It's been two years since Dungeon Defenders' quartet of child heroes saved the color-saturated world of Etheria with a mixture of tower defense and action RPG hacking, slashing and shooting. Since 2011, the Squire, Apprentice, Monk and Huntress have all grown into taller, lankier teenagers. Dungeon Defenders 2's tower defense fusion has grown up with them.
I donned the Apprentice's floppy wizard hat for a preview of Dungeon Defenders 2 with Trendy Entertainment's lead content designer Daniel Haddad and marketing director Philip Asher. The build we played represented only four months of work for Trendy, so it was completely focused on "core mechanics": Building towers and killing a whole bunch of armored orcs and skittering goblins. That focus came with a frank admission from Asher: the action RPG/tower defense combo didn't entirely work in the first game, and they want to do better.
In the first Dungeon Defenders, tower defense was fun. The combat was playable, if a bit mindless. But the two didn't gel at all. The camera would pull up into an awkward overhead perspective when you built towers, which also had to be selected from an equally awkward series of radial pop-up menus (though keyboard shortcuts did help). Aside from building, upgrading, and repairing, there was no interaction between players and towers.
A new trait system is part of Trendy's solution to that separation. In Dungeon Defenders 2, towers, hero equipment, and abilities can be assigned traits--freezing damage, for example--that affect enemies. A new Apprentice tower shoots flames that spread from enemy to enemy; if someone douses those enemies with oil, they'll take much more damage. Frozen enemies can be shattered. The Apprentice can also launch a tornado spell that knocks enemies into the air, where they're bombarded by devastating shots from anti-air towers that would normally ignore them.
Before I tried out the new tower/ability combinations, I spent a few minutes running around our preview map, a small village with multiple entrances, admiring the sequel's new look. Dungeon Defenders 2 is gorgeous. The first game's charmingly garish bloom and heavy black outlines are gone, and the new color palette is more pastel. Other than The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, I can't think of a game that looks more like an honest-to-god cartoon.
Dungeon Defenders 2 feels good, too. Asher said that the developer put a ton of work into improving basic combat mechanics for the sequel, and it shows. For example, in the first game, the young Squire swung his sword back and forth with each click of a mouse button, but there was no finesse or weight to his attacks. The same back-forth animation looped forever as he ran through mobs of enemies dishing out damage without much feedback. Trendy nicknamed it the lawnmower effect.
There's no lawnmowing in Dungeon Defenders 2. The teenaged Squire and Monk now perform attack combos with a series of animations for sword/staff swings. Trendy wants melee combat to be more third-person brawler, less landscaping. The animation improvements extend to the other characters as well; when I held down the right mouse button to charge up the Apprentice's magic shot, he held his staff behind him and then snapped it forward to unleash the blast.
The strategic build phase--planning out tower placement, collecting resources from chests scattered throughout the map, fortifying defenses--remains mostly unchanged. However, Trendy split the first game's currency, mana, into two resources: One for casting hero abilities, and one for constructing, repairing, and upgrading towers.
And here's a big change: There's no longer a limit to the number of towers you can build in a map. According to Asher, the first game's build limit marginalized the strategic choice between building more towers and upgrading them to be more powerful. That will be a common choice in the sequel. Because using abilities is now a big focus of combat, and there are no build limits, both resources feel more valuable.
On top of making combat deeper, Trendy's introducing varied objectives and more opportunities for strategy into the tower defense framework. In the map we played, enemies came through a large set of gates in the middle of the map, while smaller gates let in more enemies from the sides. Where there were once generic Eternia crystals to defend, there are now main objectives and sub-objectives. On this map, the two sub-objectives were locks that opened up more gates for enemies to flow through. During the final round, we made the tactical decision to sell our defenses near the sub-objectives and pull them back to the main gate, which we had to defend at any cost.
