Dungeon Defenders was quite a big success, and though I missed the boat at the time of its release – with the PC version in particular hitting the big time – its blend of tower defence with action RPG gameplay and co-op managed to sink its claws into a number of friends. As Dungeon Defenders 2 hits Early Access on Steam this Friday, it naturally hopes to recapture that magic and grab as many players as possible.
The way the game plays should be instantly familiar from the first game, and with enough in common with both other tower defence games and action RPGs/MOBAs that it’ll be easy enough to pick up and play for practically anyone. Using a mixture of tower emplacements and damaging the incoming fantasy monsters directly, you have to defend from several lanes of incoming enemies.
It all looks quite lovely in motion, with an even more refined cartoon fantasy style. All of the attack effects within the game have been hand drawn in 2D, for example, while the levels have been designed to tie together visually. Each map has its own place in the world, so that you’ll be able to look up in the sky and see the main tower or perhaps you can look down on a woodland area which you had previously defended.
Dungeon Defenders is a game which will naturally be at its best when played co-operatively, with up to four players dividing up the lanes between them and working together to stave off any crisis that crop up. It’s something that’s emphasised by the different character classes and the lane resistances that can counteract them.
Four classes are currently in the game, with the heavily armoured Squire, the support oriented Monk, the trap class of the Huntress and the Priest’s magic. If a lane resists magic, though, you’re not going to want a Priest to be placing towers and fighting the Kobolds and Goblins that charge down the lane.
The class you have also determines your lane tactics. With the Squire able to place blockades, you can create a solid defensive line with cannons and ballistae lined up behind it – you can have up to four towers to pick from – but the Monk’s towers deal more attritional damage throughout their auras, which can lead to very different tactics.
Of course, you can get stuck into the action as well, with basic attacks as well as three customisable abilities – drawing mana from a separate pool to the building mana. You’ll have to be careful when you do so, though, as I quickly found myself taking a lot of damage and having to retreat to heal. I instead found myself looking after the towers, managing their health and upgrading between rounds, making use of the map’s environmental traps and only really getting involved close up if I had to.
With a different build of character and higher level, that could easily change, with diversifying character specialisations to head down. Picking different towers, switching to different armour that has different stats and so on will all have an effect. Helping you do so, heading back to the Tavern between maps lets you not just visit the shops and buy better gear, but look through the loot overflow system, that gives you a few days to decide if there’s something you’ve picked up that you’d like to keep a hold of.
In common with the first game, you can switch your character between rounds, but this ability has been tempered somewhat. You can now only take three characters into battle, in a move designed to stop high levelled players coming in and managing all the lanes themselves. Similarly, if you return to a low difficulty level, you’ll be automatically be lowered to suit, so that you can team up with lower levelled players.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the games has nothing to do with the gameplay but rather with the move to free-to-play model, which will eventually be funded through microtransactions of cosmetic items, with the whole idea behind this being to really get the game into as many people’s hands as possible. With the inherently co-operative focus to the game, it makes sense to make that move, removing the bar to entry and allowing more people to bring their friends in and play the game.
Throughout the development process, Trendy have been careful to work very closely with their fan base as much as possible, with the Early Access release the latest manifestation of this. For over a year, the most eager fans have sat on the Defense Council – having effectively pre-bought currency towards the final microtransactions – and have been able to play a series of early builds of the game and give feedback to Trendy.
This feedback has rolled back into the game, helping Trendy to rebalance their focus between the action and tower defence sides of the game, split the cosmetic look of your armour away from the loot which actually improves your stats, and so on. Player feedback will certainly help to shape the game during the Early Access release, with a number of elements not yet ready for public consumption, from new characters to an adaptive Wave Director or the return of pets.
As always, a game coming to Early Access is really just the first step out into the public eye. Yet even though it will have to wait for Trendy to finish developing certain areas, the solid foundations of the first game and the long period of testing behind closed doors have created something that’s already quite well fleshed out and matured.