After a successful launch on mobile formats, Trendy Entertainment’s Dungeon Defenders made its home system debut back in October of last year. The PlayStation 3 version, now available via PlayStation Network, suffered a delay in its release, and so there’s been plenty of talk about the videogame already. Having reportedly sold in excess of 600,000 units on home systems already, PlayStation 3 gamers will certainly be a welcome addition to that audience, and to make up for the delay the first downloadable content (DLC) package will be given away freely on PlayStation Network: a generous offering where none was really needed.
The generosity of Dungeon Defenders doesn’t begin with that post-launch DLC package however; the videogame package in itself is a fairly sturdy presentation. Beginning with a cutscene depicting the four featured characters getting into trouble way above their heads, awakening an ancient evil force that had long lay dormant. It’s up to the player(s) to protect the land of Etheria from this evil, or more directly, the Eternia Crystals that reside within.
Set in the tower defence genre and crossed with a role-playing game (RPG) in terms of the player’s character, Dungeon Defenders is a mix of common traits that is less shocking in their conjoined delivery than the fact that no one has actually taken the initiative to do this before. Listing the mechanics of Dungeon Defenders on paper might lead you to believe that it’s a videogame of two separate parts, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just as Metroid Prime managed to convincingly deliver a cross between the adventure and first-person shooter genres, Dungeon Defenders is a familiar yet entirely unique experience.
Allowing up to four players can join in the fun prior to beginning any level in either off or online games. There’s no drop-in/drop-out system and when playing online the videogame is limited to one player per console, but these are minor blemishes on an otherwise fantastic multiplayer experience. The player takes direct control of an avatar on the battlefield in a similar vein to South Park: Tower Defense Play. While Dungeon Defenders provides four different classes – each of which is aimed at a specific skill level – multiplayer games allow for any combination of character classes. The player can opt for different save games featuring each different character class, so a good mix of skills is not only the best option, but will also benefit all players in the long run.
The core experience of Dungeon Defenders is the tower defense gameplay. As stated above players must defend the Eternia Crystal against oncoming waves of enemy forces. Each level features a number of waves that increase in difficulty, though the health of all players and the Eternia Crystal regain full health at the start of each new wave. However, the player’s core line of defence against the enemy hordes – their turrets – do not get a health recharge.
Each wave is split into two phases, Build and Combat. The player can use the Build phase to establish their defensive strategy by constructing turrets at a cost to their total Mana. Mana is used for many actions in Dungeon Defenders, including recharging health mid-wave and upgrading equipment, and can be regained by killing enemies and opening treasure chests spread around confined arena of the level. Players can continue to build turrets during the Combat phase, however they take much longer to erect and enemy attacks during the construction will bring it to an abrupt end.
There are various turret types in the videogame, though at the start the player only has one option. The others are unlocked as the player increases their level by gaining experience killing enemies. Of course, here lies Dungeon Defenders’ RPG element: when the player increases level, they can opt to add acquired skill points to either the stats of their hero character, or the turrets constructed by that character. Players can also find new items in the treasure chests available in each wave, potentially upgrading their equipment.
As complicated as all this sounds, experienced gamers will be in the swing of things before the first level ends. Sadly, the tutorial throws everything at you at once during a non-interactive video sequence, so for those familiar who are yet to have fallen in live with the for the genre, it can be fairly confusing at first. While playing solo can often be just as rewarding as playing with friends, inexperienced tower defence players would be wise to heed the advice of others.
From a technical standpoint, Dungeon Defenders isn’t exactly anything to marvel at. It’s an average looking videogame with a pleasant, but forgettable soundtrack. Its greatest achievements in this respect come in the form of the near-seamless delivery of the online play and the intuitive alignment of the camera. Realigning itself between phases, when in the Build phase the camera shows an angled, limited top down-is view, whereas in Combat it becomes a traditional third-person camera until the player opts to construct a turret. It may seem fairly elementary, but it’s so well integrated the unknowing player is unlikely to notice the change for many waves.
Dungeon Defenders is a hugely addictive videogame experience: it manages to blend the ‘one more go’ touch of a tower defence title with the overarching compulsion of improving your character from RPGs. The combination of the two genres is the videogame’s biggest selling point, and it clearly knows this. It may seem like a muddled mix of conventions to the untrained eye, but for anyone with a prior investment in either of its genres, Dungeon Defenders is nothing short of compelling.