Some of Trendy's small improvements do a lot to smooth out their tower defense/action RPG formula. The camera never leaves its behind-the-back perspective, even when placing towers. Building towers mid-combat no longer locks you helplessly in place, as heroes can still move and attack within a small radius as a tower is being built or repaired. Flying enemies now use AI to choose a target instead of beelining for a predetermined Eternia crystal.
Ultimately, the most encouraging thing about Dungeon Defenders 2 is how candidly Trendy's devs talked about the first game's problems. And there were a lot of problems, though they didn't prevent the game from being fun or addicting--according to Steam, I played 112 hours of it. DLC releases were geared towards higher difficulty levels, so players who were away from the game for a few weeks could come back and find themselves hopelessly behind. Loot scaling was so steep, only grinding for hours on the highest difficulties produced the best gear.
Every issue I could think of Asher admitted to, or even brought up first. Trendy Entertainment has gone through some adolescent growing pains of its own over the past year; when the developer first announced Dungeon Defenders 2 back in March, it was confusingly divided into a cooperative tower defense like the original, to be released at some point in the future, and a MOBA, which went into beta in the spring. The two would share characters and, supposedly, some form of progression.
But the MOBA was a dud, and Asher admitted that the studio grew so quickly after Dungeon Defenders' success, they ended up chasing the MOBA genre's popularity and making a game no one in the studio really wanted to make. So they scrapped it--all of it, with the exception of their new teenage hero character designs--and started over.
From what I played, I can't say how Dungeon Defenders 2 will improve upon the original's loot mechanics or character progression, or how well Trendy will vary its stages with creative objectives. Those are the elements that will make Dungeon Defenders 2 a 200-hour addiction instead of another 20-hour tower defense game.
Trendy is at least saying all the right things. Traits applied to weapons will affect how attacks animate and injure enemies. An ability hotbar at the bottom of the screen is the only hint of MOBA design in the cooperative mode, and each character will supposedly have multiple abilities to fill out that bar--there could be some very cool tower/attack combinations if they deliver on this front. Lead content designer Daniel Haddad talked about a metagame that would organize the community into taking on challenges together to push the Dungeon Defenders 2 story forward. Campaign missions will not be selected via a boring menu, this time around.
There's still one big wildcard left: How Trendy will implement F2P monetization into their game. Asher was adamant that the core gameplay would be there even if you didn't spend a dime. The good news is that Trendy plans to launch Dungeon Defenders 2 in open beta in the first quarter of 2014 and let fans influence the F2P structure. There will definitely be heroes beyond the core four, but how many, and how much will they cost? Until the beta launches it's too soon to say.
One thing's for sure: Dungeon Defenders 2 will still come packing a challenge. Haddad casually mentioned that the build we were playing was easier than the final game, since all of our objectives returned to full health between waves. We still lost on the last wave, to the final three enemies, who hammered our main gate into submission before we could deliver the killing blows. I left the demo thinking about how we could've set up our defenses more efficiently. Next time, I'll be ready.
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?
Don't worry, the Humble Bundle for Android 5 may name-check Google's telephonic operating system but, in typically Humble fashion, the latest round-up of pay-what-you-want indie games is available for PC, Mac and Linux too. This version of cross-platform indie pick 'n mix includes four games as standard, with another two available to those who beat the average. Among them is the excellent Super Hexagon.
Joining Terry Cavanagh's geometric avoid 'em up are music based schmup Beat Hazard Ultra, 2D action adventure Dynamite Jack, physics toybox Solar 2, and atmospheric puzzle platformer NightSky. You'll also get Dungeon Defenders plus its DLC for paying more than the current average.
As always, your payment can be split a variety of ways between the individual developers, the charities EFF and Child's Play and the Humble Bundle organisers. Pay over $1, and you'll also receive Steam keys for all of the games.
