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.