Within the seemingly limitless categories and sub-genres used to classify video-games, everyone has their favourites, whilst others are looked on with disdain. For my household there is one, somewhat niche, group of games that is particularly relevant; this category is one I like to call "Games that can hold my girlfriend's interest for a significant period of time". This slowly growing selection of titles, previously dominated by the good folks from PopCap, now has a new champion - Dungeon Defenders.
Assuming you haven't been sent running at the thought of playing a game enjoyed by a member of the female persuasion, you may be interested to learn that Dungeon Defenders isn't a fluffy 'casual' game filled with ponies and rainbows, but rather another interpretation in the current surge of tower-defense games.
Continuing the trend for thrusting the player character in amongst the action; what makes Dungeon Defenders different is that the game is as much loot-heavy, Diablo-lite action RPG, as it is traditional tower-defense. The basic premise remains true to the tower-defense mould; build your defenses in order to protect your core against increasingly powerful waves of enemies, whilst the character progression means you'll keep coming back for more, in search of better loot.
Players have a choice of four characters, each with their own specialties and defenses: the Apprentice is a classic mage-type character (even down to resembling Final Fantasy's Black Mages), capable of summoning the usual assortment of towers of varying strength, ranges and rate of fire, some of which are imbued with a specific elemental attack; the Squire prefers to get up close and personal with his trusty sword, with his defenses being primarily short-range barricades with physical attacks.
The Huntress and Monk characters are a somewhat different prospect: rather than physical towers, players place traps and auras respectively, which deal damage or provide buffs/debuffs over a particular radius. As such, it can be difficult for these characters to build up sufficient defenses on their own. Thankfully, it is possible to switch characters during the build phases, allowing players the option to deploy one class' towers whilst playing the combat phases as another - so much so that it's common for players to level the Huntress as a pure DPS class.
Players are likely to struggle to hold all the potential attack routes on their own, even with the ample firepower on offer, which is why the game is intended to be played as a co-op experience; getting the perfect balance of each character's abilities can turn a once overrun chokepoint into a killing field capable of protecting itself without any human assistance. Anyone who has a particular aversion to gaming with strangers will be pleasantly surprised to learn that split-screen multiplayer is available on all platforms; yes, even PC!
Every kill results in a mana gem being dropped, which is then used as currency throughout the game; from building defenses and using special abilities, to buying and upgrading equipment in the between mission tavern. Once enemy waves start approaching the hundreds, high traffic areas quickly turn into sparkly, multi-coloured blankets of death-filed joy; especially when the whirling-dervish that is the Squire's Slice N Dice comes into play.
The 13 levels vary in style and layout, from the simple beginnings of the Deepest Well, to the wide open Summit at the top of the castle; via the tight corridors of the Servant's Quarters and everything in between, each level keeps the action fresh and challenging. Every fourth level climaxes with a boss battle, with just seconds to repair and regroup following the final wave before the onslaught resumes; endlessly spawning minions results in frantically trying to balance downing the boss, whilst still holding the existing defensive positions.
In addition to replaying maps over a range of difficulty levels, a number of different play modes are also available; Survival and Pure Strategy extend gameplay beyond the regular limit up to 25-30 attack waves (depending on platform), with Pure Strategy differing by removing the player's ability to attack, build or repair during the combat phases. Once completed, each map can also be played in a unique Challenge mode, requiring the player to fight against a single enemy type or with specific conditions such as a moving core.
If all the potential hours spent beating every map and challenge on every mode isn't enough for you, then you may be happy (or enraged) to hear that developer Trendy Entertainment has a four-part DLC series lined up; the first part of which is already available. PC gamers have been given a little bit of special treatment, with some additional festive themed skins and Challenge maps available to purchase; along with alternate gender-swapped versions of the regular characters, complete with differing special abilities. As yet there is no confirmation of when (or even, if) these will be brought to the consoles - infer what you will with regards to development priorities and/or the relative DLC policies of the three platforms.
Even without the full compliment of DLC, you're pretty much guaranteed tens of hours worth of enjoyment for less than £10; which in the current financial climate isn't a deal to be sniffed at. There will be many out there put off by the inherent 'grinding' nature of the game needed to progress through harder difficulty levels, and the fact that the game will absolutely punish you if you dare to try and play on your own; however I speak from personal experience when I tell you that the only true introduction to the absolute chaos, is to combine a group of friends, a quantity of alcohol and zero experience to create pure, beautiful madness incarnate.
- Wonderful festival of colour surpasses 'next-gen brown'
- Action with the frantic turned up to 11
- Loot, loot and more loot
- Chaotic co-op fun of the highest order
- Will require a distinct amount of grinding to compete at higher difficulties
- Unbalanced for solo play