Review: Sanctum 2

Tower Defense games are in a weird transition right now as a genre. On one hand, it’s probably never been a better time to develop and publish one, but on the other, the space is crowded, and there is only room for so much treading of the same territory. Necessary inventions and innovations like putting the character on the ground, for example, have made these games relevant again in new ways, but the fact remains that the novelty of that is wearing thin. Sanctum was one of the early adopters of the First Person Tower Defense game, and produced a solid and intensely challenging game within that framework.

Here it is almost two years later, and Sanctum 2 is out. Crafting an expectation based upon the result of the first product is a requisite evil these days when you talk sequels. It’s a chore really, because it means that a suspension of that sense of expectation is the only way you’ll really see the follow up for what it is. However, since I deal primarily in reality, that’s not entirely possible with video games. Bearing all these things in mind I turned my attention to Sanctum 2 and gave it a spin.

Sanctum 2 - Screen5

Your own experience with Sanctum 2 will probably be unaffected regardless of whether you’re coming into this a newcomer, or a returning veteran. That statement can be applied to either the first game, or Tower Defense gaming as a whole because Sanctum 2 does a stellar job of explaining it’s mechanics for both scenarios. While it may not be a critical detail for those who are well versed in the mechanics of this game, it immediately gives the sense of craft and attention. There is also more choice from the outset, with additional characters and a new loadout system. In addition to carrying deployable turrets and guns, your characters can now earn perks and extra carry slots to enhance their abilities, or the amount of towers they can carry.

When the gameplay itself starts it is basically the same gameplay from the first game. The setup and objective is fairly simple. You have a large open area, and a spawn point for the enemies. The enemies will flow in linear paths toward your core. You must protect the core. If you fail to protect the core, you will be shamed by your elders, and they will make you put hot coals in your underpants. That’s unpleasant. So naturally, you do everything that you can to keep that from happening. This means building walls, and putting towers on them to shoot the things that want to eat the core. Since it’s an FPS game at its core, you’ll spend all your time on the ground, and have to build from that perspective. There was a challenge in the first game of not really being able to see your “grid” from a bird’s eye view to really be able to plan properly. While there was a really terrible bird’s eye camera, it was really terrible, and didn’t particularly help anyone ever.

Sanctum 2 - Screen2

This is where the changes really start showing in smart ways. Now instead of an arduous camera that doesn’t help anyone, Sanctum 2 has a nice and tidy grid map in the top right hand corner. This means I will always know where the weird little bug things are coming from, and I’ll be able to see my obstacles, and towers in a way that allows me to understand why and when things work and fail. Part of the problem with the first game was that it was nebulously punishing, and made you live on a razor’s edge while playing it. Every choice became entrenched in granularity on higher levels and made surviving a sort of zero sum thing. It wasn’t exactly pleasant so much as it was nerve wracking. Again, these things only cropped up in later levels of the game, but it was there to be certain.

Resources have also received a sort of overhaul in that the game just drops a set amount of supply for you to utilize, breaking up barricades and towers into separate categories. Credits are no longer a shared currency required for barricades and towers. Instead you just get a certain amount of tower credits, and a certain allotment of barricades at the end of each round. It may not seem like much, but taking away the weight of the decision of spending money on barricades really does make the game better, as you’re free to spend more thought on strategy instead of playing accountant on the battlefield. This is also largely because on the field weapon upgrades have been given the ax. See in the first Sanctum you had towers, barricades, and weapon upgrades that you had to spend credits on. All of these things operated on the same currency, meaning that you could spend wrong and die. This would happen often. Nebulous I say. Weapons here are a different beast. Your characters each have their specific primary weapon, and you can unlock and carry other guns as the game progresses. While I personally never grew tired of the shotgun, invariably using it more than my primary weapon, there is a bevy of weapons.”The sniper rifle, and the triple lock split missile launcher are also stand outs but really, that shotgun is some good gravy. Additionally, though the field upgrades are gone,  you can still tweak and improve your weapons through the smart use of loadout perks that can affect the behavior and damage of your guns. These perks can also affect yourself, or your towers; but with the removal of upgrades, it would be smart to use the perk slots for more offensive purposes, but to each their own.

