Playing Siege of Centauri is a little like getting back on a bike after a couple of years. There are plenty of elements that are immediately familiar to tower defense veterans. You start with the light guns that shoot a lot of bullets but only deal moderate damage. Destroy enough marching creatures, accomplish bonus challenges like never taking damage, and you’ll eventually graduate to more sophisticated weaponry to take on tougher monsters. It’s a well-trodden formula that’s given some unique twists. You just have to get used to some early development quirks.
A Bare-Bones Base
Based in the Ashes of the Singularity universe, Siege of Centauri puts players in charge of a colony’s defense. The game launched in Early Access on April 16 with four maps. Additional maps will be added in the coming weeks leading up to the final release planned for the summer. There are a total of 17 maps planned, which includes a bonus level along with an “unidentified” planet on the horizon. An endless survival mode is also being developed as a “beta 2” feature.
Although the Early Access game is fully playable and with repeatable missions, it’s clear that we’re near the start of Centauri’s development. The game is pretty bare-bones right now, with no real story apart from having to defend colonies from endless streams of killer machines. So, there’s little to connect the four missions together outside of unlocking more powerful guns to destroy foes with.
The game features flashy graphics and huge swarms of uniquely designed enemies. However, the game also lacks visual cues for how badly damaged enemy machines are. Aside from maybe some subtle smoke effects, a foe with a few hit points left looks practically identical to one at full health, which might be just as well since players can’t manually adjust turret priorities right now.
Additionally, even though the weapons have a distinctive style to their look, they’re not all too different from what other tower defense games like Defense Grid offer. There are machine guns, heavy beam weapons, lightning towers, and multi-barreled artillery guns set to blow away foes, but nothing that is distinctly unique to the Ashes of the Singularity universe. Without additional equipment or a narrative to drive the game, Siege of Centauri doesn’t have a personality yet.
But what sets Siege of Centauri apart from many other tower defense games is that there aren’t fixed pedestals to place weaponry. Instead, maps have preset areas where players can drop turrets anywhere they want. This can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the map, since some of the platforms are slim or require long-range weapons. Others may be partially obstructed with mountain ranges that block off line of sight. Oftentimes, you’re left trying to figure out how many turrets you can cram into an area.
Also, many of the higher-tier creatures have weaknesses that you need specific weapons to counter. For example, the massive swarms of tiny machines require lightning towers. Single target weapons and slow artillery simply won’t cut it. This makes it important to have one of everything to take on virtually any attack.
Half the fun of playing Siege of Centauri is discovering what weapons work best against certain machines. The other half is zapping and blasting the hordes to oblivion. However, some balancing issues can prevent either from being achieved. With just four maps to start with, this game sharply cranks up the difficulty.
The economy system can be a little tricky at times. Players recover metal from destroyed machines, and the process can be augmented with strategically placed Scavenger Modules to harvest extra resources, but their bonuses don’t stack. So, collecting the resources needed to build a strong defense can be slow going if the map doesn’t have clear chokepoints – especially when the first groups end up being surprisingly resistant to basic weapons.
Some maps have special buildings to supplement resource production, but they seem to be made out of paper. They usually don’t last long once the machines decide to take a break from their steady march to destroy them, and dropping in tanks or a giant mech to defend them usually does little to help.
Since the game relies heavily on hard counters, and the base must be upgraded before certain weapons can be improved, Siege of Centauri can transform into a game of whack-a-mole. By the fourth map, it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the steady stream of creatures that come pouring out. Breaks between swarms can seem extremely short, especially when your guns are busy dealing with the last group. So, there’s little to no respite between waves to tend to your defenses.
Things take a decided turn once the Eradicator show up sporting powerful shields and fast regeneration. I once had several weapons, tanks, and a mech trained on one that got stuck in place and it took forever to destroy it.
Siege of Centauri has some balancing issues to work out during its Early Access period, but that’s to be expected. It could also benefit with some more customization to help it stand out from other games. For example, increasing a map’s difficulty simply makes the machines tougher in exchange for a higher score bonus, and each map has two challenges related to dishing out or avoiding damage. Hopefully, there are more creative challenges in store, like trying to win using only basic weapons.
Despite its flaws, this is a promising Early Access game that’s worthy of attention from tower defense fans. The four maps are somewhat straightforward, but they present a good introduction to the game. We’ll have to wait for future ones to unlock to see how complex they become. The promise of new maps launching each week should keep players returning for greater challenges, and I look forward to watching the game grow and evolve.