Dungeon Defenders Review
Set in the land of Etheria, the story is told of brave warriors who once defeated the evil in the lands and have locked them away inside Eternia Crystals. The warriors have left their children to do basic chores around the castle and what with kids being kids, they act up and accidentally release the evil from the crystals. Rather than try to explain this one to their parents they decide to clean up the mess before they get home. We have all been in a similar situation at one point or another
Dungeon Defenders is a mix of action based tower defense and RPG themes. Four characters are available to play and each have a vastly different set of skills and abilities. The Apprentice is a wizard, able to place elemental damage towers such as fireball and lightning missiles. The Squire is a warrior who relies on brute force with towers such has blockades with spikes, cannon balls and my personal favourite, the Slice N Dice which shreds any nearby enemies. The Huntress is a ranged weapon character, she can place traps to thwart the enemies; gas traps stun enemies, mines deal damage to any in the area and darkness makes the enemies lose their target. The last class is the Monk, he can place Auras such as ensnare to slow down enemies, electric to cause elemental damage over time and enrage which causes enemies to attack each other.
The difficulty of the classes range from easy to very hard in the order I described them above. While it is possible to complete the game by yourself you will run in to difficulties with the harder classes. This is more noticeable in later levels when you have to defend multiple crystals. I hit a brick wall halfway through the game as my character was simply not powerful enough to defend two crystals on his own. Playing the game in co-op is encouraged and in most cases a necessity; using it to grind your character ranks until they are good enough to fight on their own. It is also more rewarding playing co-op, working together produces the best strategy with combinations of classes and towers to cause optimal destruction. The difficulty in terms of enemy strength and their number does scale up when you play co-op but the levels become much more manageable when defending multiple crystals.
Your characters can be customised in appearance and each level gained offers an opportunity to improve their stats including their health, damaged dealt, speed and magic strength. You can also upgrade the stats of the towers they build including the damage, how long it takes to recharge and the area of effect. A vast range of equipment which varies in quality and type can be found during the game or purchased at a tavern in between levels. It allows for plenty of variety and RPG fans will enjoy working out the best equipment as they may also have some stat buffs. Pets can be purchased for your character and they will aid you in combat and if you find a good enough companion you can gain some extra stat buffs for your character.
The campaign features thirteen levels which start in the deepest dungeons of the castle, working their way up to the ramparts. Each level is split in to several waves in which there are build and combat phases. The build phase allows you to collect any mana and equipment found from dead enemies or looted from chests as well as building, repairing or upgrading their towers to help prevent them from attacking the Eternia Crystal. In the combat phase – a varying number of enemies spawn from multiple doorways around the level and make their way towards the Eternia Crystals, you can choose to let the towers do the work or join in and fight. Each class have their own method of attack from ranged attacks with the wizard and hunter, and physical with the warrior and monk, the latter also being able to do ranged attacks. The combat phase is great fun whether you sit back and watch the destruction or get stuck in.
The campaign is challenging enough but if you are a glutton for punishment then there are fourteen ‘challenge’ levels which more than live up to their name. There is a good variety of challenges from not being able to build any towers, moving and teleporting crystals, being able to only kill a specific type of enemy and more. Further modes can be activated such as Survival, Pure Strategy and Mix Mode and are aimed towards high level characters, these challenges are *tough* and offer plenty of replayability as well as higher value equipment!
Dungeon Defenders uses the Unreal Engine and it shows. The graphics are among some of the best on XBLA and even when at its busiest with a screen full of enemies and towers activated there is no noticeable slow down. The level designs all look great, from the dark depths of the dungeons to the outside levels later in the game, the lighting works well and gives a good atmosphere. The music is a mix of typical orchestral themes, nothing immediately memorable but they fit the game well. Sound effects also sound the part with plenty of explosions, death groans, crackling electricity and whooshing fireballs, there is even a bit of humour provided by the taverns owner.
The slick engine extends to playing online, I spent the weekend playing online with friends and strangers (as well as the games developers) and never experienced any issues. It was great to be able to simply play an online game without loosing connection or being unplayable due to the lag. For a game that encourages co-op play this is essential and the developers have nailed it first time, it works without any hassle.
Presentation of the game is a mix of good and bad. The in-game the navigation wheel used for tasks such as placing, repairing and upgrading towers works well and is easy and fast enough to be used when under pressure. The menus can however be very confusing in some places. For example, the game mode set up menus look a little lazy in design which may be due to its mobile device touchscreen origins. They require the use of the majority of buttons on the controller such as toggling difficulties and enabling or disabling modes. A new menu layout designed for consoles and controllers would have avoided this problem but with some patience it becomes workable. Another issue is the enemy auto targeting system which you are unable to switch off or manually change targets, in the heat of the battle you just have to you kill whatever is targeted and hope that your intended target dies or is next to be targeted.
Despite my annoyances with the menu layout and the targeting, Dungeon Defenders remains a great looking and immensely enjoyable game that plays very well, even more so in co-op where the game really comes in to its element. The game does encourage co-op play so this is something you should be aware of otherwise you may find the difficulty curve when playing alone to be a steep one. Completing the campaign will take at least 13 hours, probably more including some level grinding. The challenge modes add a considerable amount of time once you factor in the additional modes such as survival. There is plenty to do and it represents excellent value for money. The long awaited Dungeon Defenders on console and PC is finally here and it is worth every penny!
Immense fun that offers a good challenge both on and offline with plenty of replayability. Menu layout and navigation can be confusing at first which slightly detracts from the overall polish. Auto targeting sucks.
Some of the best graphics seen on XBLA, atmospheric and good range of styles. No slowdown even at the busiest times.
Music are standard orchestral themes, none stand out but are decent enough. Sound effects are great with plenty of variety which adds to the atmosphere.