Originally release in 2010 by Trendy Entertainment as a handheld title for iOS and Android, Dungeon Defenders makes the leap up to full fledged home console release and does so with the kind of style few could have predicted. Despite the quality of the original, I’m always a little weary of games making the leap as I often feel like I’m paying over the odds just because it’s on XBLA or PSN, but in the case of Dungeon Defenders, even at a premium 1200MS Points, this game is an absolute steal. If truth be told, in terms of content, quality and production values, I would argue the case for this being released as a full retail product.
While there have been numerous tower defence hybrids released on XBLA in the last few years, Dungeon Defenders feels like a step up in quality for the sub-genre. Even amidst the undoubted class of titles such as Toy Soldiers, Monday Night Combat and the recently released, Orcs Must Die!, Dungeon Defenders goes straight to the top of the class thanks to its unparalleled depth, fantastic visuals and supremely competent gameplay.
Playing like a cross between Plants vs Zombies and Dungeon & Dragons, Dungeon Defenders mixes classic tower defence gamplay with basic combat and the kind of loot and character development usually reserved for the latest Diablo release. In fact, my only real complaint with Dungeon Defenders is that it can be an initially overwhelming experience. There are so many options for upgrading and so many ways to play that the initial learning curve is actually quite high, and, thanks to the clear emphasis on co-op play, will prove a continuously taxing experience for those going it alone.
That said though, once you do get to grips with the immense depth on offer, Dungeon Defenders is the kind of game that can steal away hours of your life without you even realising it. This has to be one of the most addictive, all-encompassing Xbox Live releases, well, ever I suppose.
I will warn you though, before you get to the goods, you’re going to have to put up with a pretty crummy intro movie that sets up the rather nonsensical Campaign Story. You are introduced to the world of Dungeon Defenders via basic art work and, like many games before it, some rather ugly character design. The characters are made up of a poorly conceived mix of fantasy archetypes and manga infused visual design. It looks rushed, simplistic and will prove far too familiar for those who have spent time with some of the recent dungeon crawlers on XBLA. Still, I guess it does the job of telling the otherwise unimportant story of your position as a group of children now tasked with defending both the land of Etheria and its precious collection of Eternia Crystals. You see, thanks to a bit of childish tomfoolery, the armies of darkness are now attacking your otherwise peaceful land, and with the parents off adventuring and that, it’s down to the kids to hold the fort.
Its utter nonsense and mercifully delivered in a pleasingly brief manner. The most important thing though, is that, despite the poorly drawn intro movie, when it come to the fully 3D game world, those previously shoddy looking characters suddenly come to life. Clearly based on rather standard fantasy characteristics, these half pint heroes really do look very good in the colourful, heavy lined world of Dungeon Defenders. With each character type linked to a speciality based on their basic weaponry and tower defence options, they all feel suitably distinct from one another beyond the obvious aesthetic differences. Be it the mage-like abilities of the Apprentice, the heavy armoured melee of the Squire, the sneaky defensive capabilities of the Huntress or the status-effecting traps of the Monk, Dungeon Defenders is a game that feels wholly unique based on the character class chosen.
When playing basic Campaign Mode, you are tasked with defending a static Eternia Crystal from an ever expanding number of enemies. The first rounds are usually pretty simplistic, but as you progress, the number and size of the enemies soon expands. Before each round, you have a period of time in which you can use you available Mana points to lay down defences and traps for the incoming enemies, while once battles actually commence, you get the opportunity to put your melee or long range attacks to good use. While in combat, you can also add additional reinforcements or regenerate your energy using Mana looted from fallen enemies and treasure chests scattered around each level – something that will prove essential as you progress through the latter stages of the game.
What really sets the game apart from its peers though, is the collection of weapons and armour found amongst the looted treasure chests and slain enemies. With tons of weapon and armour types, all of which can be individually upgraded, pets that assist in battle and an in-depth levelling system for both your character and your actual defences, this is arguably the most in-depth tower defence game ever created.
Adding to the game’s already impressive core depth is the myriad of game modes available. Outside of the basic Campaign mode, there is also a collection of Challenge Missions that see the Eternia Crystal move location as you battle, a Horde-like mode that has you up against an infinite collection of enemies attacking your position and a classic tower defence, pure strategy mode that does away with physical attacks, leaving success down to careful planning and defence placement. Add to that the brilliant online co-op for up to four players and the hub tavern that allows you to buy and sell new items and show off your achievements and awards to friends and strangers alike, and you’re looking at one of the most epic packages of any game released this year……and that includes full retail releases.
The real icing on the cake though, is the games visuals. In complete contrast to the poorly drawn intro movie, the in-game graphics rarely fail to impress. With its bright colours and thick black outlines that almost give the game a cell-shaded appearance, Dungeon Defenders stands as one of the better looking XBLA titles currently available. The look is slightly cartoonish, but it is a perfect fit for the gameplay and is home to some very cool character design. From a technical standpoint too, Dungeon Defenders once again proves itself a class act. Even with what seems like hundreds of enemies on screen at any one time, there is rarely, if ever, a hint of slowdown. Simply put – Dungeon Defenders is a class act.
If you have any interest in the tower defence genre, you owe it to yourself to try this game out. It may be a little overwhelming at the start and the emphasis on co-op might put a few lone wolves off the experience, but if you can live with that, Dungeon Defenders will provide one of the most intense, polished and addictive gaming experiences of 2011.
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