Now there's even more reason to use that holiday cash Aunt Myrtle sent you on something charitable. The ongoing Humble Indie Bundle 7 has just expanded its indie game offerings to include The Basement Collection of Flash games, the action puzzle platformer Offspring Fling, and the retro 2D platformer Cave Story. The original bundle was packed with indie hits Snapshot, Closure, The Binding of Isaac and its Wrath of the Lamb DLC, Shank 2, Dungeon Defenders and its DLC, Legend of Grimrock, and the documentary Indie Game: The Movie. So, for the next six days, you can snatch up nine full games and one movie for a price that's absurdly close to free.
If you haven't done a Humble Bundle before, here's how it works: You can donate any amount of money and receive Snapshot, Closure, The Binding of Isaac, Shank 2, and Indie Game: The Movie. But if you pay more than the average ($6.41 as of this writing), you'll also get Dungeon Defenders, Legend of Grimrock, The Basement Collection, Offspring Fling, and Cave Story. The folks at Humble Bundle estimate the total value of this collection at $170. You can even choose how you'd like to have your payment divided between the developers and the two benefiting organizations, Child's Play Charity and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
For more information on the games included in the bundle, check out the trailer for Humble Indie Bundle 7 here.
The seventh Humble Indie Bundle is upon us, just in time for the holidays. For whatever cash you've got left over after your shopping's done you get a slew of indie winners that include The Binding of Isaac, bloody platformer Shank 2, the surreal Closure, the gross-tastic Binding of Isaac (and its Wrath of the Lamb DLC), and colorful sidescroller Snapshot.
You'll also get the Indie Game: The Movie documentary, and clearing the average price—$5.87 as of this writing—gets you the excellent Legends of Grimrock and Dungeon Defenders (plus included DLC). That's the holiday spirit!
The bundle's organizers introduce each game with terribly hilarious puns in the trailer below.
Unlike A MAJOR PUBLISHER, the Indie Royale guys actually know what the word "indie" means. Their latest colon-tastic bundle includes Dungeon Defenders, Containment: The Zombie Puzzler, Data Jammers: FastForward, Brainpipe - A Plunge to Unhumanity and Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space. You also get a few extras: Dr. Blob's Organism, and the VooDoo Interface and Temporal Logic Grid Blues OSTs.
Games are provided in their Steam and Desura forms, apart from Weird Worlds which isn't on Steam, weirdly. The current price stands at £3.14, but you can pay more than £4.32 to get Starscream's album Future, Towards the Edge of Forever.
Trendy Entertainment, creator of action tower defense game Dungeon Defenders, is offering a cash prize of $1000 (about £620) for the winner of its first map contest, as well as inclusion of the map in the game's ranked and open modes. The contest will also award $500 (£310) to the second place winner, $250 (£155) for third, and a "DunDef prize pack" for all winners. The official rules have been posted to Trendy's forums, and the Dungeon Defenders Development Kit can be downloaded as free DLC on Steam.
Trendy is asking for "people of all experience" to participate, and suggests starting with a how-to guide in its forums. Once submitted, the entries will be evaluated both by the community and a panel of judges.
The contest is not strictly limited by age or region, though Trendy cautions that to claim the cash prize you must "meet the age requirements for your state and country," so keep that in mind. Also note that Trendy will own the winning map so that it can safely include it in the game. Entries must be maps which haven't been previously released, and the deadline for submissions is June 21 at 11:59 p.m. EST.
What better way to break open today's toughest campaign issues than the imminent threat of becoming demon food? The just-released President's Day Surprise DLC for Dungeon Defenders unlocks four new skins, including President Obama and Mitt Romney, then sets you up to battle for points while avoiding a giant patriotic demon. Of course you'll also be fighting your fellow players, and at some point Michelle Obama will probably use a machine gun to rain lead pain down on George Washington. If only every presidential debate was this entertaining.
The free DLC unlocks more than just democratic mayhem. Two new pets (a Democrat Donkey and Republican Elephant) and two new weapons are also added. Would-be dungeon debaters can pick up their boxing gloves via Steam.