A few months ago, I played through the campaign of the original Kingdom Rush on my tablet. It went by relatively quick, so instead of writing a single opinion post about it, I wanted to write a series of guides on how to get three stars on at least some of the levels. As apparent by the lack of such posts on this blog, that turned out to be a great idea.
Sarcasm aside, Kingdom Rush was a fun game, so I bought Kingdom Rush: Frontiers as well and played through it recently. I also got much further in the starts department, but I still don’t have a guide ready. What I do have is a bit of an overview of the game and I really want to write this down before I start with the third game in the series – Kingdom Rush: Origins.
What is Kingdom Rush?
Kingdom Rush is a series of tower defense games. My first encounter with this genre was in a campaign map of Warcraft III – The Frozen Throne. I immediately liked the concept, but it took me a while to figure out there are custom Warcraft III maps with the same style of gameplay available, and even longer to figure out there are actual, stand-alone tower defense games out there.
Now that I did some reading about the genre, I guess the Fort Condor battle in Final Fantasy VII could also be considered of that type of experience, kind off.
In any case, it’s a pretty casual genre, so most of the games I’ve seen are light in the complexity department and are intended to be played as a time waster. Some others are a bit too complex and time consuming for me, but Kingdom Rush seems to strike a nice balance between the two.
Additionally, the Kingdom Rush series is a couple of very polished and pretty looking games, with great atmosphere and fitting (but not objectively great) reference-based humor.
Why is the subtitle “reference theft”?
Because the references are many and the devs of the game really didn’t care about subtlety or possibly even legality. You have character’s screaming “fus-ro-da”, quoting Warcraft heroes and units or events copying scenes from other popular games and movies. There’s a malfunctioning stargate on one of the levels, banta snipers killing your own as well as enemy units on another and the actual Indiana Jones conquering an ancient temple on a third.
In this, Kingdom Rush takes the World of Warcraft approach and this is apparently something I enjoy. It might not be great for everyone, but it’s great for me.
The overview of Kingdom Rush: Frontiers
The main menu
This is the main menu.
The big deal in this game is the campaign, to which you get via the start button. There really isn’t anything else.
Let’s take a look at the credits first, though, just for the sake of completeness.
The scroll starts scrolling (accidental pun) if you don’t touch it, or you can pull and move it yourself.
Time to tap on the Start button.
As you can see, we have three save slots, which is always welcome in mobile games. Far too many games assume there’s only ever going to be one player. Oh, wait, you can’t see, because I messed up one of the screenshots. Oh well, trust me, we have 3 save slots.
The campaign map
The campaign is represented by your typical level select map popular in mobile games.
The levels also, to a degree, follow the popular “you can get up to 3 stars depending on how well you do” concept. In a campaign level, you start off with 20 lives. If you finish the game with at least 18 lives remaining, you get 3 stars. At least 6 lives equals to two stars minimum. Finishing the level with any amount of lives left always gets you at least one star.
The slight difference in Kingdom Rush games is that you get an option for 2 extra challenges on each level. Finishing these counts to your star total, but doesn’t really display as a star anywhere on the screen.
Let’s give a concrete example in a level called Dunes of Despair, which I’ve cleared completely.
The selected-by-default flag icon is the normal campaign level. You can see that I’ve completed this one on the Normal difficulty. There are three difficulties in total – Casual, Normal and Veteran.
The middle, shield icon is the Heroic Challenge. In a Heroic Challenge, you also have to beat an entire level, with the difference that, instead of 15 regular monster waves, you get 6 elite waves, a total of 1 life and some other limitation. In the case of this level, the third limitation is that you aren’t allowed to use heroes, and there’s a maximum tower level.
The third icon is the Iron Challenge. In an Iron Challenge, you get 1 super wave with no breaks. Again, there’s 1 life total, but there are also two limitations this time, so it tends to be even harder. On the other hand, it also limits the amount of available strategies, so it’s sometimes easier to find one that works.
Before we move on, I should note there’s also an extra endless level in a campaign. You can see it in the map above, but here’s what you get if you tap on it…
In this one, you play until you lose and then you get to rank up against yourself and other people. It’s nothing special, but it’s also completely logical to have a level like this one in this type of game.
Before we move on to a single campaign level, let’s show what else we can do on the map. There are some icons on the bottom.
The shop is the first icon on the game map. This is the first place where the F2P aspect of Kingdom Rush falls in. The thing is, Kingdom Rush: Frontiers is a PAID game, so some people might consider the presence of this (and the other place where it occurs) controversial.
I don’t, so let me explain why.
You get gems at random during normal gameplay. You then use these games to buy powerful single use items to help you clear levels and complete challenges. You can also use real money to buy extra gems. There are several reasons why I’m not bothered by this.
Firstly, you get plenty of games to buy an item or two every now and then.
Secondly, the items really aren’t needed to complete any challenge or any levels, so they basically work like paid cheats. As you can see, I have a few bought, and I’m not against using them on occasion, but getting more than the usual amount of gems to buy more than the usual amount of items would just feel cheaty for me anyway, so I’m not bothered that something I would not use in the first place exists. If people wan’t to pay money to cheat themselves out of the satisfaction to complete a challenge the normal way, that’s their business.
