Ancient Islands is a game that sets out to accomplish a lot; and for the most part delivers. At first glance, I thought Ancient Islands by Avernus Software and Art Games Studio S.A. was going to be a run-of-the-mill tower defence game. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The game is positioned as exactly that, a tower defence game. You must gather your resources which in this case is gold, wood and stone and build up your structures. These include basic knights, archer towers, mage towers and healing stations. All of which can be upgraded. When you have the necessary resources, you simply build your structure on the desired tile and hope it works. Of course, tactical thinking is a must!
The game will throw waves of monsters at you, all of which are unique in terms of HP, abilities, and speed. So far; exactly what you’d expect. Your objective is to stop your gate being destroyed and there might be more than one. Within the gated walls, however, you can build more freely the resource collecting structures and those which level up your defences. Be mindful where you place them, however, because you’ll want to ensure they’re in the green zone for bonus resources.
Each island has a unique feel, green pastures of traditional medieval lore to more rugged dessert areas. Stages in Ancient Islands also get more challenging as you progress with multiple routes for the monsters to follow and for you to defend. In addition to that, these monster spawning points can even be in the middle of the map rather than the edges. The progression felt natural and offered a good amount of challenge; sometimes to the point a re-do was necessary. The stages have difficulty levels you can select from as well. Once a stage is completed, you’ll progress to the next one as you explore the Ancient Islands.
Like most tower defence games each stage in Ancient Islands is comprised of multiple waves. They usually start easy and get progressively more complex. There’s a handy tracker that displays what wave you’re on. Just before the next one arrives, you get the option to spend some resources to delay it – a great tactic if you’re still clearing out the wave before. In addition you can freeze time and speed it up.
When in level select, be sure to check out the encyclopedia. It’s a nice touch to give you more details on every aspect of the game.
One of the more interesting mechanics about Ancient Islands is the spells you can cast. As the timer progresses through the waves you build mana. If you have the mages building constructed, you then access two basic powers (healing and poison gas) which can help you on the battlefield. As you level up, more interesting spells become available.
Where Ancient Islands diverges from the traditional is with its incredibly complex skill tree system. Points are awarded at the end of each stage, and you can spend them in a vast sprawling tree of level up abilities that span every aspect of the game. From improved economics and gathering to increased damage and resistance across all defence types. It is RPG worthy.
It also throws a few economics systems into the mix with the bazaar feature. This is a structure you can unlock and use to exchange materials for other types of materials you may need. This becomes tactically very useful on maps which are limited in one type or where you’ve levelled up your gathering structures in one area but need more gold for those upgrades and new structures. It works really well and often I found myself needing to pause the timer so I can properly plan before the onslaught of another wave.
Then we have tactics. This an in-depth feature that allows you to plan exactly how your defences will target the monsters. It’s also completely customisable and switchable in game. It works really well and can give you a tactical edge if you need to redirect focus on a particularly difficult enemy.
Music and Graphics
This is perhaps another area where Ancient Islands excels. It is vibrant and cartoony and reminds me of a Matt Groening creation (think Disenchantment more than The Simpsons). What’s even better is you can zoom in and really enjoy the unique monster designs as they fight your defences.
The game gets the sound about right. Again, a little cartoony and ‘over-the-top’ with the clanking of swords and swooshing of arrows through the air but it works. A few sound glitches occurred on occasion but overall, I had no issues. In terms of music, it is the most stereotypical medieval style fare you can imagine. It’s fantastic for this game and never gets annoying or repetitive but gives Ancient Islands a sense of fun.
Issues with Ancient Islands
Ancient Islands is not without some issues. Quite frequently an object would look selected, but it wouldn’t be, and it was increasingly difficult to work out exactly what I had selected which became frustrating. Minor issues included some audio glitches and one instance where my structure didn’t line up with the build tile. I also ran into problems when in docked mode with the Nintendo Switch as on occasion controls were not as responsive as they should be, and the game felt like it suffered from slower than expected loading times.
That brings me to the controls. They are frustratingly complex at times, and unnecessarily so. It took me most of the first island just to work out what does what and the tutorial aspects aren’t the clearest due to poor English language in places.
Is Ancient Islands Worth It?
So Ancient Islands has some issues; one can be more frustrating than the rest which is why I’ve scored it just above average. What the game does, however, is give you a solid tower defence game with other elements from RTS genre games such as economy mechanics and ability point spending via complex skill trees. This is great. It’s great because it feels fresh. It also gives you good challenge and variety which can be lacking in some monotonous tower defence games.
My favourite bit though? Just how fun the game looks. With its bright colours and cartoon style graphics (that still remind me of a Matt Groening creation) Ancient Islands is a joy to play and zoom in to see the fun details. It also has some wonderful mechanics that work really well. It might frustrate you at times, but it will be a visually fun game and I recommend checking it out.