I don’t know about y’all but I’ve realized lately that one of my favorite genres of games is wave/horde/tower defense or as Wikipedia calls it “Survival Game” (which I honestly feel is much too broad of a term). There is just something incredibly fun about playing a game that typically has 0 plot where you try to assemble a defense that will repel the up coming enemy wave and the ones that always feel the best have a weird twist to them to spice it up.
Some lesser known examples I think more people should try:
Wave of Death for Supreme Commander Forged Alliance Forever is this really great take on wave defense in RTS games. Up to eight players can play either in a free for all or with teams. Each player get’s their own straight lane where their commander is at the bottom and enemy waves spawn at the top. The goal is to be the first player to survive the last wave. You can manually launch waves or wait for a timer to expire. The catch is that every time you complete a wave it spawns half of that wave in every other players lane making it a really fun competitive wave defense game unlike any other I have played. Was a great staple of LAN parties friends and I would have for awhile along with a number of traditional wave defense maps in that game.
WaveCOM for XCOM 2 is a mod that drastically changes the gameplay of XCOM 2 by moving everything from the base management part into the turn based part of the game. You start with a few soldiers and after surviving waves you are given some resources to buy equipment, do research, etc just like you would in the normal game. However what makes this one feel just so good to me is how it takes that really great feeling of ambushing the enemy while all your soldiers are on overwatch and turning it up to 10. It tells you where the enemy is going to spawn in so you can try and position your units in just the perfect spot to hopefully decimate the enemy on their first turn. The only issue this mod suffers from is taking awhile to get difficult but I think it works okay with some mods so you can add new enemy units to spice it up. This video seems to do a good job of giving an overview of how the mod works if you are curious.
Let’s Build for L4D2. I personally strongly dislike L4D2’s horde mode because of how limiting it is and how slap dash it felt. I like killing waves of zombies but that’s all the original mode had and on top of that there was no building or unlocking of things. The Let’s Build maps fixed this by adding interesting mechanics like tech unlocking and building while trying to slowly build some kind of vehicle to escape in while surviving wave after wave of infected. Unlocking/building in particular was an amazing mechanic because it did not do what a normal game would have you do by spending resources you gained, instead you had to go up to the thing you wanted and press and hold E until it was done and if you let go you had to start all over. This leads to all sorts of stressful situations where you might be 50% of the way done on unlocking the next set of weapons y’all could really use but a Tank just showed up. Bots sort of work but it is much better played with friends. Download some here!
So what is everyone’s favorite wave/horde/tower defense games/mechanics?
I am for sure going to check out WaveCom, sounds super cool.
I also love this type of game. Ive always engaged with this kind of game in two distinct ways. At first as a good cooperative experience. My game group has a bunch of different skill types and levels and so we like co op stuff generally. But I also really enjoy horde modes as a solo game sort in the same way that I like Tetris. Something to zone out to that starts easy and gradually pushes you further and further until I hit some sort of flow state.
Back when I played Warframe the endless horde mission types were my favourite. At higher levels team composition got more interesting but never felt like you needed people to be in specific frames. At least that was my experience.
As for tower defence, as a teen I sunk countless hours into the plethora of Warcraft 3 custom tower defence games. It’s been a while, but one I remember so clearly was Poker TD, where between creep waves you are dealt a poker hand and how you play the hand determines what sort of tower you get.
I sunk a lot of time into They Are Billions after watching Austin and Rob’s vid on it.
It’s basically RTS base building but every 10 or so in-game days an increasingly large swarm of undead comes slamming into your wall. Inbetween waves you’re expanding the base to secure more resource and also thinning the idle zombies all around the map. Whatever you don’t kill joins the final gigantic horde.
There’s also a pretty underwhelming campaign mode. It does that thing often found in RTS campaigns where they limit your tech trees but here instead you gain points to spend in a skill tree inbetween missions? That sounds kinda cool but not being able to build certain structures/units because you haven’t unlocked it isn’t very fun. I recommend sticking to Survival mode.
Oh also it’s steam punk? So it’s super corny? It’s got all that colonial…empire… for the human kind… baggage. One of the late game units is a dude in a mech but they gave the pilot a top hat? like come on man.
I hope I’m not unselling you too much on this game. The core gameplay is still really fun and survival mode generating a different map everytime mixes up how your base will be built.
I will include the video of Rob and Austin playing it here
It’s over 10 years old at this point but the first AI War is a game that I will always have a soft spot for. It’s another RTS with a lot of tower defense elements but also a space 4x scale and as much focus on fighting a guerilla war as handing waves of enemies. Each campaign has a highly asymmetric start, with the AI controlling a web like map of planets connected by wormholes, and you have to pick and choose your battles to capture just enough territory to build a fleet without drawing too much of the AI’s attention. When you do inevitably trigger a counter attack, the AI will send waves of fleets that you need to have prepared to defend against, and the wormholes turn into chokepoints that lend themselves to a tower defense approach, with turrets and mines and so on.
Although I played a lot of it I never got very high up in the AI difficulties, even so it was still obvious there was a lot more to the AI behavior than most RTS games. Save scumming never really worked, if you were unprepared for an attack and reloaded so you could redeploy your fleet to ambush the AI, it would often not work out, and the AI would hold off its attack until your guard was letdown later. I also loved the strange designs of the ships and AI buildings, which had a kind of Vernor Vinge/Fire upon the Deep super far future unknowable alien hostility to them…
very happy to see discussion of my favourite RTS Supreme commander: Forged Alliance on the forums. you can still play SupCom FA online using the Forged Alliance Forever client which is free you just need a copy of the game. My only warning would be that the Forged Alliance Forever can be EXTREMELY toxic from what I’ve seen in the discord and played online. so word of warning there. I love sup com, nothing chills the blood like that “strategic launch detected” notification when your anti is only half loaded.
As for wave / defence missions i really like them, ill echo whats been said about Warframes defence/ survival mission and I was happy as a clam when back in the Xbox360/PS3 console cycle there was a boom in AAA games adding horde modes after the super popular one in Gears of War 2 started a trend. I think my personal favourite at the time was Halo 3: ODST’s Firefight horde mode, i have fun memories playing that with my friends at the time.
As for weird niche picks let me tell you about a weird little game with a fraught development which as we all know are the hallmarks of a game made by DoubleFine. They made a real-time 3rd-person shooter/tower defences game called Iron Brigade. You defended against waves of alien like robots lizard creatures using the trappings of ww1 military tech that’s been enhanced and turned into mechs or “mobile trenches”. it had a really cool push and pull customisation system between having a lightly armed mech with access to better stationary emplacements or sacrificing that in order to have a heavily armed behemoth. it was a really neat game that i think is pretty underrated and was not done any favours by some issues during its release window that slowed its momentum down a lot, its £10 on steam which is a bit steep but i bet it goes on sale a lot and i think its worth checking out.