After quite a wait since the mobile version launched, Dungeon Defenders in now on Steam. If you’ve seen it about, you’ll probably have noted just how pretty the game is. Pulling a little from various art-styles, we get a unique and very friendly looking game. But don’t allow the cute little characters to fool you, this friv game goes a whole lot deeper than I ever imagined upon first glance.
The basic idea of the game is to mix the action RPG and tower defense genres, not too dissimilar to the recent Orcs Must Die! in some sense. The ‘Old Ones’, have been locked away inside Eternia Crystals, but a bit of a mishap has opened up the danger of enemy creatures attempting to destroy them. It’s the players job to defend the crystal in each level from waves of enemies, with the biggest feature that’s unlike most tower defense games being co-operative play.
From the outset it is apparent that this is how the game was meant to be played. While it is possible to play alone, the real idea of the friv game only comes to light when playing with others. This is partly due to the game’s class system – and being able to field four players, each of different classes, can certainly helps the cause to survive a whole level. Each class has varied strengths and abilities; the healing powers and other spells of the Monk, for example, are hugely valuable in a team, but won’t get you far unless coupled with the damage output of the melee-based Squire, the Apprentice’s turrets or the Huntress’ traps.
Upon joining a game, players will find themselves in the tavern. It’s almost like a lobby of sorts, giving a chance to finalise plans, equip characters and even buy and sell items or pets. Which is where I’ll introduce one of the most unique features in a game of this sort, the persistent levelling mechanic. Players’ characters really become their own, becoming stronger over time as better weapons and armour are equipped, attributes are earned and play-styles are perfected. It’s a great reason to keep playing, while being vital to completing the later portions of the game.
When your team is ready, it’s time to enter a dungeon, of which there are many with widely varied layouts and designs. Each with crucial points that’ll need to be discovered and defended in order to survive. The build phase comes first, offering a brief period to setup defenses – although mana crystals, the game’s currency, will be needed to fund traps and such, and can be found in chests or collected from defeated enemies. Which is where another unique game mechanic comes into play; the ability to bank crystals and spend them in in the tavern. Banking them is needed to have the riches required for new items, but bank too many and there’ll not be enough in the game to survive the level.
After the defenses are set, or the timer runs out, we enter the battle phase. Enemies start to enter the dungeon from a number of doors in the level – which are labelled with how many of each type will enter beforehand – during this phases you’ll be entering combat, while crossing your fingers that the pre-built defenses will hold out. Traps, turrets and any other abilities have a much longer casting rate during this phase, so although it’s still viable to add to what was already there, it may well be more of a hindrance than an advantage. It’d be a far better idea to use the third-person shooting or combat to disperse of enemies during this time, or even to run about repairing barricades and the like before they are destroyed. If you get it right, though, you’ll survive the wave and enter another build phase before the next. This time with a lot more mana crystals at your disposal.
The gameplay is hugely fun, especially when playing and communicating with friends throughout. It’s also pretty tough to, which is great as it forces trial and error on each level in order to get it right. Elongating the games replayability, while also giving a real sense of reward when a level is finally survived. The different phases also mean that the action remains fast and frantic. While other tower defense games may leave you observing waves of enemies and hoping for the best, the combat phases in Dungeon Defenders mean there’s barely a second to consider such things, instead you’d just better just keep firing at the varied enemy forms until they drop dead in a flurry of mana crystals.
My only real complaint here (besides the hugely distracting butt-crack that’s for some reason always on show when playing as a Huntress), is that the UI can feel a little clunky in parts. It’ll take a little while to learn the intricacies of some menu screens, or the split characters for ranked and unranked play. It’s also sometimes a little tricky when looking at an item or upgrade to know just exactly what the numbers and symbols mean, and sometimes the additional detail that appears when hovering over something can still leave me a little bemused. Therefore it may well be worth having at the somewhat extensive Wiki that’s featured on the game’s site.
That aside, I was hugely surprised at just how much there is in this game. It looks very simple on the outside, with a low price (currently £9.99) that could often lead people to thinking it’s a small game. But ultimately, Dungeon Defenders offers massive value for money, with possibly hundreds of hours of gameplay for those that want to level up with each of the character classes, and that’s before considering the repeat enjoyment that can be had by playing with friends, or even the special Halloween event that was featured this week which brought even more content to the table. There’s really not another game quite like this on the market – something that can rarely be said about games these days – and not only is it different, but it’s amazingly fun at the same time. The varied components come together to make a game that I’m certain almost anybody could find something they love within.