January 10, 2012
The story isn't much, to say the least. Players join a group of four younglings messing about in a castle before accidentally releasing an ancient evil that the group's older siblings sealed ages ago. Predictable is as predictable comes, our young heroes are then charged with protecting their castle from hordes of angry looking meanies, setting up the game perfectly. With that said, it's nice that there are little cutscenes between each stage to pad things out, although they're all skippable and you don't miss out on anything should you choose to skip them. All in all, while predictable, it's a fun story that pushes the game forward.
Where Dungeon Defenders really shines is in the gameplay. There are four playable characters, discounting the extras available through DLC, including the Squire, Apprentice, Monk and Huntress. You can create and customize your own champion, although customization is initially limited to colour variants. Weapons and equipment can either be bought at the Tavern, which acts as the central hub where you can choose what level to play, or picked up from downed foes in each arena.
The objective is to protect your Eternia Crystals from each wave of enemies, which get progressively denser and more challenging. Gameplay is split into two phases: the Building Phase and the Combat Phase. During the Building Phase, you'll want to strategically conjure, build and place your towers, traps, auras, barricades and whatnot in order to halt the enemy's advancement. You can also level up structures you've built. There's a cap on the amount of structures one can build on top of its respective mana costs, which you can replenish by picking up mana crystals dropped by the enemy or from treasure chests that appear prior to the Combat Phase.
The Combat Phase is where things can get a little hectic, in a good way of course. Earlier levels are relatively simple and pose little challenge even to those new to the genre. You'll only have to protect one Eternia Crystal and the stages are quite small with few choke points and enemies to worry about. Later levels, however, get progressively larger and more challenging as the horde now has more paths to your crystals (yes, more than one). Funnelling them into a choke point by way of tower placement becomes a key strategic element that you'll do well to remember.
Of course, playing co-operatively in a group of four changes the dynamic completely as you won't have to worry about running back and forth to ensure there isn't a breach in one of your barricades. Regardless, it is still a very hectic experience as later levels can throw as many as thousands of enemies at you within a single wave. Co-operation is truly important and each character class will aid in the overall quest to defeat the horde.
The Apprentice, for one, seems to be one of the more popular classes as his towers can dole out the pain most efficiently on top of having a ranged weapon. The Squire can deal plenty of damage as well, albeit the old fashioned way, and can construct barricades and other ranged structures to block enemy movement. The Monk is armed with an array of auras that can slow down or hurt the enemy over time, depending on how you spec him he can also deal a fair amount of DPS the manual way. The Huntress is a bit more tricky to play than the other classes as she is equipped with a variety of traps. With that said, she's the only class whose towers can deal massive amounts of damage at lower levels. The downside is that they are limited in uses.
Dungeon Defenders also shares a number of roleplaying elements, including abilities and skills that can be levelled up. Abilities and Skills are split into three categories, including character, skills and tower abilities. Depending on your play-style and, more importantly, your role in the game, you might invest points in tower defences, health, attack speed and range. If you play, say the Squire, and intend on tanking the tougher enemies like an ogre, putting points into character health and attack damage may be better for you. Each character also has two skills that can be used during the Combat Phase, most of which are particularly handy when it comes to crowd control.
Weapons, equipment and other loot can be picked up during a game, although it's sometimes better to wait until the entire wave is annihilated, don't want those nasty orcs interrupting your private time of comparing which set of boots are better. This, along with the RPG style character progress, is a major contributing aspect as to what makes the game so addicting. Much like in loot heavy games like Diablo or Borderlands, you can horde up on equipment, keep what you like and sell the rest. The mana you earn can be put towards other goods or in investing in your items – meaning you can level up weapons and equipment.
The game sports a charming cartoony style for its visuals and it's absolutely adorable. The little animations, victory pumps and attention to details – especially in the level design, make it a very pretty game to look at, and even better to play. There are also three camera variants that you can use, including a first-person, third-person and a top-down camera view. The flexibility allows for ease-of-play should the situation call for it. I personally found it easier to play as the Huntress in first-person view since she uses a gun-type weapon while third-person view fits the Squire and Monk better for those close encounters. When things get a little too claustrophobic, zooming out to the top-down view helped put things in better perspective.
Unfortunately, as fun as the game may be, there are issues that can't be overlooked. Character combat is a major issue, where attacking feels quite automated. While it technically controls like an action RPG, attacking will automatically lock onto the closest target with or without your consent, sending your champion charging in a direction other than the one you're facing. The camera also gets stuck in narrow corridors and it gets frustrating when you're surrounded by a horde of enemies and can't jump out since they get in the way. Worse still is playing online with random strangers as the teamwork simply isn't there. There isn't really anything ground-breaking in the game design either as it's basically tower defence meets action RPG. Don't misunderstand though, it does it exceptionally well and should be commended for it. The game is incredibly fun and addicting.
When all is said and done, Dungeon Defenders isn't an extraordinary epic, but it is an extremely fun experience. It's not a dungeon you'll want to, or sadly are able to, tackle alone however, bring some friends and that's when the fun really starts. There is plenty to unlock, loot and build. Include the DLC and there's a lot to look forward to. Give it a try if you're at all interested in Tower Defence and co-op RPG games, you're sure to invest several well-spent hours clearing out the horde.
Dungeon Defenders was reviewed on the PC.