If I was nerdy enough to have a "favorite engine," it would probably be the Unreal Engine—not necessarily for its technical achievements (though you can't say it hasn't been an essential tool for developers in the past decade), but for its accessibility. The easy-breezy development kit has been especially kind to indies, and because of that, some brilliantly creative games have been built on the engine. Now Steam's flogging an Unreal Indie Bundle, and for $20, it's actually got a pretty admirable selection of games.
In the seven-game lineup, the stand-outs for me are the hypercute Dungeon Defenders and slick-looking Sanctum - these are two tower defense games I've dragged numerous pals into playing the past couple of years, and I'd feel pretty pleased with myself if I could drag the readers of PC Gamer into playing it too. Meanwhile, I'm also looking forward to giving Primal Carnage a whirl. While our preview in October last year thought it decent despite not seeming quite fleshed out, it's half a year onward, and I'm dying to see if those promisingly savage dinosaurs have cut their teeth on the beta stage and become truly, frighteningly awesome.
The other games included in the package are Q.U.B.E., The Ball, Unmechanical, and Waves. All up, the games are worth about $80, but in the Steam bundle? You can get 'em for twenty. Though there isn't a specified end date for the promotion, it's warning that it'll be around "for a limited time only."
I didn't like Dungeon Defenders 2's competitive MOBA mode very much, something I feel a little guilty about. I probably would have enjoyed it more had I not been playing DotA since the time steam was simply another word for hot water or if my team had a quarter of a clue between them. The guy beside me? He went zero and nineteen. By the end of it, I wanted to bake his mouse into a pot pie and feed it to him.
That said, Trendy Entertainment's interpretation of the increasingly popular genre is interesting. The most obvious change made is the complete removal of the usual armament of items. Gone are the Divine Rapiers, the Manta Styles, the insufferable Dagon. Instead of Power Treads (or Steam Boots, or what have you), Dungeon Defenders 2 uses time-limited consumables and only time-limited consumables: health potions, mana potions, things that give you a temporary increase in speed, things that absorb damage after your health has been lowered by a certain percentage and so on.
It's a peculiar decision that I'm completely on the fence about. On one hand, I can see where Trendy is going with this—it's not only trying to simplify things, it's attempting to circumvent unstoppable snowballing. On the other hand, this maneuver neither stops bad teams from being bad nor does it allow the individual to potentially salvage a disastrous situation. We've all seen an angry Spectre turn the tide of a Dota 2 game on her own. This, sadly, isn't something that I'd expect to happen in Dungeon Defenders 2.
The other major change is the switch from the familiar top-down perspective to a slightly over-the-head but mostly behind-the-shoulder third person view, like Smite. How does a third-person MOBA dressed up in Dungeon Defenders' syrupy-sweet visuals actually play? Okay. The selection of available heroes is somewhat impressive given the fact the game has only just recently entered closed beta. There are many faces that will be familiar to veterans of the franchise and others such as the Spider Princess that may be a not-so-subtle nod to the MOBA mode's spiritual progenitor.
For my hands-on, I went with the Gun Witch, a short-skirted sylph with a rather big gun. She had the ability to fire a bullet that would ricochet between opponents, a projectile that would silence (and damage) the first thing it hit, a leap that had her barreling headlong into a targeted area and a "snipe" that let her, after a brief wind-up period, unleash massive damage in a direction. In an the environment filled with players playing the game for the first time (PAX), the long-ranged glass cannon seemed the best bet.
Everyone picked their heroes and the game began in earnest. I bought a few potions, waffled at the base for a minute, before briefly joining the rest of the team as they charged down the middle lane, past our tower, across the river and then into a self-propelled genocide at the enemy's tower. Needless to say, I stopped before they got to the second half of that excursion.
Three minutes. Four dead teammates.
While I'd like to blame my team (who could probably feed all of China) as much as possible, it's understandable that they might've found themselves bedazzled by Dungeon Defenders 2's colorful visuals. Though marginally shorter than the heroes themselves, the "creeps" in Dungeon Defenders 2 weren't immediately noticeable. It took me a good ten minutes to realize that the hunch-backed creature wielding a ball and chain was a teammate as opposed to a slightly more powerful NPC.
