Dillon's Rolling Western: The Last Ranger

I don’t like tower defense games. Just as a whole genre. I think they’re too passive, too full of waiting and just watching bars go down as you just watch and tap things to make them go down faster. It depends too much on the computer making good choices and there never seems to be much to do. I feel like it’s too easy to find a single “winning” solution in most games since you only have a set path, a set amount of money you can get, and a set upgrade tree. It seems endemic of the types of games that only work on phone/tablet type devices: not high skill, not super engrossing, and really easy to balance in a way that makes it easy to convince people to spend money and get something to make it easier.

So keep that in mind.

You’re right to wonder why I chose to review a tower defense game, and there’s one reason—the game is also part third-person action. If there’s something that makes a genre I don’t like more entertaining, it’s making me not have to deal with that. I can just get right in the fracas, and smack things down as the towers across the map weaken my enemies.

For Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger, the problem isn’t that the developers combined a genre I like with one that I don’t. The problem is that neither is really fleshed out, and feels more like the developers hoped that the strengths of one would cancel out the flaws of the other. Instead, both systems feel half-baked, and combined with numerous other poor design decisions, I really didn’t walk away with much to like about this game.

Every level takes place over three days that get progressively more difficult. During the first part, you’re gathering resources to increase the town’s defenses and health. You also get gems and rocks to sell, but those can only be sold before the attack, so make sure to manage your time wisely. The levels also have ruins to explore and train tracks to fix, so there’s at least enough to do during the day to take up your time.

I found travelling anywhere in the maps to be too tedious of a task, though. The maps are big and you don’t have a fast travel, so it takes too long to really get anywhere. There’s also nothing to really do along the way. You’re just sliding and releasing on the touch screen until you get where you’re going.

I also had a problem with the towers themselves. The towers come in 4 different types, but the problem is that they don’t behave like you’d expect in a tower defense game. Consider other good ones, like Ninja Town or Plants vs. Zombies. There are multiple towers, multiple bullet types and they all had a different range and effect. Not so in Dillon, where every tower just shoots at a different range and strength. No modifiers. Even weirder, you have no control over where they shoot, so where a cannon might shoot up, a gatling gun may only shoot down. It varies by tower, but it often happens there’s a perfect spot for some type of tower or other, but the targeted area winds up being the literal worst way it could be. It doesn’t feel like you’re able to really go and make a good defense, so much as you are just dealing with what was salvageable.

So you set up your half-hearted defense based on what the game decides it can let you put down. You place your ore in and protect the town. You stand up, waiting for the enemy to come in. Sounds like it should be easy to just rock the grocks, right?

Not really. I usually found myself panicking and running around, having to do all the work my almost useless towers were supposed to do in the first place. Especially with later enemy types, such as the giant grock that can destroy towers in one hit even as you fight it, or the grocks that take jumps and bypass literally every defense you have set up. It’s possible to find yourself on a last day in town facing an essentially unwinnable situation, and since it takes around 30 minutes to beat a stage, you’re looking at a lot of pointless replaying for poor design.

The third person battles aren’t so great, either, mostly thanks to their controls, which are all touch-based. Because of how imprecise this can be compare to a button, there are a lot of times where I didn’t actually attack, and took a lot of unfair hits and wasted a lot of time. Some enemies also have so much health it’s more a game of watching to see how long it takes them to die instead of strategy or, you know, fun. Hold screen until dead. Sigh as you do it again and again and again.

All games are based on some sort of repetition, sure, but the point is to make that repetition fun; the concept of the 30-second gameplay loop. Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger completely loses out in that regard. The gameplay loop is almost never good. The only times I enjoyed it were when there were assistants to take a brunt of the load with me. But you have to earn them, and then they’re only good for one level, and then you have to re-earn them by playing the entire level again.

There are a couple of hints of good design, such as upgrades and ways to alter the landscape in a way that can change your strategy. The upgrades aren’t permanent and can break, but they usually last the day. Landscape can be changed with walls and pillars that explode, and it’s a cool way change the strategy. It’s also impermanent, so it’s up to you to decide when the best time to drop them would be (though it’s obviously just the last day, when there are more enemies).

It must be difficult to balance a tower defense game—and Dillon doesn’t do it very well. There are a lot of areas where the game throws up obstacles to keep you from moving forward, and even a ton of problems in each area with just balancing the towers and making it easy to take on enemies, aka the core of the game. It wasn’t fun, nor was it something I wanted to do over the ridiculous 25 hours it took me to beat.

The difficulty of having Tower Defense and RTS games where you have a central avatar seems obvious: you need to be omnipotent on the battlefield, but these games limit you too much to really be enjoyable. Instead of zooming over, you must saunter. Giving orders can only be done to specific units who are close enough to you. And if you spend time splitting between two severely different genres, it’s unlikely those two are ever going to come together in the way you want. It’s a lesson Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Crusade could have used: it’s not always good to be genre-straddling, especially when you do it in a way that leaves both your genres hamstrung and uninteresting.