Dungeon Defenders (PC, PS3, X360) (2011)
Developer: Trendy Entertainment
Review by Faididi and Co.
An Epic Flaming Atrocity
Great adventure begins at a castle in the medieval fantasy land of Etheria, but for all the wrong reasons. Four young friends left home alone accidentally undo the wards holding back the forces of darkness, and now they must stop the incoming hordes of goblins from destroying the Eternia Crystals that protect the land. The simple story helps things get started quickly, and having the heroes resemble munchkin versions of their RPG-archetypical parents is a funny touch. But, why are some of the names taken from He-Man and She-Ra?
Gameplay: Above Average
Despite its plain-sounding title and the fact that it's downloadable-only, Trendy Entertainment's Dungeon Defenders is a 4-Player tactical action game that's anything but simple. The kid protagonists have to use a mix of their own attacks and their traps to defeat all the invading enemies without letting any Eternia Crystals become destroyed, but the radically different heroes and the fantastic multiplayer support set apart this game's brand of tower defense.
Make no mistake; the heroes differ wildly in terms of their personal weaponry and their trap emplacements. The Apprentice, curiously enough, is the well-balanced generalist of the group. His magic staff and animated statue traps unleash a large variety of energy blasts that are meant to deal with most situations. By contrast, the Squire specializes in stationary defense. His blade limits him to hand-to-hand combat, but his fortress-themed traps are the most potent against the common enemy hordes. The highly mobile Huntress excels at the other end of the spectrum. While her snare traps are less flashy, her automatic crossbow makes her play like a space marine (complete with magazine reloading!) who's better at wiping out bosses and other heavy targets. The Monk fills a broad support role. His quarterstaff and mystical dart spell make him capable of both up-close and ranged combat, and his aura-type traps can heal allies as well as hurt enemies. This degree of variation makes the heroes feel like characters drawn from separate genres, and it's a great way to accommodate all types of Players.
The extremely friendly multiplayer support is another laudable strength of Dungeon Defenders. This is one of the rare games that allow 4 Players to join together via any combination of shared-console (splitscreen) and online network modes. Furthermore, the heroes can freely trade money, equipment, and the drone-like pets. That means sharing items with pals is a cinch, and this option extends to even multiple characters under the same Player account.
One flaw that the game can do without, however, is the sheer dominance of stats. Dungeon Defenders spans 13 levels (including a hidden bonus one), but there are points as early as the second level where the heroes simply need to replay earlier scenes to earn more experience points and upgrade their gear, or else the enemies will be impossible to stop in time, no matter how cleverly the heroes set their traps. The higher difficulty settings also heavily skew Dungeon Defenders in favor of the Squire, whose traps are the only things effective enough to stop the brute-force tide of monsters at that point. Although the levels can be replayed with interesting alternate conditions (such as having moving Crystals, using only trap emplacements, or even switching objectives with the bad guys), these conditions are too few and underdeveloped to remove the overwhelming need for leveling-up.
Controls: Above Average
The controls for the heroes' own movements and attacks are smooth and responsive, but the shortcut buttons across the menus for equipping and upgrading items are inconsistent. In the console versions, the trap management menus are glitchy, too, snapping to the wrong entries every now and then, and this is frustrating when you're trying to make your character quickly adjust the traps in the middle of an intense fight.
Things turn back to a positive note with the handy options available. Besides the flexible multiplayer support, the characters' color schemes can be altered whenever you like, and the upgrade points can be reallocated, too. Cooler still, the cozy tavern that serves as both the heroes' private base and the level hub will save any equipment that is dropped there, turning it into an interactive storeroom that's perfect for displaying and sharing stuff.
The cartoon-style visuals are definitely bright and colorful. The environments are beautifully textured and illuminated, while the characters are fluidly rendered, with attention paid to details as tiny as the bobbing of the Apprentice's wide-brimmed hat. Extra points are given for the humorous sight gags, from the Squire's awkward underpants to the randomly generated items allowing for names like Flaming Atrocity.
The sound effects clang and burst out forcefully, and the heroes yell noisily in a good way, but best of all is the music. Starting off simple but growing increasingly more complex and suspenseful, especially by the final third of the game, the tunes form a richly inspired and moving score that's fit for a Tolkienesque epic.
Overall: Above Average
Dungeon Defenders' deceptively simple appearance belies its full-fledged tactical action gameplay that's packed with impressive features. It may place a very heavy emphasis on leveling-up, and its menu controls can use more polishing, but those flaws don't ruin all the fun to be had with its highly varied heroes, its superb 4-Player support, and its wonderful music.
Expansion: Average (PC, PS3), Below Average (X360)
There are four extra DLC levels that form a new adventure whose events occur shortly after those of the core game. Having safeguarded their home, the heroes set out from the castle to retrieve the four magical gems representing the elements of earth, fire, water, and air.
The extra levels are clearly meant for advanced Players looking for more challenge. In addition to having higher wave completion requirements and more asymmetrical level design, they present never-before-seen hazards, such as monstrous spider webs that can hinder the heroes' movement and special enemies who can instantly approach the Crystals. However, these levels don't contain any fundamentally new item rewards, and they don't have any alternate conditions to extend their replay value. In the X360 version, the final extra level (the sky city) also suffers from a fatal memory glitch that can cause it to crash the game after a certain point. That's too bad, because this level has the most memorable of the new music and cutscenes.