I love the blocky, saturated aesthetic and minimalistic presentation of Fall of the throne. Fortunately, it’s also really smartly designed and fun to play, distilling the tower defense strategy formula down to its compelling essentials so you can experience why fans of the genre love it without feeling overwhelmed or wasting a lot of time managing extraneous details.
Out in Steam Early Access from 2 August Fall of the throne is the latest game from the indie studio Grizzly Games, the geniuses behind it 2019’s super chill city builder, Islanders. You control a lone commander on horseback and set about building a small kingdom while fending off waves of increasingly difficult enemies. It starts out simple, but new enemy types and increasingly complex maps add new obstacles for you to overcome. So far I’ve completed the tutorial and the first two maps and am absolutely loving it.
Anyone who has played Kingdom: New Lands or Two crowns will see much of its inspiration in Fall of the throne, down to how you put coins into slots to upgrade structures. But where those games were side-scrolling pixel art affairs, Grizzly Games’ latest is top-down, low-poly and cuts down on the busy work even more.
There are only three factors to manage – gold, upgrades and soldiers. During the day you visit nodes on the map to choose what you want to use your gold to build. New houses and farms will earn more gold, while walls, watchtowers and barracks will improve your defenses. It seems simple at first, but the streamlined economy offers just enough interesting trade-offs to keep you thinking without turning each round into a mini death march of planning and number crunching.
For example, you’ll want to spend most of your gold on buildings that generate income early on so you can start increasing your earnings. However, leave yourself too defenseless and you will be easily overrun. The Barracks and Archery Ranges, meanwhile, allow you to choose which types of units you want to recruit. Knights are armored but slow, while pikemen are faster and have higher damage. Crossbow units are strong but short range, while those with long bows can hit enemies that are further away. Once you’ve chosen which route to go, you’re locked in, which makes it important to plan for the future without getting stuck with tons of options.
At night, you’ll encounter mobs made up of all different unit types coming from multiple directions. Your armies will target whatever is closest, or you can gather them around in small groups by walking up to them, clicking, and then having them follow you somewhere else. Your commander will also attack, damage and buff nearby units if certain upgrades are unlocked. That’s the extent of your moment-to-moment influence during battles, and it strikes a good balance between the micro-management of a full-blown real-time strategy game and the completely hands-off approach of some city builders.
The nicest thing about Fall of the throne is its maintenance. Units slowly replenish for free as they die, and buildings that are destroyed automatically respawn at full health the next day. The only penalty is that they will not generate more money for you if they were destroyed the round before. Otherwise, there’s no real negative consequence to getting completely steamrolled as long as you keep your central slot intact. In addition to removing a ton of boredom, it also reduces the anxiety and frustration associated with resource wastage. Fall of the throne focuses more on rewarding you for making smart decisions rather than punishing you for bad ones.
“As we got older and got caught up in the usual quagmire of work and responsibility, we realized that we don’t have the 100 hours to sink into the next super-complex game anymore,” Grizzly Games’ Paul Schnepf shared. Game developer in an interview. “We felt that there was a need for healthy and deep, but also less time-consuming, experiences.”
I’ve been enjoying how airy the game is, but I can definitely see the difficulty and complexity ramping up a bit further in. As you play, you unlock additional perks that you can choose from at the start of each map, such as commander with spear or bow, or whether you want to increase your money generation or get bonus health for your castle. There’s also a set of mutators you can mess around with to increase the challenge and in turn raise your high score. I’m sure I’ll get there, but in the meantime it’s the little things that I’m enjoying Fall of the thronelike the super-satisfying jingle of all that gold filling my till every morning.