire even more abilities. You can also use the coins you earn to upgrade your towers or other contraptions.
This brings me to the game’s rogue-lite mechanics. The game is built around runs where your goal for each run is to make it through all five worlds with the same group of units. If any of your units should die in combat, they can be revived with abilities or they will be revived at the start of each world. Should your rook ever be destroyed though, your run ends immediately. At the end of each run you will acquire a number of gems which you can use to purchase permanent upgrades which give you the potential for more abilities or even alternative versions of the three main characters. If you successfully complete a run you can also increase the difficulty by adding limitations to your next run which increase the rewards, but make success harder.
While I was intrigued by Defend the Rook I was a little cautious before playing it as I have never been the biggest fan of rogue-lite games. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that I am the type of gamer that doesn’t like to replay the same scenarios over and over again getting progressively better until I overcome the obstacle standing in my way. I am more the type of player that likes to play through a game and then move onto something else once I complete it. After playing Defend the Rook I have to say that I really enjoyed it.
In a way Defend the Rook feels like an advanced Chess-like game combined with video game mechanics. Attack patterns and moving around the board was similar to Chess in many ways. This was combined with acquiring additional abilities as you progressed in the game in order to make progressively more powerful characters to help you in battle. The key to doing well in the game is finding ways to eliminate enemies while limiting the damage to your own units.
Defend the Rook is not going to be for everyone. It is not a particularly action packed game as it is much more focused on strategy. If you don’t typically like turn based strategy games, it is not going to be for you. Those who like this genre though will likely really enjoy the game as it hits all of the elements which I enjoy most about the game.
Strategy is key to the game as you need to carefully plan out what you want to do on each turn. There is no luck in the actual gameplay as there are no die rolls or anything else that impacts how successful an attack will be. How you approach each battle will determine how well you will do. Will you play more passively and try to limit the damage that your units take? Or will you play more aggressive and try to take out enemies before they can deal much damage? Both seem to be valid in their own way as the game gives you quite a few options for how you want to approach the game’s strategy.
I think the most enjoyable part of Defend the Rook comes from the abilities. As you progress in the game the number of abilities that you will add to your characters grows significantly. At first an ability here or there might not seem like much. How these abilities end up working together is where the game really starts to shine though. Many of the abilities have beneficial effects that work well with other abilities. Towards the end of a run you will start to create characters that can set off a chain reaction with just one attack.
For example in one run I focused pretty heavily on upgrading the magic character. The character benefits from attacking at range as well as a number of abilities that can damage multiple enemies at the same time. For this character I was able to combine several abilities that worked off of attacking multiple enemies with each attack. Some abilities I added included damaging all units when the mage killed an enemy. This was combined with chain lightning which would spread from one enemy to another to hit multiple enemies. Along with a number of other abilities I was able to create a character that excelled at taking down several enemies with each attack. Towards the end of the run there was a fight where they killed a number of enemies with their first attack. This triggered another attack which killed more enemies, which triggered another attack which killed even more enemies. I think this one attack ended up taking out at least ten enemies.
While you can create really overpowered characters, there is just something really satisfying about being able to create characters that can set off these chain reactions. Your choice of abilities selected throughout a run can have a big impact on the later worlds. It is rewarding creating a build that pretty much breaks the game. In a way it feels like you outsmarted the game. While this has an effect on the game’s difficulty (more on this later), it is fun seeing a simple attack set off a much bigger attack that can easily turn the tide of a battle.
Ultimately I think your feelings towards Defend the Rook will heavily depend on whether you like these type of turn based tactical RPG games. If you don’t really care for the genre, I don’t think it will be for you. Fans of this genre will likely have fun with the game though like I did.
Defend the Rook was released on PC late last year, but for this review I checked out the new Nintendo Switch release of the game. For the most part I thought the game works well on the Switch. I played the game docked so I can’t comment on the handheld mode. The game runs well and I didn’t really encounter any issues. The only real complaint I had with the Switch version of the game was that it takes some time to get used to using the controller to select squares on the grid. I would highly recommend using the d-pad instead of the analog sticks as it can be hard to select the correct space with the analog stick. Otherwise I didn’t encounter any issues with the game.
