Gemcraft Chapter 2: Chasing Shadows was developed by Games In A Bottle, published by Armor Games Studios, released in 2015. While titled Chapter 2, it is actually the fourth in the series, with three other games that came out before it. Gemcraft Chapter 1: The Forgotten (2008), Gemcraft Chapter 0: Gem of Eternity (2009), and Gemcraft The Lost Chapter: Labyrinth (2011). However, all of these previous games are old flash games that were never re-created. You can actually play them all for free here.
There is also a sequel to this game, called Gemcraft The Lost Chapter: Frostborn Wrath, which you can find reviewed here.
However, Gemcraft Chapter 2: Chasing Shadows (from now on referred to as just Gemcraft or Shadows), was built on and released in it’s own engine, allowing it to be placed and sold more properly on digital store shelves. They also took a break of several years to work on it, and overhaul quite a lot, but keep the same story and plot in order to continue it. This will be both a review, and a basic guide.
The story and plot is essentially: This is a world where wizards and magic users rule and control vast amounts of mana and power by utilizing gems. However, some of them got greedy, and started to summon demons in order to give them more power. They were successful, for a time, but eventually an extremely powerful and enigmatic demon called The Forgotten was summoned and broke free.
Terrible damage was done to the world as all kinds of demons broke free and rampaged. The wizards gathered together at the Spirit Forge and created a new gem, the Gem of Eternity to seal her away, and lessen the power of the demons. However, it only worked for so long, and the time she could be sealed away in it grew shorter and shorter. Now she has broken free again, and needs to be re-captured.
You play as a wizard from the first game, trying to follow and fight The Forgotten and her demon armies, and protect The Spirit Forge, which is now one of the last remaining bastions of the wizards, if not the only one. You come across the body of the wizard from Gemcraft: Labyrinth, find the Gem of Eternity he was carrying, and try to seal the great demon away yourself.
But, what exactly is the game? It is a Tower Defense game, where each mission you are given a new map with a new layout, and are able to build defenses and gems along the path that the demons are taking towards the Spirit Forge. Some maps have the demons walking along specific paths from marked spawn points, while others have the entire map open, with demons coming at you from all directions as you defend a central point, your Mana/Spirit Orb.
Note: This game is actually extremely full of content, from Battle Traits, to Skill Points, to Talismans, and more. I will try to cover what I can.
On each level you can build several different structures. You can build walls, gem bases (towers), amplifiers, and traps. Walls help you to create mazes for you to slow enemies down and keep them walking around your most powerful gems. Just don’t block their path completely, or they will break through. Amplifiers, when placed adjacent to your gems, will give them increased power, as well as special effects. Traps can be placed nearly anywhere, as enemies will just walk over them. They don’t do much damage, but heavily boost special effects. Towers are your basic and main defense, where you place your gems to attack the enemy.
Gems come in nine different colors, all of them having a special effect. There are: Green (poison), blue (slowing), yellow (critical), red (area of effect), teal (destroys health regeneration), purple (breaks armor), orange (mana leech), black (the more kills you have, the more damage it gets), and white (the more you upgrade your mana pool, the more damage it gets.)
If your gem is a single color, it will have a stronger effect. So a pure blue gem will have a stronger slowing effect for longer. However, you can combine your gems into different variations, creating mixtures that work well. An example of this would be blue and red. By mixing the two together you can slow multiple enemies at once, but because they have been mixed, not only does the slowing effect not last as long, or slow them down as much, the number of enemies hit also goes down. So it is a trade-off that you will need to think about.
Traps don’t do nearly as much damage, but they do increase the amount of special effect a gem has. So for example, a regular level 1 blue gem in a tower may slow down an enemy by 10% for 8 seconds, a level 1 blue gem in a trap may slow down the enemy by 18% for 14 seconds. You can’t really rely on traps to kill (other than through massive poison damage over time with green gems), but you can use them to create good choke-points and even mana farms.
The mana farm is created by combining orange gems in traps with amplifiers near them. Orange gems don’t deal a lot of damage, but for every hit they make they give you mana, your currency in the game. Putting them in traps increases how much mana you get per hit, and having orange gems in amplifiers around them gives you even more. This can be a very effective strategy later on in the game when you need a lot of mana.
More mana, equals more structures, more gems, and most importantly, more upgraded gems. Gems can have their levels upgraded infinitely, but the cost also goes up exponentially. That means that buying a gem at 60 mana at level 1, and upgrading it to level 6, will be 1920 mana. And it just goes up and up from there. However, the higher level your gem is, the more direct damage it does, and the stronger the special effect it has.
So while a poison gem may only do 10-20 direct damage with 8 poison over time at level 1, at level 10 the amount of damage and poison damage over time can be extremely high, especially if combined with amplifiers, which also increase direct damage.
You can also combine lower level gems with higher level gems to get interest results. You don’t need to combine gems of the same levels, any gems of any level can be combined together. If you want you could have a gem that has every single color in it, but all of the special effects would be extremely low, and the damage would be heavily reduced. But there are some situations where you would want to combine a level 1 red gem with a level 10 black gem. It all depends on the map and the enemies you are facing.
