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Dungeon Defenders [REVIEW]

Dungeon Defenders: Released October 19th, 2011
Developer: Trendy Entertainment
Platforms: Windows, Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network

Every once in awhile we happen across games that completely catch us by surprise. Maybe it was a game we’d never heard of before and just happened to see at a buddy’s house, or maybe it was something we expected to have a little mild fun with, only to have it turn around and absolutely shatter our expectations. Regardless of what events lead us to finding these titles, I think we can all agree that it’s a pretty magical experience when we do, and having just finished almost an entire day straight of playing Dungeon Defenders, I can honestly say that this game had me utterly enchanted.

Dungeon Defenders takes two of my favorite (and most addicting) genres, Tower Defense and the Action RPG, and smacks them together into sweet, sweet harmony. Tower Defense games are an unhealthy habit for me, as I tend to love them just a little too much, but when a developer successfully marries Tower D. to another of my favorite genres, I just lose it. It’s a rare occurrence, only ever notably happening in games like Sanctum and to a lesser extent, Monday Night Combat. Indie developers have always been inextricably drawn to the genre of defending towers, so it seems appropriate that they seem to be the ones to really push the genre in new directions, first with those previously mentioned titles, and now with this game.

You start by choosing one of four classes, essentially a mage, a knight, an archer, and a monk. Each class has their own type of attack, their own attributes for move speed, attack speed, etc, their own special abilities, and perhaps most importantly, each class has their own set of buildings. They range from your traditional magic missile style towers, to blockades, and even to traps that can be set out behind enemy lines by the Huntress. The Squire in particular has some notably brutal melee towers that I’ve grown quite fond of in my time with the game.

In addition to having four completely unique characters to choose from, you can also level them up, putting points into improving their stats, or improving the stats of their buildings. There’s alot of freedom to build your character around whatever playstyle you prefer. Dungeon Defenders also has a loot system built in to it. Randomized equipment will drop from fallen enemies and you can also find various items in treasure chests that spawn between waves. Add to this the fact that you can also purchase pets at the in-game tavern shop, and you begin to see there’s a multitude of methods available to you so that you may craft your character as you see fit. In fact, I’d say it feels very much like a Diablo game in that I end up replaying levels over and over again at higher difficulties just to find better and better loot.

That being said, all of these options would be woefully useless if the game itself wasn’t any fun to play. Thankfully, that’s absolutely not the case here, if you hadn’t already gleaned as much from the review up until now. At first the characters felt a little floaty, and the camera seemed a little off-putting, but it took only a few minutes to get used to. Controls are responsive and intuitive, during combat the camera automatically swoops down to an over the shoulder view so you get a good view of the action, and overall the controls work great. I’m not sure what it was that made them seem a little clunky when I first started, but I quickly adapted and gameplay in Dungeon Defenders has become second nature at this point.

If you’ve ever played a Tower Defense game before, you know how this works. You set up defenses along various choke-points throughout the level, then waves of enemies do their damndest to skip and hop their way to whatever it is you’re trying to protect, in this case a giant crystal. The levels, of which there are many, are excellent. They all have distinct styles and layouts, and the developers did an outstanding job designing them in such ways that they really stood out from one another. In fact, on that note I’d like to point out that the art style for the entire game is absolutely beautiful. The colors are vibrant, the character models are charming, and it all feels very rich and alive. That being said, it is almost completely devoid of originality, making good use of the standard high fantasy staples, such as orcs, goblins, dragons, wizards, etc, but it looks damn good doing it. It’s true that you may have seen them all before, but the visuals are so genuinely appealing and the designs so well crafted, you won’t even care. Dungeon Defenders looks downright outstanding no matter what way you look at it.

Finally, I just have to mention the replay value because this game has it in spades. The two to four player co-op is an absolute ball to play, and will likely be the biggest draw for many gamers out there. Especially the local play co-op, which more and more games seem to be ditching this generation for whatever unfortunate reason. This game is golden as a single player title, but pure platinum when you’ve got a group of friends to play with. Add in the various game modes, leveling up each of the unique classes, hunting for more powerful loot, challenging the higher difficulties, and how each level has it’s own distinct feel, and you’ve got a helluva lot of content available to you. For a mere $15, this game packs a mean punch, and offers so much more content than most of the “full” $60 retail games that have come out lately, it’s almost comical. They even threw some giant boss battles in to the campaign mode to mix things up, just for good measure, and that’s not to say anything of the multitude of challenge levels available to play after you’ve dominated the main story mode!

When I got this game, I thought it looked pretty cool. I thought to myself, “It’s great they included local co-op! Now me and my girlfriend will have another game to play when we’re hangin out around the house. And hey, I’m sure it will be a fun pick up and play game every now and then too!” I had no idea how utterly in love I was about to fall for this game. I absolutely did not intend to write a review for it either, but so strong are my feelings for this title, that instead of dropping dead in my bed after finally putting the controller down, I immediately went to my computer to type up this review, because this is a game that must be shared. It may not be as under the radar as many of the other titles I plan on reviewing on here, but it’s small enough, and it deserves the attention.

If you’re a fan of Action RPG or Tower Defense games, or even better, both, then you need to play this game. It’s a gem, and I am still completely in shock at how addicting and enjoyable it turned out to be. If you’re on the fence, just take the dive. I know from experience, this game can, and most likely will, surprise you.

[Author’s note: This review was actually written many weeks ago, but due to some unforeseen hang-ups in the real world, I have been unable to post it, or anything else for that matter. Regardless, I just wanted to mention that I am still playing this game. A month later, I have spent countless hours leveling, looting, and grinding in Dungeon Defenders. It really is a charming game, and the more I play it, the more I tend to compare it to my time with Diablo. While I wouldn’t rank it quite so highly as Diablo itself, it has that same feeling while I’m playing it, and it is still great fun with friends. Also worthy of mention, my girlfriend has fallen head over heels for this game. She even went so far as to purchase her own copy so she can play it when my 360 in unavailable. So, if you’re looking for a good co-op title to try and get the lady in to, all the more reason to give Dungeon Defenders a look!]

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