As for Defend the Rook’s story and atmosphere there isn’t a whole lot to say. A lot of this is clearly because it wasn’t a major emphasis of the game. The game has a story but there isn’t much to it. The story is really predictable, and is basically only there to try and tie the different battles together into a cohesive story. The story never really changes either so having to go through the same story every run gets a little repetitive. The visuals are better as they look nice. The character designs are nice especially for the type of game that Defend the Rook is.
I really enjoyed playing Defend the Rook. There were two issues with the game though that in my opinion kept it from being as good as it otherwise could have been.
The first issue relates to difficulty. For the most part I would say that the game is on the easier side. I haven’t played through all of the different difficulty levels, but at least for the early levels the game is on the easier side. In fact I have yet to lose. One time I came pretty close to losing, but the other times I mostly breezed to victory.
I think a lot of this can be attributed to the fact that if you make smart choices in which abilities you choose for your heroes, you can create combos that are almost impossible to stop. If you create a really good build, some heroes are almost undefeatable where you can utterly destroy all of the enemy units almost as quickly as they spawn. It is really satisfying creating a great build that destroys enemy units, but it does reduce the game’s difficulty significantly. If you make smart choices early in a run and get the right upgrades, you have to make a poor decision to have any chance of losing the battle. This can make the end kind of anti-climatic where you know there is no realistic chance that you will lose the game.
This is somewhat responsible for the other issue I had with the game. While I really enjoyed playing Defend the Rook, I will say that it is the type of game that can become a little repetitive after a while. The game has some variations on the bosses you fight each world, but there is only so much the game can do to really distinguish each run. You character builds and enemies you will face might differ some, but the main gameplay never really changes. This can get a little repetitive after a while.
For this reason I think you will get the most out of the game if you play it in shorter doses. It could just be because I over analyze things, but each run will take a decent amount of time if you make it all the way to the end. Thus I personally got the most enjoyment out of the game if I played a run and then came back to the game on another day. I could see some people being fine playing game after game, but I think most people will enjoy it more if they take their time with the game playing one game a day and slowly moving towards completing all of the challenges.
As for Defend the Rook’s length I can’t give a definitive one for a few reasons. Like with all rogue-lite games, the length you get form the game will depend on how much you end up replaying the game. I think a lot of players will be able to beat the game on their first attempt. How long this takes depends on how much you have to analyze everything. I would think it would take at least 30 minutes to an hour or more. The real length for the game comes from replaying with the additional challenges added on as you face off against tougher challenges. The game has quite a few different difficulties/challenges to add which can add a decent amount of time to the game if you want to complete them all. If you will be done with the game after a couple of runs, I would maybe recommend waiting for a sale as your time with the game may be more limited. If you are the type to keep playing a rogue-lite game to defeat bigger challenges or try out new builds though, I think you could easily get your money’s worth out of the game.
While not the biggest fan of rogue-lite games, I actually got quite a bit of enjoyment out of Defend the Rook. In a way the game feels like a combination of a game like Chess with tactical RPG/turn based combat mechanics with some rogue-lite mechanics thrown in as well. These mechanics actually work quite well together. Strategy is key to doing well in the game and the game gives you quite a few options in this area. There is just something really satisfying about creating combinations of abilities which make your characters way overpowered. This does make the game kind of easy at times since if you pick the right abilities you can really mow through enemies. Defend the Rook is also the type of game that is better in shorter doses as outside of facing new enemy types and other challenges, the gameplay never drastically changes from your first game to the last.
My ultimate recommendation to the game really comes down to your thoughts on tactical RPGS, turn based combat, rogue-lites, and the premise in general. If you don’t care for one of these, I don’t know if the game will be for you. Fans of these genres and the premise in general though will likely really enjoy Defend the Rook and should really consider picking it up.
Defend the Rook
Release Date: PC – October 26th, 2021, Nintendo Switch – April 14th, 2022 | Systems: Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: One Up Plus | Publisher: Goblinz Publishing, Maple Whispering Limited
ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence
Genres: Indie, Rogue-Lite, Tactical, Turn Based
Official Website: oneupplustrust.com/defendtherook.html
- A fun combination of mechanics leading to quite a bit of strategy.
- Really satisfying when you can create a character with a combination of abilities that feed off one another.
- On the easy side especially in the easier difficulties.
- Better in shorter doses as the basic gameplay never drastically changes.
Recommendation: For fans of tactical RPGs/turn based games that think the premise sounds interesting.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank One Up Plus, Goblinz Publishing, and Maple Whispering for the review copy of Defend the Rook used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.