The hero room
This is where you pick your hero, upgrade their skills (as they gain levels) or reset their build to try a different one. This is also the second place where the F2P aspect falls in.
You get 4 free heroes and you can pay to get 11 more. Each paid hero is a separate purchase and it takes a total of 30.89 GBP to get all of them. That’s a lot. Here’s why I’m not bothered by this.
I’m satisfied with the 4 free heroes. They offer enough variety so for me, the 11 additional heroes simply do not exist. Each of the four heroes available to me is useful in some way, I didn’t level them up to the max before I was done with the campaign, so there’s plenty left to do with them and I really don’t feel like I’m cheated out of anything.
Heroes gain levels if you use them to kill monsters and their maximum level is 10. Once they reach the maximum, they have enough skill points to max out all of their skills, so their build doesn’t matter, though it does matter a bit initially, when they aren’t maxed out yet.
Upgrades are flat global bonuses that improve your spells and towers in some way. There are five upgrades per each of the four different tower types, as well as five more per each of the two spells you have available.
Their cost is in stars, meaning the more stars you acquire while beating the levels, the stronger you get.
As with heroes, there’s also more than enough stars to get all the upgrades, so while having a correct build may help initially, eventually you just max out everything and there’s no such thing as a build.
As you encounter new monsters during the regular campaign, you get a popup describing them. This gets added into the encyclopedia.
You can find them in the monsters section.
The same happens with towers as well.
There’s also a tips section, as well as a link to the game’s strategy guide. This last one just opens a browser page.
The chalice takes you to your achievement screen. There’s quite a lot of these, but nothing to write home about.
The gear opens a roll-out options menu, from which you can return to the main menu, or turn on/off music and sounds.
A campaign level
The level I’ll be showing off is the Crimson Valley. This is the first jungle-themed level of the game and we’ll be playing it on veteran, in the normal, campaign mode.
This level, like many others, has a comic book cut scene before it starts.
It’s also a level where we unlock a new tower upgrade, so we get a pop-up for that.
The first wave comes when we decide on it, so there’s as much time as we want for planning out the tower layout. I spent my initial gold to arrange my towers like I think could be effective.
Tower spots have fixed locations on each map. Some locations, such as the two on the bottom with the X symbols have to first be cleared of debris, which costs extra.
Since I’m still training this hero, I move it close to the spot the first wave is coming out off and click on the skull circle to start the wave.
We have two spells we can use. One summons a pair of soldiers and recharges quickly, while the other rains meteors on the enemy and recharges more slowly. I immediately use both, so they start charging for the later waves. By the time the wave is over, I’m able to use the first spell 3 times.
I use the extra money I earned to upgrade the central arrow tower to the third level and call in the second wave early. Calling in a wave early gives some bonus cash.
The stronger spell recharges just in time for the second wave, so it all works out.
Like many others, this level also has a special pre-built tower. At this one, I can hire spear maidens, which are much stronger than my regular barracks soldiers. They cost 75 gold a pop, and I can have 3 in total, but they can be well worth the money.
Towers are a straight upgrade on levels 1-3, but the fourth level branches into one of two upgraded versions of the base tower. Crimson Valley is an early campaign level, so I don’t really have the branches unlocked, but upgrading the arrow tower does how that there will be a second upgrade option eventually. The two options dramatically affect how the tower will behave, so it’s a big part of the strategy for each level.
Once you do upgrade a tower to the fourth level, there are no more level upgrades. Instead, you can buy up to two abilities for the tower and then upgrade them for up to 3 levels each. With our Crossbow Fort we get a Barrage ability, which let’s the tower shoot out a rapidly firing stream of arrows at several enemies for a lot of damage, as well as the Falconer ability, which increases the range of nearby towers and gives them a chance to critically hit.
Usually, the upgrades synergize nicely, so it’s a good idea to have a varied set of towers in range of each other.
Flying monsters are usually the bane of my existence in tower defense games, but with Kingdom Rush, they seem to be just a quick source of easy money.
On some levels, you don’t really know if the layout you get will be the one you end up with. Crimson Valley is a good example.
At wave six, a completely new monster path opens up at the bottom. Focusing on the top lane would end up being bad for us. Luckily, we focused on maximum coverage, so most of our towers cover all of the possible lanes, including the new one that appeared.
As the level progresses, the waves get longer and increasingly more difficult, but never impossible. Eventually, it ends up being a matter of having a good plan from the start. In some of the harder levels, you’re just supposed to replay the a few times, so you have more information to plan with.
Eventually, you just figure it out and what was once barely beatable is now an easy 3-star level.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t any surprises, though.
For instance, I completely forgot there’s a second additional path that opens up at wave 10 and it almost cost me a perfect victory. Almost.
Kingdom Rush is a fun game series. Kingdom Rush: Frontiers is a fun game. It’s sufficiently challenging, offers plenty of content and it plays nicely.
Go get it. It doesn’t get much better on Android (or iPhone, or even PC, for that matter).
The only thing it lacks is a fast-forward button for those long but easy waves that you get every now and then.
Seriously, why doesn’t it have a fast-forward button?