Deep Defense

What are some games that encourage a defensive playstyle with a lot of depth?

Tough question. I mean, technically a lot of deep games encourage a defensive playstyle already, like street fighter before V, competitive Pokemon, Starcraft, arguably Smash Bros, etc. Go is probably a safe answer since a lot of it is building shapes that sort of cause your opponent’s shapes to collapse in on themselves rather than playing aggressively. Pretty sure Age of Empires counts since structures have incredibly high health compared to Starcraft, but I don’t really play that game. Tower defense seems like an obvious place to look for something in this ballpark.

The trouble is that defense seems to kind of be the default that people settle into. Defense is low risk low reward play, and most games offer that to some extent. It becomes cheese when you can eliminate risk but still make progression towards victory. Players need to be incited to play aggressively, because their instinct is usually to find safe surefire ways of winning.

Finding games that are more aggressive than defensive is rare. SFV tilted the scales a lot towards aggression, too much even, by having aggressive options frequently be very safe and defensive options require more commitment, so you can get overwhelmed. The input delay also helps, since it makes reacting harder, as does the white life chip damage present on a ton of attacks, making it really beneficial to attack even if it’s blocked. I still don’t think the input delay is good for the game overall though. Also many characters were redesigned to be more offense oriented from previously being very defensive, including Guile and Dhalsim.

Usually in any deep game with a high level of aggression, it’s possible to play it in just as deep a way defensively. Smash Bros Melee rewards defensive campy playstyles a lot, just the culture stigmatizes lame play, so very few people really embrace that style of play.

If defense is encouraged too much in multiplayer games, then it can lead to games running to the time limit. Games becoming more prone to stalemate, resolved by the timer. We saw this in Brawl, we see this in Smash 4, we saw this in Basketball before the invention of the shot clock. If the player does not have a pressing need to upset the other player, then they will frequently choose to just do nothing. Equilibrium should deliberately be very difficult to maintain. In Chess we frequently see top players force the game to stalemate whenever they see a line of possibilities come up which they’re unfamiliar with.

Making defense interesting in of itself is usually a matter of requiring the defender to diversify their defensive measures and respond appropriately to situations, like Dhlasim in Street Fighter. He has long reach, but he’s weak up close, so he tries to poke to keep his opponents out. Peacock in Skullgirls is also nice and really fun. I unfortunately don’t have any good recommendations for games centered on these styles of play, though they pop up in a lot of games.

So in short, encouraging defense isn’t hard. The road to deep games usually lies in balancing offense and defense.

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