Dungeon Defenders Review

By Jason D'Aprile - Posted Oct 31, 2011

A downloadable mix of tower defense and action role-playing, Dungeon Defenders leaps from mobile devices to the big screen with surprising style and a focus on four-player cooperative gameplay.

The Pros
  • Engaging mix of role-playing, tower defense, and hack n' slash
  • Fun, colorful graphics
  • Excellent four-player action
The Cons
  • Rough for the single player
  • Interface is a bit cluttered
  • Gameplay doesn't vary much

Dungeon Defenders Review:

There’s a good chance Dungeon Defenders looks familiar, as it was released last year on the iPhone and Android devices. Don’t let that be a deterrent though. This was one of the very first Unreal-powered mobile games, but more importantly, it’s by no means some physics-based puzzler or simple tower defense game.

 

Must Defend!

Indeed, Dungeon Defenders isn’t a simple anything. Part tower defense and part action/RPG, this is a frenetic multiplayer-centric fantasy game that will task even hardened players with staying alive and using cooperative strategy to the fullest. While it’s certainly possible to play the game alone, there’s no doubt the design is focused on four-player fun.

For single players, this adventure about four kids trying to defend their castle while all the grown-ups are out saving the world is an exercise in patience, frustration, and trial and error. Playing alone on just the medium difficulty level is punishing, and the special challenge levels will prove nearly impossible without help.

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Meet Your New Best Friends

That said, the game is still a lot of fun in general and grinding through alone will certainly help bump up your character’s stats, items, and abilities. There are four different classes in Dungeon Defenders, but the sorcerer’s apprentice and knight’s squire are the easiest to handle. In the planning stages, they can lay down things like defensive towers and spike-laden barricades. In combat mode, they’re the most powerful in straight-up fights.

The crossbow-wielding huntress can build traps with denotation counters and she requires considerably more strategy to use. The monk (who seems to have escaped from the Last Airbender) uses magical auras that do cool things like slow monsters, cause them consistent damage while in the field, and even turn monsters against each other.

The latter classes are definitely most effective as part of a team, but all the classes have an amazing level of cooperative refinement. Each class compliments the other and when all four are together, players can work out some of the most intriguing and thought-provoking strategies seen in a cooperative game. Over the course of the 13 main levels (each with an accompanying challenge level), players will need all the strategy they can get, as the game seldom lets up once the monsters are unleashed.

Dungeon Defenders

Think Defensively. . .and Offensively

The basic structure of Dungeon Defenders is simple though. Each level consists of multiple monster waves, where players must defend the level’s eternia crystal. The crystal is a massive gem radiating magical energy that, apparently, makes monsters really angry at the mere sight of it. To that end, each round consists of a planning phase—where players lay down defensive structures and traps to help stem the tide of monsters who pop in through specific doors on the map.

Once the defenses are set up, combat mode is activated and it’s hacking time. Like the recent Orcs Must Die!, Dungeon Defenders doesn’t rely solely on its towers to thwart the enemies. Instead the heroes must get down and dirty and take out whatever monsters their defenses can’t. All the while, characters are earning experience, gathering loot and items, and growing more powerful.

Between levels, the game uses its tavern location as a meeting place for players. Here, players can choose the specifics of the game they want to dive into next, organize their inventory, sell items, buy services and items, and even acquire a pet. Pets not only fight, but increase the stats of their owner, so while they’re really expensive, the little buggers are worth it.

Dungeon Defenders

Unreal Defense

Dungeon Defenders uses a very colorful, almost cartoonish visual style. The little heroes look cute, the monsters are more goofy then horrible, and there are great looking shiny effects on everything. Levels aren’t huge, but are certainly large enough to make the game challenging. While the original mobile versions were impressive, the game looks a whole lot better on a console.

Similarly, the controls feel much more natural with a real control pad. The array of rotary menus is easier to access and control, and characters respond much more precisely than earlier releases of the game. The game’s interface is still a tad on the cluttered side, and the auto camera doesn’t always track right, but these are fairly minor quibbles.

The biggest issue some might find is simply one of expectations. Dungeon Defenders lays out its maps like a tower defense game. Players defend a confined area from a set number of monster waves, then move on to the next map to do it again. There’s no adventure game-like exploration—just tactically laying out defenses and then fighting off the waves. So, those who can’t stand grinding will likely find the game tedious.

Dungeon Defenders

Dungeon Fun

For everyone else though—and especially lovers of intelligent, cooperative play—Dungeon Defenders gets high marks for both a charming presentation and engaging, challenging gameplay. While it’s a questionable single-player affair, the game is a four-player riot that manages to force players to think smartly and hack bravely together.