Trendy Entertainment is a name that only a few of you may be familiar with, as they are a relatively new addition to the development scene, but their first game, Dungeon Defenders, sits comfortably within a genre which I’m sure by now many of us are approaching over-familiarity with: Tower Defence. Dungeon Defenders attempts to break the mould a little, however, but placing the focus firmly on co-op, and creating an almost Tower Defence/Dungeon Crawler hybrid. It’s an interesting combination and a dangerous prospect for those with OCD-like tendencies. The main question is, however, does it work?
Gan of Four - Since most Tower Defence games have you doing the same tasks over and over for their duration, it’s areas other than gameplay that need to give you variety and customization options. Dungeon Defenders does this well, giving you a choice of four characters: a squire, an apprentice mage, a monk and a huntress, each with their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to defence. They vary between close- and ranged-combat, and physical and magical abilities. What’s more, equipment for each of the characters is customizable and upgradeable, with new items frequently being dropped by enemies or found in treasure chests, a la Borderlands. The only downside is that most of the equipment you pick up on the battlefield is often inferior to your current setup, making it worthwhile only for selling.
A Not-So-Dingy Dungeon - Another similarity to Borderlands is the graphical style, with cel-shading and slightly cartoony-looking characters (one in particular looks like a straight rip-off of Aang from Avatar). The style gives a needed dash of colour and personality to what could otherwise have been a bland-looking game. The map system is also one of the most helpful that I’ve seen so far in a tower defence game, telling you where enemies are coming from and which are coming, where your defences are placed in relation to the enemies, and which ones need repairing, which saves you running from one turret to the other frantically looking for damage.
Defences as Far as the Eye Can See - Dungeon Defenders offers up a ton of content. Through the main campaign, which features a good number of levels (all of which are dungeon-related, but with their own characteristics) to the challenge mode, there is plenty for the tower defence aficionado to do. Challenge mode offers up survival levels, as well as ‘pure strategy’, which removes your character’s combat abilities, leaving you to rely only on your turrets and defences. The main quest allows you to choose from a variety of difficulties, and in what I felt was a nice touch, gives you the option to decided whether or not you have a time limit on the building part of the levels, which allows for a more relaxed approach to the game, if you need it.
A Lifetime of Solitude - On the flip-side of praising Dungeon Defenders for offering up lots of content, I wish it was broken up slightly better. Some of the levels are absolute slogs, and by the end of some levels, you get so fed up of fighting the same enemies, and your fingers are so sore from constantly hammering the trigger buttons that you really don’t feel like playing the next level. Furthermore, if your crystal gets destroyed on the final wave, thanks to the lack of a checkpoint system, you really don’t feel like playing the entire game again. Levels often take 30 minutes or more to get through, which doesn’t sound too bad, but when you’re constantly hammering the buttons in an attempt to kill 200+ enemies per wave, or when you lose your progress and have to start from the very beginning, it starts to become less of a game and more of a chore.
Beep, Beeeep, Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep - Auto-targeting systems can be your best friend, unless you’re Luke Skywalker, in which case you should always have it switched off. Having the ability to jump from one enemy to the next with computer assistance can be a blessing, if it’s done well. Unfortunately, Dungeon Defenders’ attempt fails to make the grade, due to bouts of extreme hyperactivity. You’ll see the reticule hopping from enemy to enemy countless times, and even jumping to a seemingly random enemy for no reason at all, even though your screen is centred on the one you wish to attack. With so many enemies filling the screen at any one time, it can be incredibly frustrating to not be able to pick out priority targets with ease.
Dungeon Defenders attempts to do with Tower Defense what Borderlands attempted to do with FPS’s, namely give you a shit-ton of stuff to do, plenty of equipment to sift through, and the option to play through the entire thing with friends if that’s your thing. Unfortunately, Dungeon Defenders doesn’t quite hit the same sweet spot of carrot-and-stick equilibrium that Borderlands managed, but in the long run, that doesn’t matter too much. Dungeon Defenders is a solid effort, with attractive visuals, a more-than-decent campaign, and enough charm to entice you to encourage your friends to come and join you. With some slight frustrations, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Tower Defence genre, but should by no means hang its head in shame.