Killing Time: GemCraft Labyrinth

Quinn Conklin and Quinn Conklin, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Got some time to kill? Why not check out GemCraft Labyrinth, the most tedious, time consuming game you will ever love. The game play is fairly standard issue for the tower defense genre: build defenses, kill monsters and then kill some more monsters. The ability to fine tune the level difficulty and customize the skills available greatly increases the depth of the game. Despite the repetitiveness of the game play every time I die I cannot help but click the “replay level” button. The change and sense of accomplishment that comes from surviving a level is at the heart of the game’s playability.

Labyrinth is the third title in the GemCraft series. The basics have not changed much. You build towers and place shiny, colorful gems in the towers to rain death down upon hordes of monsters that are trying to kill you. A huge improvement compared to past GemCraft titles is the ability to buy additional gem types during a level for different attacks. Previously you were limited to specific types of gems you could use on each level. While you are still provided with only two types at the start of the level you can spend mana to unlock more.

Mana, as in previous iterations of the game, is both your life force and the power source you use to build your arsenal. This gives the game an interesting balance of conserving power to build but also resist attacks.

While the game play is nothing new, the real star of this title is the level difficulty setting. At the start of each level a list of options allows you to customize the difficulty factors. Want more enemies to kill? Sure, jack that up to four times. Enemies dying too quickly? Give them 10 times the hit points. Each of these choices adds to the experience multiplier, allowing you to choose your reward if you have the power to prevail.

This is not a casual game. A level may only take a mere five or 10 minutes to play through but with 169 of them to survive you are looking at quite a time commitment. The level-difficulty-to-player-power ratio is skewed in favor of the game, forcing you to go back to earlier levels to replay them at a higher difficulty to get more experience.

A customizable skill system allows you to fine-tune your abilities from level to level. You can build a character highly specialized in generating mana or perhaps one who is good at creating towers. However, to excel in the game a well-rounded portfolio of skills are necessary.

Labyrinth tells the story of a wizard at the end of his apprenticeship who mistakenly believes that an attack on the town he live in and the appearance of a strange labyrinth nearby are part of his final wizard test. Venturing in to the labyrinth he begins to see things, which make him believe that this is more then just a simple wizards test. The plot is doled out in bits and pieces as the young mage wanders the labyrinth making discoveries, a broke tomb here a strange shadow in the water there.

Another tool for staving off monotony is the amulet system. The game offers four types of amulets, novice, battle, journey and challenge. Novice amulets are mostly awarded through the tutorial for learning to do basic things in game and award a small bit of extra experience. Battle amulets are rewards for achieving goals in a battle; summoning extra monsters having a long kill streak and are just some examples. These will give you a bonus to your overall experience for the level. Journey amulets are rewards for accomplishing goals across levels spending large amounts of manna on a specific type of gem or kill a huge amount of monsters across all levels. Finally, the challenge amulets are for accomplishing level specific goals, beating 100 waves of bad guys or killing 7,000 monsters on one level. Each of these amulets gives the player goals to work towards and more importantly a sense of accomplishment outside beating the game.

Yes, the game is long. Yes, you will kill a lot of monsters. Yes, you will grind through a ton of levels. But you will want to cheer when you finally beat a level of giant monsters with the hit points jacked up ten times. When you are done patting yourself on the back you will move on to the next test, the next battle and the next section of the Labyrinth.