Defender Chronicles II is a bit like Diablo III, where the early going is so easy that it’s almost a formality. You only have a few units, so your choices are limited. But the levels are so easy that you’re mostly just a bystander, watching your warriors, archers, and mages hack, pierce, and fry hapless goblins, gnolls, orcs, bats, ninjas, and spiders as they wend their way towards your base.

So you burn through all ten maps on novice, and maybe a few on casual. You “beat” the game. Now what?

Now you’re actually playing Defender Chronicles II, after the jump

Defender Chronicles II is one of the best tower defense games you can play on any platform, but it doesn’t start in earnest until you’re attempting the harder challenges, dealing with tougher difficulty levels, or braving randomized waves in freestyle mode for greater rewards. Now that your general — which one are you using, because it matters a lot? — has improved some skills and unlocked some new units and upgrades, you have more choices to attempt harder matches. Now you’re saving up tokens to unlock new gameplay features, or to buy better equipment. Now you’re trying different builds based on different sets of gear. Now you’re experimenting with a new spell. Now you’re hip deep in an RPG built around a satisfyingly varied tower defense game with an insanely long-term progression system. Now you’re playing Defender Chronicles II. Get comfortable. You’re going to be here for a while.

This sequel either improves on or extends the original in every way. There is more to build, more to fight, more to do while you’re fighting, and more to unlock between fights. You get new defensive units, new enemy types, new abilities, new characters, and new choices, including decisive mutually exclusive choices during a match. Who will be your champions guild? Which non-human race will you press into service? Defender Chronicles I is officially obsolete and even a little small in comparison.

This sequel holds back a lot of its content. For instance, it’s going to be a while before you’re casting spells during a match, which is one of the big new changes. Unless you microbuy the two new generals, it’s going to be a long time before you get to play either of them. Some of the generals’ medals, which are like multistage achievements that unlock new stuff, are so long term that you’re going to have no idea what they do. “Advanced Castle Training”? What’s that? “Allows hero to use Order magic artifacts”? What are those? When will I find them? “Silver armor for my cavaliers”? I can give my dudes armor? It’s the same with the gameplay features you can purchase in the Great Library. What’s a black market for? What do halfling traps do? Dwarves can learn blacksmithing? Is this lottery ticket a real thing or a joke? Buy them and find out. When you can afford it. It’s going to be a while before you have enough tokens.

This long-term content isn’t necessarily a liability, partly because the game dribbles out tokens for pretty much everything you do. Although I loathe Defender Chronicles II’s constant appeal to in-app purchases, there’s plenty to do here on the way to unlocking everything fair-and-square. But it’s not a liability, because it’s an effective reward system that keeps you playing the game over and over and over. Tower defense is, by its very nature, repetitive. The secret to designing a good tower defense game is incrementally improving the game, adding new features, doling out meaningful rewards, keeping me interested by mixing up the challenges and the tools I use to solve them. Like Defender Chronicles before it, this is game about my nose pressed against the glass of a shop window full of toys. “You want these?” the game asks with the benevolence of a merry old toymaker. “Then go play the game.” Which isn’t much of a price to pay, since I was going to do that anyway.

5 stars