Review: Dungeon Defenders

Don’t buy Dungeon Defenders, it’s bad. Wait, come back. Trendy Entertainment’s brave attempt to blend tower-defence and third-person action adventure gameplay is admittedly, a total mess, but it’s a mess for some interesting reasons.

Dungeon Defenders borrows its basic gameplay from the tower defense maps for Warcraft III that we were all playing in 2002. You have a Precious Thing (a huge gem in this case) and a bunch of Evil Dudes spawn and walk along a path to smash it. If (when) they smash it, you lose.

To prevent said smashing you build structures that shoot the evil dudes. Killing dudes gets you money which can be used to build more towers, simple. The formula gets more complicated when you add things like flying enemies, different types of damage and enemy armour, mazes and tower upgrades. All of which, incidentally, were supported natively by the WC3 engine and have since become genre staples.

TD maps were extremely popular; there are literally thousands of these blasted things and people are probably still making them. The incredible rate of iteration grew the TD into a polished and mature genre before anyone ever made a cent off it.

Over time the key difference between a good tower defence map and a mediocre one became clear: no matter what gimmicks you use, you must provide every player with something meaningful to do. If one guy has enough towers to kill everything then there’s no reason for anyone else to play, and it is this simple rule that Dungeon Defenders trips over and subsequently face-plants a minefield. The result is a boring, imbalanced game with little room for individual strategy or expression.

The problem lies in DD’s main innovation: the addition of heroes that each player can control and level-up, RPG style, between rounds and use to whack the monsters mano y mano if the towers prove insufficient. It’s a neat idea that fails in practice because the developers screwed up the game’s economy and made at least two (possibly three) of the four hero types worthless.

Woops.

The game’s only resource is mana, which drops from killed enemies and treasure chests.

When you get some mana you can:

  1. Bank it to by equipment later (rarely used, most ‘money mana’ comes from selling items)
  2. Use it to build some towers or other defences.
  3. Use it to repair or upgrade the same.
  4. Activate some of your hero’s unique abilities
  5. Give it to a team-mate

Option number five is the important one, that’s why it’s in bold. Options two and four are different for each class. For example, the apprentice can build fireball towers and repair things in combat (very helpful) whereas the huntress can lay traps and fire projectiles that pierce multiple foes.

So the question becomes this: What if my team-mate has strictly better options for spending mana than I do? In that case (which, unless you’re playing apprentice or, perhaps, squire is every case) your optimal choice will always be number five, leaving you with nothing to do but hold down the attack button and weep for your lost childhood. Do you see the problem?

The intended trade-off is that the combat focused classes (huntress and monk) should be far more effective at thwacking monsters than the tower classes, enabling them to deal with the flying gargoyles and tougher boss enemies. Nope, towers annihilate everything and individual damage output is irrelevant when there are hundreds of enemies pouring through the maze towards your gem. The best strategy is always to find the choke points and build towers on them. How boring and reductive.

Everyone could play apprentice and tend their own little chokes, but at that point it essentially becomes a single player game, so why are you even bothering to include three other people?

Dungeon Defenders is the poorly-managed Korean MMO of tower-defence games. Its creators built a bunch of semi-functional systems and mashed them together with no regard for their compatibility. It’s actually quite an accomplishment when you consider that it could be fixed by simply making mana individually allocated and non-transferable. And giving the huntress the ability to, y’know, hurt things.

The only way the game could be worse is if it actually gave you cancer, a possibility that I refuse to rule out until my test results come back.

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About nooneiverse

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One Response to Review: Dungeon Defenders

  1. Pingback: Comedy Bronze 007 – Christopher Lee Kicks a Start | TPK

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