It’s no secret among gamers that some of the greatest titles around come from some of the most unlikely places. I need not mention Minecraft, but I will. And if you want to get PS3-specific, then you can’t deny that Warhawk was an absolutely cracking downloadable PS3 title in its day.
Stepping in with more than its fare share of greatness is Dungeon Defenders, a game which has been available on the PC since late October 2011 and is making its debut on the PS3, complete with 3D-TV and Move support. Dungeon Defenders started as one of the first Unreal Engine titles on iOS and has blossomed into one of the best games I’ve had the pleasure of playing (read: getting hopelessly addicted to).
Dungeon Defenders fuses 3 genres; button-mashing action, grind-fest RPG and strategic tower-defense into one coherent and playable game which blends enough of each genre to create a disturbingly addictive whole. At first the idea of button mashing and the RPG grind might put you off, but these things are so seamlessly combined with the strategic tower defense aspect that there’s really never a dull moment to be had in Dungeon Defenders. Even leveling up a new character, or desperately trying to get your hands on enough mana to buy that pet you want becomes an adventure in strategic planning and experimentation; a chance to see just how different defense setups will perform.
The game revolves around 4 character types known as Heroes, the Apprentice, the Squire, the Monk and the Huntress, and a balanced co-op game will include one of each for their unique skills and defences. These four characters must defend one or more crystals, or overcome challenges to level up, gain items and earn mana.
The Apprentice is your basic ranged wizard-like character, suitable for beginners because of his well balanced and comparatively low-cost defences. He can throw up magic shields, magic missile towers and more. The Squire is a melee character first and foremost, and has some pretty formidable defences which typically have a short range or small angle of fire. His Slice-N-Dice Blockade does just that, and his Bowling Ball Turret makes stairs nigh-on impassable. The Monk is a mixed melee/ranged class with skills that benefit both defences and heroes. He has an assortment of Auruas which can damage enemies, heal players, or cause enemies to fight amongst themselves. Last, but not least, the Huntress is a ranged character who can lay a variety of short-range traps which slow down, burn or blow up enemies. She’s extremely useful for thinning out the mobs, and her Etherel Spike trap can really dish out the damage to Ogres.
On the PC, four additional character classes are available which are almost identical to the above only with different appearances and skills. The Adept, Countess, Initiate and Ranger generally just provide male or female opposites to the Apprentice, Squire, Monk and Huntress and their absence from the console version shouldn’t be considered much of a loss.
There are many modes of play, going from a hands-on approach where your well-equipped character is just as responsible for blowing away enemies as your defences, to a “Pure Strategy” mode in which you can only upgrade or move defences whilst in combat. On top of these there’s regular play, which involves a set number of waves of enemies which you must conquer to complete the level, plus boss levels to make things more interesting. These levels have difficulty settings from Easy to Insane, and you’ll want to complete all four for the best character progression.
If you get bored of playing through the game normally, you can dip out to do some challenge missions. These include Ogre Smash, where you must fend of waves of only Ogres and many more. Unfortunately, most of the challenge missions are aimed at around level 40 characters and aren’t easily conquered before you’ve done some serious levelling. Furthermore, some are also prone to exploitation with jammy strategies which make them far too easy; not that I’m complaining, of course, it’s nice to sit back and watch the cash/experience flow in sometimes.
Finally, there’s Survival mode. This is basically the same as regular play, only you’ll end up spending hours (lots of hours) on a single map fending off increasingly insane numbers of monsters. I think the largest we’ve come up against is ~6000. You don’t get all 6000 enemies on screen at once, however, so even if your defences are capable of slaughtering them quickly, you’re going to have to sit back and wait for them to dribble out a few hundred at a time. Survival mode is great for slightly more hardcore or addicted players, if you make it past wave 14 you’ll be rewarded with a stat boosting pet of a type unique to that level, and collecting the pet from each level is quite the completionists challenge.
In each mode you’re going to need to employ a certain degree of strategy, and there’s little avoiding that. The careful placement, maintenance and upgrading of towers, auras and traps is crucial to success and Dungeon Defenders is, as its name suggests, first and foremost a tower-defence game. When planning out your defence you’ve got to take into account several factors. Each defence has its strengths and weaknesses, mana cost and points cost. Each level has a total number of points you can reach before you can’t build any additional defences, and mana is scarce until the later waves. Once a defence tower, aura or trap is built or laid you can upgrade it through several levels. Each upgrade costs progressively more mana, starting at 100, then 200, 400, 700 and then 1220. You can only upgrade a tower if you can hold the amount of mana that upgrade costs, so at early levels you’ll not be able to upgrade at all. Upgrading defences is crucial to making the most of your points limit.
During the Combat phase you’ll need to keep an eye on your defences, repairing them or even replacing them where necessary. You can also build new ones if you’re not in Pure Strategy mode. Defence placement is key, too, because if an Aura or Trap is too far behind enemy lines to be repaired effectively it’ll soon wear out.
Dungeon Defence, unlike most tower defence games which seem to focus on creating long channels of towers which enemies must negotiate, is focussed on choke-points. These choke-points, narrow areas of the level which can easily be blocked off, are where most of your defences will be placed, and identifying these areas and best defending them is the mainstay of Dungeon Defenders strategy.
The RPG element of Dungeon Defenders is not approached lightly. You have a whole host of stats to pump points into, and you’ll get an increasing number of points as your levels get higher. Health, Damage, Speed and Casting Rate are your characters core stats, on top of these are two special abilities that are unlocked as you level up, plus 4 more stats which relate to the defences you can place. For the most part these translate to Defence Health, Defence Damage, Defence Attack Rate and Defence Range, however these have slightly different names/effects with the Traps of the Huntress class and the Auras of the Monk class.
Characters aren’t the only thing you can upgrade, though. Decent weapons and armour will generally have the capacity to level up. Simply spend an increasing amount of mana to gain each item level, and you can boost the benefits that a weapon or armour piece will give you. Pets can be levelled up in the same way, and there’s a certain amount of strategy and thought required when picking what character stats or abilities you want to pump. Most characters are a balance between their own melee/ranged damage and that of their defences, you’ve got to make the choice early on whether or not you want to be taking down enemies personally or letting your towers/traps/auras do the work. I’m still experimenting with this balance, my Squire is predominately melee but has a lot of bonus points to his defences through gear. My Apprentice focusses on defences and prefers to hang back and keep them repaired.
Overall, Dungeon Defenders is a varied experience blending some of the best elements of its core genres. If you remember Future Cop LAPD, the multiplayer versus mode in that is something I’d like to see translated to Dungeon Defenders. But otherwise, it’s very difficult to fault this game. The Survival mode gets a bit tiring after the first couple of hours, but it hasn’t stopped me playing yet… I guess I’m just addicted to grindtastic gaming.