Review: Dungeon Defenders

What with a bumper haul of (pretty awesome) games arriving over the last quarter of 2011 it’s a brave man and his software house that releases a downloadable only title amongst the midst of the AAA disc releases of the season.  What is also perhaps braver is when that release is not an established IP but something new and different.  Trendy Entertainment must have balls of steel, but they are definitely onto a winner here.

What is evident from the initial boot up is the amount of love that has obviously been poured into this Unreal Engine powered title.   The artwork in the game really shines above everything else as a mix between cell shaded ‘cartoony’ and a World of Warcraft ‘chunky’ feel.  It’s a really lovely, fresh look and works very well.

The game itself plays like a hybrid between tower defence, RPG and action beat ‘em up.  Essentially you “create” a character and have to stop numerous waves of emerging bad guys getting all the way through the dungeon to a huge “Ethereal” crystal and destroying it.  The bad guys are your standard fantasy fare (goblins, dark elves etc) and get progressively more difficult to destroy as the game progresses, some even have immunity from certain forms of attack (fire, lightning etc).  In order to stop the bad guys’ relentless progression you have numerous options at your disposal.

The first is to build “towers” by spending Mana which you earn from killing the bad guys. Still with me? Good. These towers start off with your basic magic missile and develop into a wide variety of different types which are useful in different scenarios and against different enemies or groups of enemies.

The second way is by engaging them directly with your character by either using your characters main weapon, or by deploying a various abilities which cost mana.  Each character class has a different primary and secondary attack which, again, are useful against different enemies.

Most probably you will be using a combination of the above methods as your towers do a fair bit of damage and then you invariably panic sprint across the level to stop a loose goblin who has somehow evaded your towers, from damaging your crystal. Rinse and repeat.

Your character levels up as you progress through the game and each time you do you can improve your towers’ abilities (such as attack rate/area/damage) and/or also your own characters abilities such as speed, health, damage dealt etc.  You can also collect various items of armour and weaponry to further improve your character and even (if you so desire) switch classes if you feel like you need a different skill set to beat a level.

The camera controls can (on occasion) let the game down a little as it can get frustrating to accurately place towers in specific points to perform a specific role.   The camera isn’t freeform; it works from 3 or 4 fixed points, some of which are SO similar it can be easy to think the game hasn’t recognised your camera change button press.  The structure of the game makes up for this however by splitting each wave into two distinct parts – the “build” phase and the “combat” phase. During the build phase you can spend as long as you like placing defences, changing your characters equipment (or even your character if you’d like) and when you are finished you activate the “combat” phase which is when the bad guys begin to appear.  This gives you ample time to think, plan and check your defences are adequate to defeat the next wave.

In addition to all that you can also play with up to 3 friends locally or online which mixes things up nicely.  The difficulty level is adjusted to the number of players playing, so don’t expect an easy ride with a four player game on the go! Multiplayer is really the way to play this game but on later levels it definitely requires strategic thinking and planning otherwise things descend into multiplayer chaos (which is actually quite a fun thing at times).

Whilst the game isn’t a walk in the park on the earlier levels (even for a single player), the later levels really do add a further layer of complexity to the game by throwing in additional crystals to defend and mixing up the level layouts which requires strategy adaptation and quick thinking!

To conclude this is a charming clever spin on the tower defence genre and once which deserves to do well, it oozes charm and polish but is best played with a mate or three to allow the mechanics to really shine.  Nothing about the game made me think “wow” or totally blew me away, but what is there is solid, consistent and a lovely break from all the endless sequels we’ve been playing this year, and a change (as they say) is as good as smashing a goblin with a big stick. (I think).

Reviewed on PS3

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