The tower defence genre is something that I haven’t really had much association with. I’m the kind of guy who likes to see progression in my story and characters, so the tower defence model of minimal narrative elements and mechanical gameplay has always sounded rather bland and repetitive. Dungeon Defenders is here to challenge my pre-conceptions. Will it succeed? Or should it have remained on the “do not touch with a barge pole” pile?
Dungeon Defenders is first and foremost a tower defence game. However, what makes it more interesting and unique from its contemporaries is how it also features some light RPG mechanics and even a looting system. The game features four classes to choose between; however in the same breath I also have to say that these four classes are linked to each of the four difficulty settings. This is an interesting but unappealing approach. A large part of me simply doesn’t like the restrictions it introduces. It suggests that the game doesn’t change; only you change and the class you choose determines how hard it will be based on that class’ abilities. For example by picking the Apprentice (Mage) class you are selecting the novice difficulty. By changing the difficulty up you can also play as either Squire (Knight), Huntress or finally - if you are up for the Master difficulty – you can play as the Monk.
Part of me wishes that I could choose the difficulty and class independently from each other, as I had much more fun playing as the Squire than I did as the Apprentice. However, this method certainly encourages you to experience each style of gameplay and despite my reservations, it won me over.
Thankfully this game has a very good tutorial. It breaks down the system very well and everything you need to do is narrated to you rather than just simply displaying text boxes. You learn how to use your character through action as you are actually involved in defending the Eternia Crystals. This is something that I liked very much as my perception of tower defence is that you build up all your defences and then watch to see how it all pans out. Not in this one, you are an integral part to the defence of the Eternia Crystal. Sadly the Apprentice starts off with a staff that feels more like your are using a pea shooter, luckily this feeling is short lived, when you realise that you can level up your character. Your character starts with a basic health and mana bar - with mana acting as the currency used to build your defences to hold back the waves of enemies – but before long your stats begin to rise. The game does a great job of spoon feeding you upgrades to use as your defences. I think this is brilliant as it forces you to use every defence option to see how it works properly rather than being given everything from the start and being overwhelmed by so many options. By levelling up your character you raise your cap on how much mana you can hold as well as your health , also all the loot you find stays with your character so if you struggled getting through five waves then you will be able to put up a much better fight the next time around.
This game also supports both local and online co-op, this is where the game truly shines. Up to three other players can join you either on the couch or online. Not only does playing it with friends make it more enjoyable but it also makes the game much more manageable. The game is still fun in single player, however, it can get pretty overwhelming due to its fast pace, especially when you have a low level character. By having more players it adds a much more strategic element to the game, rather than the run around like a headless chicken approach which singleplayer soon had me doing. Assigning each player roles to either defend certain parts of the map or even class specific roles - for example if everyone chooses a different class you can use them all to compliment each other. Allow the Squire to be the tank and run into the horde while the Monk is assigned to healing allies and repairing defences that have been damaged.
Dungeon Defenders is a visuals treat to behold. I love its colourful art style and its characters are all beautifully drawn and animated. The soundtrack isn’t particularly memorable, however, it suits this fantasy inspired setting very well.
One thing I’m disappointed about is how when you find a new piece of armour for your character it doesn’t change your characters appearance. I am aware that this is only cosmetic but it’s an extra detail I would have appreciated, especially as the weapons change, so it baffles me why you can’t change your characters appearance except for the optional colour palettes when you first select them.
One of my other problems with the game is the camera. The camera is from an isometric view and this can be toggled down to being behind your character - third person style. The trouble with the isometric view is that you don’t actually get to see much - it’s almost like if you were to walk around all day staring at the floor in front of you. I would have preferred a much wider shot option, especially in this kind of game where you have to know what is going on at all times.
Overall for me this game not only provided a great introduction to this genre but it also added enough elements from other genres to provide a refreshing take on the tower defence formula. It also has enough depth to encourage you to play for hours and hours, trying to get the best loot and experince the challenge of each class. Singleplayer certainly isn’t its strongest aspect, as I mentioned previously it can get overwhelming, very fast and also gets quite repetitive. Co-op is the way this game was made to be played, it’s just so much fun. And it still gets fairly frantic but it feels more manageable and also feels so much better to be able to share a victory than have a lonely one.
I feel this game could have been improved if it had a more balanced singleplayer experience and also a few issues with the camera can be frustrating, but grab a few friends and these few gripes will be a thing of the past. At arms, men! There’s a Dungeon that needs Defending!
MLG Rating: 8/10
Platform: PS3/ Xbox 360 / PC/ iOS / Android Release Date: 21/12/2011 (PS3)
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Dungeon Defenders for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.