Gemcraft: Endgame Tactics

As much as the details change over the course of the Gemcraft series, there are some things that are curiously constant. In a typical tower defense game, different types of weapon fire differently: you’ll have some equivalent of machine guns and sniper rifles and laser beams, differing in how frequently they fire, how far, whether they do instant damage or fire a slow projectile, whether they hit a single target or everything within a certain range. The magic gems that are your weapons in Gemcraft basically do all of that the same. No matter what the gem, they fire the same sorts of projectiles in the same way. Oh, there’s a little variation: chain hit gems have a longer reach, poison gems have a higher base damage, things like that. But the difference between different types (or colors) of gem is never that great, and it’s completely overshadowed by the difference between grades of gem. Upgrading a gem improves it in every regard: its range, its fire rate, the speed of its projectiles and how much damage they do — and the power of its special effects.

The effects, now. That is what distinguishes the type of gem. Exactly what types are avalable varies a little from game to game in the series, as do the details of what they do. For example, when bloodbound gems were introduced in the third game, they became more powerful the more kills they get. In Chasing Shadows, they become more powerful the more hits they get, which makes it a lot easier to bring a new bloodbound gem into play late in the level. (Bloodbound gems also changed color between games, from red to black. This is the sort of thing you only notice when you play the entire series in a row.)

For most of Chasing Shadows, I found it prudent to have multiple types of gem in play whenever I could. For swarmers, you want red chain hit gems. For heavily-armored giants, you want either purple armor-tearing gems, or green poison gems (because poison damage bypasses armor), or both. I found it effective to have two towers with blue slowing gems: one targeting the enemy closest to the base, as is the default, to make sure the one most urgently in need of slowing gets slowed, and the other set to target at random, to spread the slowness around. There’s cyan gems whose special power is to suppress healing, which isn’t actually all that useful, because things tend to die before they can heal, but I’d gladly throw one of those in once the more essential gems were in place for the few cases where it was useful. And everything could benefit from being combined with a white poolbound gem, which enhances the other special attributes.

By the endgame, though, things were a lot simpler. With sufficient power, I was relying on just two gem effects: orange mana leeching gems and yellow critical hit gems. (Both enhanced with poolbound, of course.) Mana leeching gems are weak in the beginning, doing slightly less damage than other gems for a marginal gain, but if you keep upgrading them, they become your main source of mana, taking in tens of thousands with every hit. Place it in a trap instead of a tower to maximize its yield, and spend most of its mana output on upgrading it. A sufficiently powerful critical hit gem kills everything that doesn’t perish on the mana leeching trap. Critical hit multipliers just keep on increasing as you upgrade the gem, so that eventually it’s got a multiplier in the millions or billions, and fires fast enough to guarantee that everything it hits gets hit by a crit, multiple times. With damage like that, who cares about armor or healing?

You’ll notice that getting these things up to superpower levels requires upgrading them a lot, which costs a lot of mana. So, yes, most of my endgame involves not just two types of gem, but two gems. But I liked to make one exception to this: a second yellow gem dedicated set to target structures, specifically to destroy beacons. Beacons are enemy buildings that aid the monsters in various ways: there are beacons that heal monsters within range, ones that grant them shields, ones that prevent you from building in a certain area, etc. They’re rarities when you first encounter them, appearing only in certain levels. But one of the special powers sometimes found in enemy waves is “spawns a beacon on death”. And beacons give tons of XP when destroyed. So once you’re strong enough, it makes sense to make sure you “enrage” those waves (sacrificing gems to increase the number of monsters) to get lots and lots of beacon-spawning enemies. It gets so that the level is saturated with beacons, popping up as fast as you can destroy them.

In fact, enraging waves in general is one of those things that I didn’t see the point of at first, but which became a key part of my tactics by the end. I mean, spending precious mana on a gem only to give it up to make things more difficult? But more enemies means more enemies getting killed, and also more enemies walking over my mana-leeching traps, both of which mean more mana to spend on getting stronger for later waves.

So, that was where I stand as of the final level. But I do still have some suspicion that it’s not the final best strategy. I mean, look at traps. I used traps a lot in the early part of the game, the better to deliver unblockable poison damage to lots of foes at once. Then I abandoned them for a while as increases in poison damage didn’t keep up with my needs. But by the end, I was making heavy use of traps again for the mana-leeching gems. I can imagine that eventually, as the stats reach even farther into the ridiculously astronomical, I might start seeing armor that blunts even my strongest critical hit, prompting me to bring out the armor-tearing gems again. Things may well be cyclical.