Dungeon Defenders: Multiplayer RPG Perfection
By Neil Kewn (Murxidon), OnRPG Journalist
Co-op is all the rage these days. Whether built from the ground up or shoehorned into a sequel, most top-tier games will usually have some aspect of team-based gameplay. The great thing about co-op is how versatile it is, and players have realized that you can have just as much fun working with other players than trying to kill them. The latest co-op concoction to hit gamers isn’t a massively ambitious title, but it’s one that captures the essence of multiplayer in its simplest form. It’s stylish, it’s addictive, it’s fun. It’s Dungeon Defenders.
Dungeon Defenders, to put it simply, is a co-op action game where four players attempt to fend off waves of increasingly difficult enemies. Its premise is one we have seen before, yet the game feels refreshing and refined. Defenders is all about depth, difficulty and tactical gameplay. Pick a Hero, build defences and protect a magical crystal - it’s a simple idea with plenty of added depth that works on almost every level.
There are currently four Heroes to choose from. The Squire is primarily a close combat class with a high damage count, The Huntress deals out traps and attacks from afar, The Apprentice can summon magical towers and The Monk acts as a support role, casting magical auras which protect allies and harm enemies. Naturally each hero type plays differently, with each class replicating four of the RPG archetypes we have seen in MMO games (albeit in a far simpler way). More classes are promised at a later date.
Jumping into a game is simple. You can opt for unranked, anything-goes online games with support for mods, or ranked, secured games which operate through TrendyNet. Local support is also available. Depending on the current state of the game, you will be dumped into the local tavern or straight into the battle itself. The tavern acts as a place to chat, sell wares and upgrade your character and is presented as a very warm, glowing public house. The graphical style is undeniably welcoming.
Games begin in the Build Phase. Here, no enemies will spawn and the team can work together to set up defences, traps and summon protection. It’s also a good opportunity to collect any mana, open chests and loot gear left behind from the previous wave. The Defenders Forge can store any items players have collected or swap Heroes out for different ones. Mana is particularly important, as it’s used to summon available defences, activate abilities and purchase upgrades. The impending wave is activated through players touching the Eternia Crystal.
The Eternia Crystal is the single most important feature in any game of Dungeon Defenders. Players are working to protect the crystal from being destroyed, and the game will end if the enemy does manage to deplete its health bar. It’s important to fend off attacks from spawn points in the map, but ignore the growing horde of elves and trolls busting through your unmanned defences elsewhere and it won’t be long before the whole party is rushing to protect the Crystal. Even the most well-laid plan can crumble quickly, resulting in enormously entertaining, and at times frustrating, frantic frivolity.
Heroes are equipped with a primary attack assigned to the left mouse button, and a secondary attack or defensive ability on the right. Other abilities are unlocked through leveling up. Participating in battles awards your hero experience points which can be spent improving your hero’s health, mana, speed and damage in addition to that of any defences you summon. Resistance to certain attacks and the effectiveness of your abilities can be attuned, and your attack and defence capabilities improved through the armour and weapons looted and equipped after a round. The status of your Hero is recorded too, so you can jump into higher-level games as you progress.
Summoned defences are dependent on the class and the player’s level. Each Hero has a different set of constructs, which a good team will put to good use through tactical deployment and forming chokeholds. These can be repaired during or after games, and even upgraded to improve their effectiveness. Constructs range from simple towers which fire repeatedly at the enemy, to blockades which can halt an advance on your crystal, to auras which will drain the health of any pesky elf which makes an attempt on your life. As you rise through the levels more powerful summons will unlock for use against waves that you previously stood no chance against.
Dungeon Defenders has also been developed for consoles, and as such the menu screens and controls are somewhat catered for the controller-equipped. Auto-aim is turned on by default, but the game plays better with it left off. I’ve found it hampers progress instead of aiding it when using the precision of a mouse. Graphically, it’s a very beautiful game. Mixing cell-shading with some superb lighting and spell effects, maps are vibrant and colorful. It runs smoothly, too.
Dungeon Defenders is a dish best enjoyed with others, and as such the solo experience should only be used to familiarize yourself with the dozen or so maps. In addition to the main campaign there are extra challenges for you to undertake and several difficulty settings for each level, ensuring there is plenty of replay value in this budget title. I’m not entirely convinced that the game is completely balanced just yet, and the Squire seems to be everyone’s favourite class at the moment (despite, at least in my opinion, being the least fun to play). Post-launch support has been great so far though so I expect class balancing to be on the agenda shortly.
Dungeon Defenders is a massively entertaining and addicting game. Its casual pick-up-and-play gameplay is perfect for those who want a quick game of goblin gutting, yet its tower defence aspect offers a wider range of gameplay opportunities for groups going loot or achievement hunting. With the promise of more class types, maps and other goodies, the game is a superb value for the money and one that any fan of co-op should have in their collection.