Speaking of enemies, there are actually not really all that many. There are regular demons called Reavers, tiny demons called Swarmers, and big demons called Giants. Reavers are your fodder, the bread and butter. Swarmers come in massive waves, while giants are few in number, but extremely hard to take down.
Special enemies are added in on top of this, often times thrown in randomly. There are Spires, which are solo creatures so massive that they can walk over anything, can one hit you if they reach your Orb, and when killed will destroy all the walls around them. There are Spectors, which can also fly over anything, and will try to snatch and steal your gems away, carrying them to the edge of the map where you will lose them forever.
There are also Shadows which are a sort of mini-boss. A Grand Shadow was actually the final boss in Labyrinth. Shadows are one of the main focuses of the game (hence the name) and are parts of The Forgotten herself, made from drops of her blood. When on the map they can fly anywhere, spawn new enemies, buff existing enemies, heal themselves, shoot mana draining projectiles at you, attack your orb themselves, and become invincible for a short time.
The longer you take to kill it, the more health and armor it gains. Leave it alive long enough and it can be impossible to kill. They are even able to still move around slowly when you use the tactical pause function.
Shadows, when they appear at a bad time, can instantly doom your game. However, if they come out at a good time, and you can kill them easily, the amount of mana they give you (depending on when they come out) can easily help you to win. There is even a Battle Trait that increases the chance for them to spawn.
Ah, Battle Traits. You can add Battle Traits to your game, and increase their level from 1 to 9, in order to gain more experience, and greater rewards from each map. These can be anything from more Swarmers on the map, to every single enemy spawning in gets an energy shield that makes them invincible for several hits. These can all be increased, so where level 1 of more Swarmers only adds 5 extra in each wave, level 9 can add so, so many more. The more difficult the battle is, the more of a chance you have to collect Shadow Cores from kills.
Shadow Cores are your currency in this game. Where you use mana to buy gems and other things on the battle maps, Shadow Cores allow you to increase skills, improve Talisman Shards, give you more starting mana, and more. With skills you can focus on more damage, cheaper gems, better buffs and debuffs, faster ability cool-downs, etc. There are 25 skills to choose from, all making a big impact on how you play.
Talisman shards do this as well, giving you more damage to certain enemies, or buffing certain gems. Talisman shards drop in battles like Shadow Cores, but more rarely. The more difficult the battle, the better Talisman Shards you will find. You can put them together to create your talisman, and certain shaped pieces can only go in certain areas. If you get duplicate pieces that you don’t like, or that are worse than the ones you have, you can break them down into Shadow Cores.
Suffice to say, this game is absolutely JAMMED full of things to do. There are over 100 levels to play on, with different modes for each. Add in Battle Traits and other side options, and you have a game that can provide hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of fun. I have about 595 hours in the game, and honestly, I am still not bored of it. The great thing is that the game has a speed increase mode. Meaning if you find the pace too slow, you can always speed the game up. Sadly, not many tower defense games have this option.
As for music and graphics, this game doesn’t really have either. The graphics are fine, perfectly serviceable. You know what is what, what is yours, what is an enemy, and there i a style, a certain charm to it. However, it won’t win any awards. Musically, there isn’t really any, same with ambient sounds. The sounds of your gems firing, enemies exploding, traps going off, it all sounds good, there just isn’t a lot of it. I personally just put on my own music or a podcast and play.
Regardless, this is a fantastic game, and one of the best tower defense games I have ever played. I would highly recommend people give it a shot. With how low the price is, and just how many hours you can get out of this game, it is worth it.
Gemcraft: Chasing Shadows
Gemcraft: Chasing Shadows is a brilliant tower defense game that does everything just right. From advanced gem combinations, to skills and talismans, to the ability to speed things up, there is something in this game for everyone who is a fan of the genre.
- Several different kinds of enemies that can be made harder to kill in more ways than you thought possible.
- Eight different gem colours to choose from and use for any kind of scenario or problem you come across.
- Towers, traps, amplifiers, walls, so many things to build and use to bend the map to your will, and your advantage.
- The tower defense gameplay is engrossing and engaging. If you find yourself somewhat bored, send a wave early, or speed things up!
- Good sound effects, where they exist. The sound of gems and lasers firing, and the snap pop of enemies exploding and turning to ash are some of my favourites.
- There is a charm to how the maps, gems, enemies, and more look. They are all designed well and look good.
- Unfortunately there is not a lot of sound design in this game, with effects and music pretty bare. However, what is here is original, and not from some sound library.
- The graphics are not the greatest, especially considering how old this game is.
- If you play on the endless/endurance modes, eventually the further you get into the game the more you will start to lag. The game is just too old to handle it.
A fantastic game, one of my favourites, and quite possibly my favourite tower defense game. This is a must for people who love these kidns of games!