Thronefall Early Access Review – King for a Wave

Thronefall first caught my eye during the Steam Next Fest earlier this year as I desperately searched for a tower defense game to replace Isle of Arrows. That game is still excellent by the way, but after 70 hours I needed something fresh to play while listening to podcasts or watching TV on my other monitor. After spending five hours with Thronefall before its Early Access launch, I’m thinking this might be it. Thronefall fuses together tower defense with real-time strategy war games so seamlessly I’m shocked this isn’t a mainstay of the the subgenre already, and except for the extreme difficulty spikes I find myself thoroughly impressed with this tiny strategy game.

Thronefall is extraordinarily simple, and that is to its great benefit. Take control of a tiny king on a tiny horse in a minimalist world, defending your lands from invaders by building towers, walls, fences, artillery, and gathering troops. Thronefall‘s first major difference from other tower defense games is that the player isn’t controlling some god-like character moving the pieces on the board around; you play as the king, and that means that you are part of the fight too.

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At least your horse doesn’t get hurt when you die. He just waits patiently over your corpse, vigilant.

There are currently four worlds in the Early Access version to try out, with more on the way. Before loading into one of the worlds, each with a unique biome and layout, you’ll build your loadout. Choose either a sword, spear, or bow, pick two buffs out of your list of continually unlocking options, and head in to the match. You’ll start with a small amount of gold and can use it to start building simple towers. No crafting here – simply walk next to a marker on the ground, hold space bar, and pay the required gold to pop the tower into existence instantly. Thronefall has the appearance of the city-builder at first glance, but it honestly shares almost no characteristics with that subgenre.

Soldiers come in packs of four and can wield longbows, swords, crossbows, flails, and a variety of other weapons that all have different effects against different enemies. For instance, your knights will be useless against flying enemies, but your archers can take them out easily. Meanwhile your archers are defenseless against brawlers, which come in close for the kill, so that’s where your knights step in. You can build archery towers as well, which has been my main method of defense, walls that keep enemies outside for a time, and farms, houses, and mines to generate gold each round. Farms can be upgraded later with anti-air scarecrows, explosives, and more, so you can see how malleable Thronefall is to match your play style. After you complete a world (or die), you’ll receive XP based on how you did that levels you up to unlock new buffs. Maybe you get more coins on average, get an instant resurrection during the night, grow bigger farms, etc. 

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Hold the line!

Enemies that invade each round come in waves that are attempting to attack and destroy your stronghold in the center of the field. Before each round, you’ll get a quick summary on the map of exactly how many of each type of enemy is coming in from which direction, although there is no way to predict which ones will show up first. After seeing the layout, you can upgrade your defenses accordingly and reposition your soldiers. This is super important – soldiers move very slowly, much slower than most enemies, so setting them up in the right place to start is a necessity. And remember, this is all done by controlling the king. Stand near soldiers and click LCTRL to have them follow you, ride to where you need them, and press again to release them.

This is now the huge deviation from tower defense games; once you sound the horn and the enemy waves fall in, your job actually begins. Depending on your weapon, the king has a passive auto-attack and active attack with a cooldown. You will fight amongst your own soldiers wherever you’re needed most, dodging and slicing and weaving and trying to stay alive. You can buff your own character by paying money to your stronghold to get more attack power and HP, or a healing aura for your troops. This is very cool and is what makes Thronefall stick out for me. You really have that feeling of fighting alongside your soldiers because you actually are. There’s a personal touch here that other similar games are missing in the adrenaline rush that comes with charging around the field, swinging your sword and commanding your troops.

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Sound the horns!

Right now, Thronefall‘s main and really only major issue is the difficulty spike. While World 1 was more of a tutorial, World 2 offered a great difficulty level, allowing me to learn but challenging me enough that I needed a second and third attempt to win. World 3, however, broke me. No matter what I did or how I leveled up, I couldn’t beat it. I spent hours on this same world, trying every possible iteration of strategy with different loadouts, and I died on the final wave every time. Over a dozen attempts later and I am now level 21, still trapped in this desert mountain hell. I am pleading to the developers to reduce the difficulty of the final wave in World 3, because it is like jumping from Kirby to Dark Souls right now. This difficulty spike has soured me a bit on what is otherwise a perfect tower defense war game.

Thronefall has personality, and that’s something I don’t see enough of in these kinds of tiny strategy games. With you actually on the front lines, there’s the adrenaline rush that comes with action games along with the satisfaction of watching your tower system work as intended. The art is beautiful, the music is great, and it runs perfectly on my Steam Deck, which is where I played most of it. Difficulty adjustments are pretty easy to make, all things considered, and I’m confident the developers will take notes and fix it. If you’re into strategy games, or even if you aren’t and just want to be a tiny king on a tiny horse, I highly recommend you check out Thronefall in Early Access.

Nirav played Thronefall on PC in Early Access.


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