Welcome to the world of Dungeon Defenders …
Etheria to be precise. The heroes of the land have headed off to battle evil and left behind their four trainees. Unfortunately said trainees have made a bit of a blunder and managed to free an unspeakable evil from it’s prison, which sets us up nicely for the what’s going to be happening next.
As action RPG’s go that’s a fairly standard plot, and you get the usual character types too. There’s an Apprentice, Squire, Huntress and a Monk to choose from. Remember these are the trainees, each with a charming cartoon-ish character model. The character choice advises you of the level of skill you’ll need to play them, the Apprentice is novice whilst the Monk at the other end is Master. Once selected you get to change a few colours associated with you character and give them a name, and then it’s off to the Tavern.
The Tavern is your hub area where you can browse the items in the shop and spend any mana that you bank during the game itself. There’s a forge to create more heroes and a whacking great big crystal to give you all the statistics you may need and the chance to set up missions. These come in two flavours: campaign and challenge. But before we get into those, what are you letting yourself in by delving into the depths of these dungeons?
Well don’t expect your traditional action RPG style adventure. Although there’s hacking, slashing and flinging of spells to be done, that will not win you the big prize. What will is some keen tactical thinking and defensive strategy (those of you who’ve played Monday Night Combat will know where I’m heading here).
Dungeon Defenders is one of those rare excursions into the realms of the Desktop Tower Defence style of game that’s been done in a 3rd person perspective instead of the overhead camera viewpoint.
Remember that crystal from the tavern? Well, it’s here and your task is to protect it, simple as that really. You do this by positioning defensive posts where you think they’re going to do the most damage or give the most protection. Once your allotted building time is over, the hordes start upon you from one or more of the entrance points located around the level.
Now handily the doors do tell you how many of the little (and not so little) blighters will be spilling forth from them. But as there’s no “Denizen Directory” to refer to, you’re kind of left guessing as to what damage they’re going to do. Generally I found after the first level the lower the number next to the icon the more damage the creature in question is going to cause you.
Normally in a DTD game that would be it, once the hordes start marauding you sit back and occasionally repair a tower or hastily drop another unit somewhere you’d forgotten about. Not with this style though. Admittedly you can do that if you want, but you get the added bonus of being able to wade into the masses and deal out the damage yourself too. With each enemy dispatched you’ll find mana and health crystals dropped in their wake, essential for replenishing your mana pool and allowing you to build and repair your defences. Any mana you don’t use in this fashion can be banked to spend on goodies back at the tavern.
Initially you only start with the one choice of unit, but once you’ve gained a few levels you’ll find more opening up and eventually the option to upgrade your existing units. All pretty standard fare with the bonus of you running around inside the level instead of just observing it from above, which makes for a far more frantic affair as your build timer starts running down before the next wave and you’re trying to find some more mana to repair an essential unit. During your build phase you can use the forge placed in the level to switch character and use which ever character you switch to’s abilities as well. This gives you access to a wealth of death dealing devices from traps, magic missile towers and whirling blades of doom, to blockades and other defensive forms.
You’ll also get the chance to pick up any loot that you may have missed whilst running round the level. Yes, that’s right, there’s loot drops, lots of them. If you take the time to hover over said item before you hit the equip or send to item box button, you’ll also get one of 3 icons, a thumbs up (Green), a thumbs down (Red) or a sideways hand (Yellow) which basically lets you know whether the item you’re looking at is better than what you’ve got equipped. This is a fantastically simple yet essential little device as it stops you from having to memorise stats, settings and other things that would prevent you from focusing on the overall strategy at hand.
And strategy is key here. Although you can wade Leeroy Jenkins style into the hordes of goblins and trolls that come marching across to attack your crystal, trying to do that without doing anything else you’ll find yourself back at the bar in the tavern very, very quickly. Especially if you’re playing solo !!
Although it’s perfectly possible to play this game by yourself, you’ll need a very keen strategic mind to make it through the later levels of the game, and that’s just in the campaign mode. Yes, this is a game that’s been designed for multiplayer. It is possible to play it solo, but you will find it very, very challenging, especially when it comes to the Challenge mode itself.
As the name implies this sees you faced with levels to complete adhering to certain criteria or rules. “Great, I can do that”, you say… The first challenge level sees you surviving 8 waves of enemies WITHOUT building a single defensive tower, so you find yourself running round the level like a maniac dispatching the hordes as quickly as possible. Don’t try this before you’ve levelled up your character a bit as well. I made the mistake of playing this with a fresh character and it wasn’t pretty.
And this is where it falls down for the single player. This game is definitely built to cater for a co-op experience, with a group of heroes all around the same level being able to cope with what’s thrown at them provided they a) work together and b) have a decent plan of attack, or should that be defence?
For a solo player, you can gain access to other character types during the build phase to use their abilities, but you need to level them up equally. So if you’ve been playing a level 20 Apprentice and then find yourself needing help from a Squire, if he’s level 5 he’s not going to be helping much. Which means you find yourself heading back to the beginning and grinding up the levels for the other character types as well, and that takes awhile.
I really enjoyed this game, and it’s been quite some time since my friends and I have actually had to strategize to the level that we found ourselves going to (I think one guy actually had a pen and paper out at one point !!), but I felt a bit let down by the difficulty level lumped onto the single player, so high in places that the game is bordering on the impossible.
As a game to play with friends this is brilliant, nothing beats the feeling of you and your friends coming up with the right combination of units, setting them going and then running amongst them adding to the carnage. Just watch out for the mana hogs as nothing will destroy a good team quicker than someone grabbing all the mana crystals for themselves. As a single player, unless you have the patience of a saint and the strategic planning capability of a high ranking military official, I’d say you’re going to find this hard going.