What better way to spend the Halloween season than trapping yourself in a dungeon, fending off wave after wave of ogres, walking skeletons, evil elf mages, and goblins? Indie developer Trendy Entertainment hopes you’ll do just that with its first title, Dungeon Defenders, a hybrid RPG/tower defense game for Steam, Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network. Dungeon Defenders is already available for iOS devices and select Android smartphones. I’ve already spent some time playing with the Android version of the game, and while the mobile and console versions are similar, there are enough enhancements for me to recommend the console version over its mobile counterparts even for players that have gone through it already.
The goal of each stage of Dungeon Defenders is to protect your crystal(s) from being attacked by waves of monsters. The tower defense aspect of the game allows you to place defensive items all along the route from the enemies’ spawn points to your crystal. Each class of hero — Apprentice (magic), Squire (melee), Huntress (ranged), and Monk (mixed) — has a different way of defeating the enemy. For example, a Squire can use spiked barricades and ranged harpoon crossbows, while the Huntress can place explosives on the ground that detonate whenever an enemy walks over it. The game can be played solo or with others, although Defenders really shines when you’ve got allies working with you.
Going through the campaign or any of the bonus challenge missions can be tough by yourself. I had a hell of a time managing my “towers” as well as jumping into the fray when my defenses began failing. Because actions like setting up barricades takes time (longer when I’m actually in combat), having someone watching my back made a world of difference. The good news is that any mana (money) collected is not shared; I got to keep it all to myself and spent it however I liked.
When I played with others, we gave ourselves specific portions of the map to defend, alleviating the pressure on having just one hero run around and do everything. Tactics can be better executed (provided you’re actually communicating with your team), defenses can be properly set up, and bosses were made easier when I had a buddy by my side. The downside is that the mana pool is shared, meaning that the game doesn’t drop extra mana just because there’s more people around to use it. We had to be economical with what traps or defenses go where.
Once your hero has killed enough baddies and earned enough points, they level up. Just like in almost any RPG, your points can be spent upgrading things like health, damage dealt, and how effective towers are. Your weapons and armor, too, can be upgraded at the cost of mana. It’s also good to experiment with different equipment, as some give elemental bonuses and some don’t, or any number of other factors that effect performance.
On the technical side, the game is very pretty. Running on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3, the graphics look crisp and vibrant. The frame rate also holds steady throughout, even in split-screen local co-op mode with dozens of enemies on the screen and lighting and environmental tricks in full effect. The game isn’t perfect, however. On the console side, navigating menus with the face buttons can get confusing (no way to simply highlight your choice with the D-pad and pressing “A” or “X”). The camera can also use a little work. I prefer playing with the camera set to an over-the-shoulder viewpoint, but the game likes to default to an isometric top-down style. I found that this limited my field of view and made it hard to pinpoint threats in the distance.
Dungeon Defenders is a fantastic title, and not just for lovers of tower defense-style games. There’s a great mix of twitch, arcade-like gameplay, and hardcore strategy, not to mention that gamers who like to customize their characters and style of play will find this worthy of their time and money. Dungeon Defenders will be available over Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points and PC and PSN for $14.99. The mobile version, Dungeon Defenders: First Wave, is out now in the iTunes App Store for $2.99 and the Android Marketplace for free (the sequel, Second Wave, is $9.99).