An action-based tower-defense title with roguelite story beats, Dead Ground is a mishmash of genres and is better for it. The challenge isn’t for everyone and it is prone to stability issues but there is just enough here create some meaningful entertainment.
From an overhead view, players can place towers along a path at an attempt to stop waves of the undead. Like a typical tower defense game, enemies drop currency when defeated and can be used to upgrade towers or build new ones. However, the player doesn’t just control a cursor to dictate tower defense growth. Instead, you take control of a gun wielding human and dish out some pain with twin-stick shooter controls. The action and tower defense management grows with RPG elements too. Eventually the player will level up and can equip better gear. This winning formula is then topped with Banner Saga-like cutscenes between stages. Here, the player is presented with a risk/reward decision that never has a clear answer. For example, do you investigate that empty building with hopes of finding a perk to increase stats, or will something suddenly happen that will cause your character to permanently lower a character trait?
Dead Ground has an engaging foundation but there are a couple elements holding it back. First is stability as the game crashed on me a couple times within a short amount of play time. Secondly, the difficulty is vastly unbalanced. You might be able to clear wave one with ease but it becomes a totally different story by wave two. Once you die, and you will die, you will start from the very beginning, hence the rogue elements. Finally, the tower defense sequences are composed of tiny sprites on a large play field. Enemies are so small they can be difficult to distinguish and the difficulty is designed to overwhelm the player with Zerg tactics.
If Dead Ground had a little more time in the oven, it feels like this would have been a must have tower defense title. The unfortunate pacing issues of the rogue elements make this game unnecessarily difficult which inevitably will lead to frustration. If you can put up with a little jank though, Dead Ground is one of those titles to put on your wish list and wait for a sale.