What’s That Thar Tower Doin’ in Ma Dungeon? – Dungeon Defenders Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Once upon a time, Trendy Entertainment set out on a mystical quest to bring two game genres together: The tower defence of the north and the hack n’ slash RPG of the south. The end result of their epic adventure was Dungeon Defenders, a unique and expansive blend of both styles wrapped up in cell-shaded cuteness. How well do they come together, you ask? Well, sit back and I’ll spin the tale of this magical game…
Our story begins in the land of Etheria where four heroes once fought an ancient evil. After great battles, they sealed the evil inside of Eternia Crystals, thus saving the land. Time passed and the heroes were called away from their stronghold on a crusade, leaving their four kin to watch over the crystals. This, however, proved to be a mistake, as the young guardians accidentally break a crystal while horsing around calling forth goblins, orcs and the like to the castle in an attempt to break free the evil by destroying the Eternia Crystals. While the story feels like one we’ve heard before, it takes a backseat to gameplay with cutscenes only popping up here and there between chapters, so it’s hard to fault it.
Clichéd story aside, the game is a riot to play. There is a slightly large learning curve, but luckily, there is a fully interactive tutorial to help you master the controls and techniques quickly. First time in, you need to create a character and choose one of four character classes: the apprentice, who can build magical towers and barriers, and use ranged spells; the squire, a sword-wielding tank character with short range, high health defences; the huntress, the stealth and projectile class able to lay deadly traps; and the monk, who uses a staff and is capable of buffing allies and de-buffing enemies. After the class selection you customise your character’s appearance and that of their crystal, and start your first mission, either going solo or playing with up to three other players.
From the get-go, it’s obvious that the tower defence and hack n’ slash RPG elements are blended incredibly well. The concept has you, the player, defending the map’s Eternia Crystal from wave after wave of increasing enemies until the last opponent is defeated. Each wave has two phases: the build, with mostly tower defence elements, and the combat, where the game becomes more hack n’ slash oriented.
During the build phase, players can upgrade their character at the forge, build towers or traps wherever they desire as long as there is room, and generally take the time to plan. Each class type has its own defences, so having a balanced team online is important to survival on harder difficulties. You may create multiple heroes and swap them out at any time in the build phases, allowing you to mix and match defences if you decide to play solo. Once finished, players ready up at the crystal, the combat phase begins, and your foes enter to begin their assault on your crystal. Players must defend it via their placed defences and your character’s own attacks and special skills. You can still build during combat, but you become very vulnerable when doing so. The interesting blend of strategic building and hack n’ slash action is very fresh, setting it far apart from basic tower defence games.
The game’s RPG elements also deserve some credit. As usual, defeating enemies yields the traditional experience points; gain enough and you level up. For each progression, you’re awarded points to put into the parameters of your character, your defences, or find a balance between both. There are also weapons, armours, and pets (who will attack enemies) for you to pick up or buy and customise to suit your playstyle. Dungeon Defenders allows players to truly play how they want to and utilize their own strategies, instead of having a specific guaranteed way to win.
The game sports great replay-ability after your first run through. Aside from playing again on harder difficulties, there are challenges, modifier options, and competitive leaderboards to keep you interested. Some challenges include ‘no towers allowed’, which sees you fight each wave with your hero alone, and ‘warping core’ which makes your crystal jump location at random intervals, keeping you on your toes. Modifier options add difficulty to a basic mission, such as limiting your build time or disabling respawns. The amount of content packed into the downloadable title is impressive, increasing the chance that you’ll be sucked in for a long time.
All of these terrific gameplay mechanics are delivered in a cute, cell-shaded parcel, with the overall design scheme looking like something from a children’s cartoon. The cutscenes are completely done via 2D animation, bringing home the entire theme. While some may find this to be dissuasive, I found it made the game more accessible to casual gamers. Regardless of design, DD is visually impressive. Characters and maps have an incredible degree of care and polish to them, making everything smooth with no texture-pop to speak of. The frame rate is also spectacular, never slowing even when the screen is covered in defences and massive hordes of enemies.
The only two downfalls to an otherwise astounding visual experience are the menu system and some rare map design flaws. Although the actual menus themselves are well done, it’s the text that brings them down. While trying to select weapons and armour, the text describing the piece of equipment took over most of the menu, preventing me from seeing other items beside and around my current selection. The more buffs and info per item, the less can be seen. There are also some instances with level design blocking your view in-game. When one places a defence, your camera shifts to an overhead view, and in some instances ceiling decorations will obstruct your view. Simply moving can solve this problem, but during combat, when time is short, this can get you killed. While hardly wrecking the game, these two hiccups still take down from the otherwise well crafted graphics, if only slightly.
DD’s sound is on par with its video, giving an auditory performance that is a treat for the ears, with only minor flaws. There are only two true voice actors: the narrator and the pub-master. The narrator’s performance is great, capturing that traditional RPG story-teller sound, while the pub-master provides humorous commentary in the tavern between levels. Player’s characters make only basic grunts or celebratory cheers. While they’re not terrible, there could have at least been some basic voice work for characters to breathe more life into them, instead of relying on the narrator to speak for them in cutscenes. Sound effects are crafted with care, be it the swirling magic aura of a mage’s staff charging, the wood of a knight’s catapult squeaking as it fires, or the cries of foes as they fall. The musical score fits the fantasy settings perfectly, with the full, adventurous sound one would expect to hear in Lord of the Rings. Producing dark, ominous tones, or uplifting orchestral pieces, the soundtrack is one that may keep you from plugging in your Zune or iPod.
The tale of Etheria is one that needs to be experienced, even if only in trial form. The terrific blend of genres, addicting gameplay, lush visuals, and brilliant sound put the title in a realm of its own. With a price that’s right, Dungeon Defenders has all the right moves and spells to ensure your towers are defended, your hack has been slashed, and your role keeps being played again and again. My wizard cap comes off to Trendy Entertainment, as this is truly a happily ever after.
Final Score: 4.5 / 5.0
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