By taking the tower defence genre and combining it with hack-and-slash action, Hell Warders is certainly a fun title, even though you'll find yourself playing in short bursts. Developed by Ares Games, Hell Warders is, according to the developers, an action-defence game. Similar to Orcs Must Die, you build up your defences and take control of a hero fighting back against a horde of oncoming, increasingly more powerful enemies.
While it isn't anything original, Hell Warders does have some clear influences of other dark gothic-like titles. By resembling the art style of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, Hell Warders shrouds itself in enough intrigue that it's worth taking a look. Hell Warders isn't trying to masquerade itself as a Souls Borne clone, but instead bring its influence to a broader audience, after all, From Software's titles are a master class of challenging gameplay with precise controls and brutal gameplay. Hell Warders, not so much, but in even its Early Access state, there is a lot of potential.
Upon starting you are introduced to the game with a tutorial. Anyone who has played a defence title will know the drill. Prior to every round, you're given some time to build up your defences around the area. Playing as one of three characters, I began with Ash, the knight, your typical armour clad knight, who wields a sword and shield. Getting setup was simple enough, you have to pick up floating spirit orbs containing your chosen defence, you can only pick up one at a time. The defences available vary from a simple blockade to archers as well as healers, and catapults for long-range attacks.
Like other action-defense titles, placement is very important to success. Once a defence is put in place, it’s down for the wave, annoyingly, you can’t move them once down, so it’s worth ensuring that their circle of range is well-placed for attack (or healing). On each stage, there are a number of routes that demonic foes can pass through. These are marked by red shields on your mini-map.
The creatures that pass through the gates are there to destroy the nexus, a massive glowing orb of light and power, usually placed at the rear of the stage. Shouldn’t have to say, but if destroyed its game over. With defences down, the wave can begin. As you run around playing gatekeeper destroying oncoming foes, with a flurry of sword strikes alongside your hotkey, cool-down skills, you can clear the first set of waves with ease. Enemies are unrelenting, demonic and wouldn’t be at all out of place within the Souls universe. But by the third wave, the creatures of the doom step things up by having even more demonic hordes barge their way through. You will be alerted to these tougher enemies, which can pack a big punch. It’s by this point, I realised even on Normal difficulty, Hell Warders can get overwhelming and playing in co-op is recommended.
Still, the more you fight, the stronger you become and like a MOBA, you can level your character's skills during waves to increase your attack, defence, health by 10% with each new level. These reset after each game, but experience is earned for winning or surviving long enough - this works towards levelling up your characters to purchasing permanent perks from within the Warders headquarters, the pre-game lobby - which is also the gathering area for your party. These perks vary from character to character and provide the character with increased damage and defences. One such is at level 10 you can unlock flaming arrows for archers, increasing their attack by 20%.
So far, there are three characters available. The aforementioned Knight, Dead Eye, the gunslinger, and Samson III, the bomb tossing dethroned king. Each has their own abilities related to their skill sets. Five others appear to be on their way too, but as of now, they are labelled “Coming Soon”.
What Hell Warders does have going for itself is stage variety. With seven stages currently available, Hell Warders has plenty of variety. A couple is rather samey, but others provide some interesting environments, ranging from a ruined desert to a wrecked sea port, and a castle shrouded in molten lava. Each has some unique strategic options while some have environmental traps, like a large spin fan to hover above the grounds to lava pits that can consume foes.
Graphically, Hell Warders lacks polish, but in its Early Access state, the quality is above most; character and enemy animations, while a bit jerky, is smooth and responsive. The biggest downside doesn’t come from gameplay or graphics, but online play. Hell Warders is a co-op focused title and the player base just isn’t there. You can solo, but as said, it can become overwhelming at later waves. You wouldn’t stand a chance on the punishing difficulty of Nightmare by yourself.
Hell Warders, even in its current Early Access State is shaping up nicely. The biggest downside is the lack of players. At no point was I able to play with others. There are options to search for games, as well as create your own - this lets you either wait for others to join or start solo. I know that with enough players Hell Warders will certainly make a great addition to the action-defense genre. It is highly recommended for fans of not only Orcs Must Die, but also action-defense titles in general.