Dungeon Defenders

Tower Defense is a genre on the rise. From its humble beginnings in the likes of Desktop Tower Defense, it’s spreading its wings to become more than just a web-based casual pastime. The clever, stripped-down Real Time Strategy gameplay lowers the barrier to entry and lets anyone have a taste of a thinking man’s game, without removing any of the challenge.

So to see it taken on by serious teams with serious money, and who are keen to add interesting elements like action and RPG gameplay... let’s just say it’s the kind of revolution that we can get excited about. After all, Orcs Must Die! (OMD) recently proved that action, healthy budgets, and tower defense make good bedfellows - surely adding things like leveling and loot into the mix must make this an even better game, right?

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Wrong. Mostly. It’s definitely going to excite some people, but OMD is a better game. Let me explain...

Not familiar with Tower Defense? Basically, you have to spend resources to place automatically firing defensive turrents (the titular “towers”). You’ll be attacked by waves of enemies and must continue to place turrets in order to keep them from achieving their objective and assaulting your base.

Dungeon Defenders differs from that mold in that it puts you into the shoes of a third-person character (instead of the god-like point of view that most TD games assume). Killing things drops mana pellets (the aforementioned resource) and - occasionally - loot, which when equipped will improve your stats.

There’s a bunch of different characters, too, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Each has it’s own feel, which results in many people preferring one over another - but from what we could tell, none seemed particularly over-powered compared to the others.

As you level, you earn points that you can use to boost your preferred abilities. Typically, these abilities are split out between your character and your turrets, allowing you to customize the way the game plays to suit your preferred play style.

Unlike many TD games, there’s no proscribed tower placement "track" compared to the path that the enemy will follow. Which means you basically have to put the towers on the path (which is problematic when you yourself try to navigate) or try to find spots on walls etc where they won’t get into your way (as much). The turrets also (generally) have a limited cone inside which they can target enemies - unlike the typically 360 degree aiming ability seen in other TD games.

So far, so good - right? Where does it go wrong then?

For a start, the controls. They’re... sub-optimal. You have limited control of the camera and it wrests even that away from you from time to time, depending on what you’re doing. Placing a tower is an exercise in frustration, as the developers fall back on what is essentially a virtual mouse - which they then make you click and rotate several sticks and buttons to use.

Combat is an exercise in frustration. Playing the mage character, for example, necessitates tediously pulling the trigger button over and over and over and over. With hundreds of enemies to kill in a single wave, each of which require many hits, you’d better have some spare controllers and OOS-remedies on standby because you’re going to need them.

The interface is similarly clumsy, completely ignoring the industry standards and creating arbitrarily confusing schemas that are needlessly complex to navigate. Tutorials are something else that is just way, way too complex. They dump screeds of information on you and proceed straight on to the next thing before you’ve gotten a chance to cement what you were just told.

Everything, basically, is ultra convoluted and awkward.

The visuals are pretty nifty, if nothing spectacular. They’re well executed and suit the premise, as does the funny “the parents are away - the kids screwed up in their absence and must now defend against the bad guys” narrative. It’s enough to provide context for the activity and fit the slightly cartoon aesthetic.

Where it picks up speed is in the multiplayer, which is a genius inclusion. The game unfolds in a similar way, mechanically, but the addition of other human-controlled dungeon defenders dials up the fun-factor by a huge margin. It also offsets the otherwise unbearably high difficulty factor, which ramps up way past what is reasonable if you're attempting to play the game solo.

If you like the sound of this and have a group of friends to play it with, it's probably still worth your attention. Probably. There's a lot of caveats here, though, and if you're going into this hoping for the fun of Orcs Must Die! but in a multiplayer context, you're going to be disappointed. It's definitely worth checking out the demo first - or, for another opinion, be sure to check out Aylon's review of the PC version of Dungeon Defenders.

"A poor console implementation lets this one down."
- Dungeon Defenders
Follow Own it? Rating: PGR   Difficulty: Hard   Learning Curve: 2 Hours


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Comments Comments (1)

The Host of Chaos
Posted by The Host of Chaos
On Saturday 12 Nov 2011 12:37 PM
Well that sounds lousy. I was given the PC version by a friend and played a little bit and it was pretty fun and didn't have the control issues this has. Glad I stayed away from the PS3 version as I imagine it would have been just like this.