Magic towers? Check. Defensive auras? Check. Bombs? Check. Barriers? Check. Huge weapons? Check. Hordes of monsters waiting patiently behind strategically placed doors until players are ready? Check! Action RPG and tower defence hybrid Dungeon Defenders brings all those things to the table, plus more. It may not be the sharpest looking, musically creative, or thoughtful game out there, but it makes up for all of that by just being a lot of fun.
Leaving their kids behind, the four legendary heroes of Etheria have set out to vanquish evil, loot caves and, if they're like most heroes, probably spend a fair bit of time in the local tavern. Their children, who had been content to stay behind and dream of adventure, accidently unleash an ancient power and soon find their castle surrounded by monsters. Crazy kids. True to their heritage, the young warriors take up their weapons and prepare to defend their home. The story is cute, but aside from a few brief cutscenes, largely irrelevant.
The premise of Dungeon Defenders is simple: protect your crystal against hordes of monsters by building towers. There are four classes you can choose to play: the apprentice, who summons magic-shooting towers; the squire, who builds fortifications and medieval-style weaponry; the huntress, who lays traps and snares; and the monk, who can create auras to aid friends and hinder foes. Each class is diverse in their skills and abilities, and can be further customised each time they level up by assigning points to them, their towers, or both. In addition, there is a plethora of loot dropped each level that can give your heroes an edge in a fight. Even pets can be obtained to help you out!
As you level up, new skill points are not your only advantage. All fortifications you build require mana for construction, which you can collect from treasure chests or fallen foes. Each time you level up, your maximum mana capacity increases. This allows you to store mana for repairs, upgrades and special class skills. Unfortunately, not all classes are created equal. As a team of four, the apprentice, squire, huntress and monk are a near unstoppable force of perfect complementary skills. Working individually, however, is a far different story. The apprentice and squire can hold their own, but if you prefer to play solo, you can say goodbye to much success with either the huntress or monk.
There are 13 campaign maps in total (plus more through paid DLC), and each requires a new strategy. Early maps tend to have few chokepoints and only one crystal to defend, while later maps are a veritable maze of potential enemy paths, and may have up to four separate crystals. Maps can support up to four players (six on some of the DLC maps), and enemy health is scaled accordingly. As a result, you can tackle missions alone or online with friends and enjoy a challenge either way.
Each set of maps has a unique feel. There are maps set inside servants' quarters, the throne room and the forge, while later challenges take you outside to the gardens or onto the roof. The cartoony, cel-shaded graphics are a delight and suit the light tone of the game well. Bright green gardens on one map are an excellent contrast to the dreary, rain-splattered turrets of another, and the diverse designs really set the maps apart from one another. Character faces look a little odd, but heroes are otherwise equally attractive; especially the apprentice, whose face is hidden beneath his pointy wizard hat. Unfortunately, different genders for each hero are only available as paid DLC. Bummer.
Between maps, you return to your own special tavern, in which you can buy and sell equipment, organise your inventory or admire any achievements you earned, which take physical form as trophies. You visit the tavern of whoever is hosting the current game, which means you can show off to your friends, too! A word of warning though: in-game trophies can be earned in any mode, but achievements can only be completed through ranked online play. Annoying, but a necessary precaution considering the game is open to modding in offline or non-ranked play.
Clearing all maps on medium takes around 15 hours, but there are three harder difficulties available (Hard, Insane, and Nightmare), complete with more powerful loot. Extra challenges are provided that mix things up too, such as a map where the crystal changes locations or where roles are reversed and you go on the attack. Many of these require multiple players though, so it's far more enjoyable if you can play with your friends.
Online play functions amiably, but some further polish would have been beneficial. Joining or creating a game is easy enough, but at higher levels, I was often kicked the second I set foot into a game without explanation. Unlike many other multiplayer games, there is no voting system to kick people, so if one person has a problem with you, you're gone. There's no loot designation system either, so it's a free-for-all on the best drops. That said, most players are relatively blasé about gear and leave it alone to be auto-sold at the end of the round. On the bright side, the game natively supports voice chat.
I may have initially been disappointed by the focus on online play, but these fears quickly passed as I discovered what an enjoyable game Dungeon Defenders is. 13 maps with 15-20 hours of play is a considerable amount of initial content, but the extra challenges and loot-hunting are what will keep you coming back. Working out strategies and tower placement is a great fun, and finally succeeding in your strategy is immensely satisfying. Some of the online features are a little rough, but if you enjoy a good tower defence game, then you should not miss this one.
Highly Recommended, 9/10
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