Defend the Rook (Switch) Review

Push your patience while defending the rook

By Joel DeWitte

Defend the Rook is a turn-based strategy game where you play as a mage against elemental adversaries which challenge him in a battle against his heroes.  Those heroes (a knight, a sorceress, and a thief) are tasked each level to fight off five waves of enemy hordes while protecting a mobile tower called a rook (like in chess).  The objective is to survive the waves of monsters while protecting that rook from destruction, causing a game over.  Battles take place on a kind of tabletop board game with square tile spaces which the heroes move through.

Each hero has inherent attributes which make them distinct from each other.  The warrior has limited mobility but is an offensive powerhouse with a robust shield (defensive points).  The thief has more mobility but doesn’t hit quite as hard and is more fragile.  The sorceress has ranged attacks that are devastating but can get easily overwhelmed.  The rook, while needing defending, has a weak ranged attack, and if gets hit by a melee enemy destroys them with a one-hit counter attack.  Outside of characters are a slew of items that can be placed on the field.  Sentries that auto-attack enemies in their range, barrels that force enemies to attack them instead of heroes, traps, and more add up to an impressive toolkit for survival.

For each wave, red cursors will mark where enemy spawns are planned to release.  You’ll get one turn to move heroes for tactical advantage before the horde appears on the board.  Once the enemies hit the stage, your turn will come to move your heroes, attack, or strategically place them to prevent substantial damage.  Any time during your turn, those sentries/traps/buffs can be set which gives a nice sense of fluidity in how battles can be approached and waves dispatched.  The last wave will always include a boss battle, each having a special move pattern or attack style that requires an extra level of strategy to get over the hump.  

In between each successfully defeated wave, you’ll be presented with a temporary upgrade option for each hero.  For example, the warrior could get a counterattack, the sorceress could get a +2 attack if they don’t move, or the thief could get a +2 movement range.  Alternatively, if a hero sustained a lot of damage or was defeated entirely, your upgrade could instead be used to revive or heal them for the next planned attack.  Most battles result in your team being hobbled by damage, so it creates a fine line of how to allocate them.  Do you roll the dice on having your thief enter the next round with only a few hit points to get that damage boost for another character?  Losing even one hero in a wave is crippling, so there is a sense of scarcity each round with how your toolset is whittled away.  

Successful completions of a level resets the heroes to full health and a store to spend experience on upgrades.  Each hero has a skill tree with two separate paths, usually branching into basic increases to things like health/damage/movement/etc or more targeted abilities that can make them more deadly depending on how well they’re deployed in battle.  Additionally, those towers/traps/buffs can be upgraded to increase their effectiveness or durability.  How you focus that experience has a tangible effect on how you tailor the approach in combat.  Once getting a game over, a library with permanent upgrades is available, with diamonds as currency for each of the five levels you complete.  Spending your coin here is what truly enables you to weather the storm better.

That storm is a brutal one.  Each level will have you scraping by the skin of your teeth, heroes getting downed repeatedly.  The set of tools are critical to chip away at enemies’ mobility and ability to harm, but require strategic placement and timing for maximum effect, otherwise blunting their usefulness.  One wrong move takes you from a close victory to a embarrassing defeat.  Defend the Rook has its difficulty deeply embedded in its skin, and wears it like a badge of pride.  

That’s the mindset you have to go in with to squeeze that fun out of Defend the Rook.  It’ll take many attempts to get a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, and how to work through them.  Being intentional about how to stack abilities and traps to maximize your battle readiness.  Learning to plot out your placement of heroes and rook to balance hero preservation and stretching the rook’s defenses to its limit.  With patience and a dogged effort, Defend the Rook can be a rewarding experience that prompts that “one more round” mindset.

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