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Dungeon Defenders Review

31 October 2011

While in the middle of playing Batman: Arkham City, I observed many of my friends playing a game called Dungeon Defenders. I looked at my Batman case and thought, "Why are they not playing this?" These friends told me that Dungeon Defenders was great, but they also told me it was a tower defense game. Definitely not my forte, but I respect their opinions. Never in my days would I have put a AAA game on the shelf to play an underground hit. Until now.

Dungeon Defenders opened its appeal to me with a short and sweet introduction: the great heroes of Eternia left on a great quest far away and left their young kin to hold down the kingdom while they were gone. In the midst of expected childhood boredom, they imagined themselves in adventures and stories that their older kin would probably be experiencing. Unexpectedly, the kids unlocked an ancient power known as the Eternia Crystal, and now the vast creatures of the world are after it, and it's the job of these kids to protect it. Really, the story isn't glorious, but it's not necessary to be that way. It brings a point to the game, and neither the game nor the plot counter each other negatively. In fact, rewatching the introduction every time I load the game gives a certain reminder that all of my tower tactics have a point: playing keep away with ugly baddies.

The balance of gameplay is configured in a couple different ways: which characters are used and how difficult the game mode is. Any of the four character types can simply play through the game on easy mode without a large amount of difficulty, as to be expected. However, the single player mode can be quite dull, since each character is limited in options. I chose the apprentice first, which is the mage class, and he has the ability to create fireball and lightning turrets as well as defensive walls impervious to magic. He along with the monk make a very handsome team. The monk utilizes auras, which, along with walls that stop enemies, can reduce enemy attack damage, passively damage them, and even make them attack each other. The other two classes available in Dungeon Defenders are the Squire and the Huntress. The Squire is more offensive than the others, since he's always in the fray of combat. He also can place barricades that inflict damage on attackers; another great ally with a monk. The huntress is, as expected, a range character, which also specializes in traps. I don't want to abruptly say that the monk is the greatest support class ever engineered, since it works well with the huntress as well, but it supports all of the other classes so well without hindering itself. The monk is welcoming, since support classes in most games are very dull. To be perfectly frank, not having a monk is very boring, especially after playing alongside one; keep your friends close.

The kingdom of Eternia is vast indeed, since it's filled with quite a variety of levels to play. Each level also, upon story completion, can be played in other mode types such as Survival and Pure Strategy. Survival is self explanatory: endure wave after wave until the enemy wins. Pure Strategy is a mode where players can only use towers and traps, and autoattacks cannot be executed. So, Pure Strategy is a mode where teamwork would be of the utmost importance. Off the top of my head, the best situation I could think of would be combining the slowing and damaging auras from the monk, traps from the huntress, lighting and fireball towers from the apprentice, and the Bouncer Blockades and Slice N Dice Blockade from the squire. All of that damage concentrated in one location will decimate numerous droves of baddies without having to do much of anything, apart from upgrading and taking in massive numbers of mana.

Also, mana is used for both tower construction and as currency. While in each level, mana comes from treasure chests littered across each map and from baddies upon their defeat. As the number of waves accumulates, so does the vast amount of mana. The character mana reservoir increases with level, as expected, but ends up being full for a lot of the later levels. This is due in part to limited defense resources for added difficulty, and the high cost of upgrading tower pieces. The cost of upgrading tower pieces increases in intervals of 100. So, having a higher mana pool closer to the level cap (which is level 70) makes for an easier time upgrading and not running around for spare mana.

As said before, mana is used as currency, which can be spent in a player's Tavern. The Tavern displays earned Trophies, allows for hero swaps, upgrades gear and pets, and has a vendor for new gear and pets. Friends and allies are also invited to groups within the Tavern, and it acts as a physical representative hub for the player to both show off his progress and further himself with friends.

Graphically, Dungeon Defenders doesn't push any envelopes. However, this game doesn't need it. It's all about tower defense, which it does extremely well. Colors look vibrant, animations are slick without being flashy, and the tower pieces look great. Character design is a bit unique as well, with the apprentice and the squire being the two particularities. The apprentice has a massive mage hat which covers its entire face, and the squire is a boy inside a massive colored tin can without any trousers and wielding a big sword. As humorous as it is fortifying, Dungeon Defenders looks good enough to last a few years without worry of age, even with using the Unreal Engine.

The menu setup can most definitely be quite confusing and cumbersome, since it's utilized for both the standard controller and the Move controller. For instance, upgrading gear is done on the hero screen, on the right side, but only at the Forge in the Tavern. So, for all new players, do what I didn't: run through the full tutorial, learn the controls, and don't be as confused as I was for no reason. Getting around the slight menu disarray will be the first and best move to enjoying this great game.

What can normally happen with tower defense games, especially in my experiences, is they can get very boring and drawn out. Dungeon Defenders becomes more and more intense almost exponentially, so preparation and execution are paramount. However, the game almost requires friends to play on any difficulty past medium, and even medium in some extreme cases. That implementation isn't unwelcome, however, because playing this game with others is phenomenal. As I said before, having an overlay of tower pieces and abilites makes for a very stellar performance, and the different modes and difficulty levels allow for a very engrossing experience that can easily expunge a lot of time without emptying wallets.

The lack of guidance within the game is what makes playing alone so boring. What I mean is that levels aren't really tied together in the story, so moving from level to level is simply an interaction with the Eternia Crystal and it goes on to the next one. It's only disappointing, because the game is so well planned and put together, that the single player experience is hard to finish with as much interest as the co-op experience. However, to counter that, the entirety of Dungeon Defenders can be played with friends. The online match options are Open, Custom, and Private matches. If finding buddies on your friends list with Dungeon Defenders proves to be difficult, play an open game and make some more friends. The experience is far too fun to miss.

In a current time period of AAA releases, Dungeon Defenders has a lot of potential to go unnoticed, which would be both undeserved and unfortunate. Within the 12 hours I spent my first weekend playing it, I wanted to find a way to keep everyone online for another straight 24 hours without stopping. Having all of these game options, including co-op for both online and split screen, makes playing alone seem like a waste of time. I still wanted to play it when my friends went offline, but after seeing all of the potential of combining all of the tower pieces and abilities, farming mana with my apprentice wasn't anywhere near as enthralling. The only downfall with Dungeon Defenders is the downtime that comes after playing co-op: playing alone is only so good, since playing with friends is one of the best experiences on independent download games, and is easily comparable in enjoyment to many disc based blockbusters. The money spent on this game, which is about $15, will be well worth the time placed in this game. Bring your friends to Eternia, and help keep the Eternia Crystal from the baddies that want it. It will be a reward best earned together. 

-The Final Word-

A phenomenal co-op experience that greatly surpasses the less exciting single-player mode
  • Coop works extremely well
  • Rewarding character development
  • A lot of bang for buck
  • Slightly unorganized menus
  • Single player feels undriven
8.0
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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