I also have my suspicions about this possibly being the fault of the third-person perspective. Though an arguably excellent way to showcase the artwork, it offered a narrower frame of vision. Even in Dota 2 or League of Legends, it can an absolute nightmare keeping track of precisely what is going on in the battlefield. Things get even more complex when heroes can slyly duck behind a siege engine, one located at the very periphery of the fog of war. Is it a crippling difference? No. I can see getting used to this new viewpoint. Was it a necessary and effective change? Probably not.
And, really, that's the most relevant question: were the changes made both necessary and effective? Did Trendy have to swap from the traditional control scheme to the slightly more awkward WASD mode of control? Does designing a MOBA that exclusively uses consumables promote accessibility, or is it simply an attempt by Trendy to distinguish itself from an ever-growing set of competitors?
In Trendy's defense, its competitive mode is a decent marriage between what makes Dungeon Defenders work and the trappings of the genre. However, there's a lot to be said for wantonly stripping out and stripping down features. Games like Awesomenauts and Smite both had the right ideas about things but I'm still not so sure if there's anything to defend about Trendy's encroachment into the muddy waters of the MOBA.
Trendy Entertainment is planning a staggered release of Dungeon Defenders 2. The cooperative mode of the game goes into beta late this year or early 2014, and the competitive mode is currently in closed beta. Read more on the Dungeon Defenders 2 FAQ.
Dungeon Defenders is a fun co-op action tower defense game. Dungeon Defenders II, announced today by Trendy Entertainment, is that idea give or take everything that's happened in PC gaming over the past three years. It's free-to-play with cross-platform multiplayer (PC, Mac, iOS, Android, and Web), and it's launching in two parts: a new competitive MOBA mode that's in closed beta now and will be playable at PAX East this week in Boston, and an update to the cooperative defense mode of the original, which is scheduled for beta late this year or early next. So, not much has changed.
The competitive mode, which Trendy happily labels a MOBA, is taking beta signups right now. It will initially feature just one 5v5 map, but on the hero side Trendy anticipates it will have amassed 24 to choose from by launch. Some of those will be paid heroes, but the rotating selection of free heroes is expected to match "similar free-to-play games." Meaning League of Legends, of course.
And, as is now standard practice when announcing F2P games, Trendy already has an answer for the question: "Is the game pay-to-win?"
"Of course not!" reads the official FAQ. "As of this moment in development, everything sold in the game is obtainable through play. Furthermore, all stat giving items are awarded only through play, not pay. Like many other games in the genre though, you will be able to purchase boosts that will let you level faster or find better cosmetics."
But why make a cooperative game into a MOBA in the first place? Answer us that, Trendy!
"During the development of Dungeon Defenders we constantly tried different multiplayer modes. Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, you name it. None of them really fit. When planning the sequel, we couldn’t drop the idea that a MOBA in the Dungeon Defenders universe would rock. Maybe it was all the after hour games of League we played in the office. We don’t know. But it fit well into the storyline and achieved a core goal of helping Dungeon Defenders players meet new players, so we went all in."
Oh, well that makes sense. But what makes it different from League of Legends and Dota 2? Don't have an answer for that, do you?
"Our take on the MOBA genre is more rpg-esque, with more hero customization, persistent hero leveling, loot and a town square where players can socialize, manage their heroes, shop, trade, and queue for matches. We’ve drastically simplified the item system, to reduce the learning curve for new players and are aiming for shorter total match times. We’re also experimenting with some other unique twists that you might find out about later (if they work!)."
Alright fine, announce your game with plenty of details and jump straight into closed beta like some kind of indie game studio that communicates frankly and only when it has something to show. See if that works. And while you're at it, why not promise a gameplay reveal in the announcement post? Schedule it for this Friday, maybe? Yeah, I thought you would, and now I guess have to get real excited about it with no need for sarcasm, because it actually is pretty exciting.
I'm not a big MOBA fan, so I'm more excited to see more of Dungeon Defenders' original co-op, but I'm willing to give the competitive mode a chance while I wait. What say you?