It’s getting increasingly harder to dissect a tower defense game, since this is a genre that has taken on an incredible amount of different permutations over the years. The latest one is called Dungeon Defenders, and you might initially ask yourself, “what separates this game from every other Tower Defense game?” and though Dungeon Defenders does little to standout, it still gets every fundamental idea right. The delicate mix of action, role-playing, tower defense and cooperative play makes it a winner, and though tedious button-mashing combat and an excruciatingly difficult single-player mode holds it back, it’s wealth of content still make it an easy recommendation.
Dungeon Defenders takes place in a fairly generic fantasy setting and features four playable characters with unique skill sets – the Apprentice is a sorcerer archetype that shoots energy bolts and can summon elemental defenses. The Squire is a close-combat expert who leads the way with swords and the ability to create harpoon turrets, spike blockades and the like out of thin air. The huntress is a ranged specialist with similar defensive capabilities, and the monk is a hybrid of every class who may opt to deploy strange auras that can slow down the enemies’ movement to a crawl.
Every level is divided into a build phase and a combat phase. Both are pretty self explanatory, as the former lets you run around the levels and summon defenses using mana, the game’s most important currency. Later on, you can also upgrade your defenses and you’re also free to switch characters and load outs before finally initiating the combat phase, where the game suddenly transports into a third-person button masher. Every character possess two very basic attacks and since the screen is literally cluttered with all manner of Orcs, Goblins, Kobolds and Elves, the combat quickly just devolves into just mashing the attack buttons and the game handles the auto-lock feature entirely on its own.
In spite of the mindless action, every level is aesthetically different and features a great deal of strategic flexibility, and it’s fun to devise ways of setting up turrets, blockades and utilizing chokepoints to your advantage. As you play the game, you’re also awarded with experience points which go towards you leveling up; that’s when you get to spend a few points to beef up your heroes’ damage, resilience, health and much else. Enemies also leave behind loot drops upon expiring, which you can either equip at the spot or store in your item box, which is accessible in the build phase.
Every mission is broken up into roughly eight waves and in between missions you can also visit your own personal tavern, where you’re free to buy and sell items through a shopkeeper, pick your next destination and pursue career records. All of this makes for a thoroughly entertaining co-op experience, since every character can contribute to the fight in unique ways and the game also scales depending on the number of players – meaning the challenge gets bigger with more players but the payoffs also get more rewarding. Split-screen co-op is also supported.
You can instantly tell that dungeon defenders was made primarily as a co-op experience, since the single-player is eminently more challenging than it should be. While playing alone, it’s nearly impossible to emerge victorious using firmly the skill set of one character. This means that you need to divide your limited supply of mana –which is collected from treasure chests that randomly spawn on the map in every build phase—between multiple characters, leading to a rather unbalanced experience even on the absolutely easiest difficulty setting. Still, every defeat teaches you what strategies work and which ones don’t work, so it’s just a manner of honing your skills.
Dungeon Defenders is a very attractive arcade game, with rich colors and effects that lit up the game’s varied set of locales. The frame rate is also always consistent even amidst all the chaos and there were no technical oddities found in the time I spent with it. The music in between waves also provides a calm respite from the gauntlet of enemies that charge headfirst at you and the load times are mere seconds long. It’s an extremely competent audiovisual treat.
Dungeon Defenders features a vast assortment of levels, modes, levels to achieve and gear to collect. There are also challenge levels that become unlocked as you play and Player-versus-player arenas are also thrown in for good measure too. Dungeon Defenders is, all things considered, most definitely worth the 15$ price tag and PS3, Android and PC users also benefit from cross-platform play.
Dungeon Defenders is Tower Defense done right; it marries the flexible, customizable elements of a role-playing game with the strategic flexibility of Tower Defense and elevates the whole experience with joyous cooperative play. It’s too bad that the action amounts to no more than button-mashing and the single-player almost feels like a cruel test of patience and determination. Yet for its few missteps, Dungeon Defenders is ambitious, pretty and highly addictive; co-op junkies will no doubt eat this one up.