Other improvements in the game are minor tweaks and additions that keep things refreshing and new in smart ways. You’ve got AI squaddies that will assist you now. While they can take about as much damage as a dandelion, they still try. Weapon damages are tweaked, enemy damage values and health have been tweaked. Bosses have been added, maps are varied and consistently intelligently challenging. To top it all off, the game looks gorgeous and is really brought to life by its high gloss neon art style. A style that has clearly taken cues from ’80s futurism, and the Anime from that era.

Sanctum 2 - Screen1

Closing Comments:

Sanctum 2 is a rare representation of a game that was developed with an open ear. When Sanctum was released in 2011, it was a great idea that wasn’t without flaws in the structure of its design. Here, Coffee Stain Studios have taken the time to improve upon every mentioned or perceived flaw, and produced an indie gem polished in the fire of scrutiny. While Sanctum 2 is still a tough game, it’s tough in smart substantive ways that add up. Opting for this instead of the punitive approach that Sanctum was built on has made for a far superior product in the form of Sanctum 2.
  Platform: PC

  • Crysikrend

    I’m sorry, but I entirely disagree.

    I created an account just to lay down my argument, as I think you’ll find the rest of the internet is on my side and I want to share the reality of this tragedy.

    Lets take a look at Sanctum 1:

    It was a perfect blend of FPS and Tower Defence, by being high and being able to see over all of the enemies, you could control the situation without getting too involved. This was fun, as you could still shoot and stuff, you were a mobile tower, but you were not relied on.

    You believe the birds eye view is annoying, but I think you’ll find it is the best thing about Sanctum. You can use it to ping to your allies locations, plans and strategies. I’d be lost as commands like “force them up the left hand side of the ramp and loop round again” would not help at all. Also, being able to teleport also was good, yet again giving you control at several checkpoints you created. This allowed players to set up these areas of ambush and overwatch a section each in coop. Why remove this?!

    Co Op:

    Sanctum 1’s coop was about teamwork yes, however my friends and I believe its something more. Its about more resources, more towers and more fun when you get to further waves with more enemies. Nothing is more fun then being able to survive a massive struggle with teammates by carefully planning during the build phase. This has now been lost. The resources given at the start of the round means you can no longer split the jobs of building sections, one person takes, one person builds. What the hell do the others do?! You might as well be alone.

    No birds eye view disrupts communication. You would physically have to show teammates what you mean when you say “Here” or “There”, as without the help of pinging this is no use at all.


    One thing they got right was the idea of making towers walls. It looks great having them all connect together. But, the lowering of towers corrupts this triumph. The enemies being able to see over the walls looks ridiculous, if you’re smaller and you can just jump over them why can’t they? The idea was to build a maze which you control. Making it so you can jump over your walls rather than standing on the blocks means you too are in the maze, it does not help! It was better being able to kill enemies from the safety of your blocks, but you could still “train” them if you wanted. It looks better and much more unique running down a hall of towers, the new walls just look silly.

    Tower Cap:

    WHY DO THIS? WHY?! Yes, make a mode of restriction, that would be fun, a challenge as it were. But do not make people change from the original, as this is why people play Sanctum. The idea is that you can make a better maze and have better towers as time goes on, not for you to have to recycle old ones, it looks pathetic. It is so annoying losing the game just because lack of towers means you have to think extensively when in the previous game you could just save up. Tower defence games are about strategy and fun, yes this method is strategic, but too strategic. Players will get defeated from things that will frustrate them and it is not fun. This is where having a lot of players in a game building towers would help, oh wait, sorry, tower cap. You can no longer have a lot of towers, instead you have to practically do all the work! Sounds entertaining right?

    Finally, I would just like to say that the perks, weapons and all that are a step in the right direction. I like a lot of the new things in this game. Graphics, monsters and their variations, the towers, the weapons, the characters and perks. But the impact of the losing the old mechanics means that this is no longer tower defence. It is just another FPS with a slightly different “objective”, but this objective is achieved in the same way as all other FPS games due to the lack of towers involved, you literally run round as a party trying to kill every single creep so that your towers don’t have to.

    I do not have anything against you as you seem to have written quite an in-depth guide which would otherwise be helpful to people playing the game. Just note though, that this review does not help. This is telling people about parts of the game which are “improvements” when actually they have a negative impact. Sanctum 2 makes me want to forget it even existed and that we all just stuck to the first.

    I will be doing a play through soon on my youtube channel. If you read this comment and found it remotely useful or interesting, please subscribe as I am really going for this whole Youtube channel gaming thing. It would really help and I will highly appreciate it! Thankyou!