Dungeon Defenders

Early on, when conceptualizing Indie Gamer Chick, I intended to review Xbox Live Arcade games, along with Playstation Network titles.  That idea got scrapped when I decided that those types of games have no problem getting attention.  Of course, I didn’t take into account that many titles on those platforms come from smaller studios working on a shoestring budget and the big gaming sites can’t be bothered to touch them because they’re too busy going gaga over Batman or Uncharted.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m right there with them.  Batman is awesome, even if I find it pretty far-fetched as far as video games go.  A man dressed like a bat fights an evil clown?  The fuck is that about?  I would sooner believe in a giant turtle-dragon kidnapping a princess from a group of sentient mushrooms than a man in a bat suit fighting a clown.  It’s just not as plausible.

Dungeon Defenders built up decent sized following when it debuted last winter on iOS and Android, but it still has been well under the radar this Fall gaming season for its console debuts on Xbox Live and Playstation Network, while also putting in an appearance on Steam.  Thankfully, by total happenstance I caught up on Vintage Video Game TV’s  live feed of a play-through of the game and was totally mesmerized by it.  I had to play it.

Dungeon Defenders is a co-op-focused game that’s one part tower defense and one part hoard-slasher.  You choose one of four character classes: the smart one, the cute one, the quiet one, or the funny one.  Each has specific skill sets and attributes.  I was Sir. Rimjob, the brave squire who was a hands-on type of dude.  Brian became Mr. Fuzzyfat, a wise apprentice wizard who could fire on enemies from a distance and do pretty much squat in the way of damage.  Bryce, the indecisive cunt that he is, alternated between using a huntress and a monk that I swear looked like it was ripped right from the Last Airbender.  The cartoon, not the crappy movie.

Characters selected, we entered the game world.  Naturally the first thing I noticed were the graphics.  They were stunning.  If someone had handed me a video of this game and told me to guess who developed it, I would have said Rare Ltd.  By the way, that’s meant to be a complement.  I know good games and Rare have long since parted ways, but the visual style made me think of their Nintendo 64 games from way back when I was a wee one.  It reminded me of the line queues at Disneyland, with attention to detail given even towards areas of the game that are off-limits and just for show.  I also want to offer a shout-out to the amazing score of the game.  Dungeon Defenders is one of my favorite audio-visual experiences this year.

Once you actually get going, the game itself is a total blast.  You enter a dungeon that contains an enormous crystal “core” that you have to defend from waves of enemies.  Like a hack-and-slasher, you can fight the baddies hand-to-hand if you wish.  But you can also set up towers in strategic locations to either directly defend the crystal or turn the hoards into a goblin mixed grill.

For the most part, the playable characters are well-balanced.  The squire is good in the thick of battle but is slow in movement and casting time.  The apprentice is useless in direct combat but has nifty long-range towers and a swift casting time.  The monk is average in most categories but is a well-balanced character.  The huntress.. well.. she’s actually kind of useless, or maybe the dude we designated to use her was.  Either way, because of the perfect difficulty curve, we were quickly able to get our shit together and work as a cohesive unit.

Dungeon Defenders is at it’s best when you play with people you know.  It does offer random pairing, but both times I tried it were unmitigated disasters.  Maybe on Steam or PSN you might get good players.  Xbox Live is populated by pit vipers that would shame some of the most obnoxious griefers I encountered when I played Warcraft, and they managed to make my life a living hell.  I can’t blame the developers for it, but I figured you should know what to expect when you enter random matchmaking on Xbox Live.  As if you didn’t already know what it’s like.  Hoarding all the mana needed to cast spells.  Picking up all the items and immediately selling them.  Tearing down my towers and replacing them with the same towers of their own so they could win MVP each stage.  Talking so much empty shit that I muted my TV altogether.  Just generally being losers on such an epic scale that if they were imprisoned with the most horny serial rapists on the planet they would still manage to die virgins.

With friends, it works.  Coming up with a system of how to tackle each stage is rewarding and engaging.  Each level is designed uniquely, offering different challenges in how to apply your towers or where each player should be positioned to directly fight the hoards.  The actual combat is pretty simplistic: hit the trigger button to swing your weapon.  You can also use more powerful attacks that are mapped to the D-Pad, at least if you’re the squire.  I could do a spinning attack with my dude that was not-unlike the spinning move Link does in every Zelda game.  Alternatively, I could go into “blood rage” mode, where my squire goes into a mad, blood-fueled rage and tears into everything in sight.  That happens to me at least once a month so I can relate.

Okay, so you didn’t come here to read what’s sunshine and lollipops about a game.  Despite being in love with Dungeon Defenders, there’s a lot not to like about it.  For starters, this is clearly a game that was designed to be interfaced with anything but a game pad.  The menus are clunky, the control scheme unintuitive, and the quick-actions mapped to the D-Pad not always helpful.  Why can’t I customize what the D-Pad does?  As a squire, I was not the character of choice for healing towers in the middle of combat.  My dude casts his spells way too slowly, and I’ll be damned if I’m wasting any XP upgrades on making him faster at it.  Yet that function is mapped to the D-Pad and I can’t change that.  It’s a waste of a button for me.  UPDATE: Um, actually you can. It’s really simple too.  You just press the D-Pad when the action you want to be quick-loaded is highlighted in the menu.  I’m going to fucking kill Bryce.  He was like “we don’t need a tutorial.”  And I was like “Uh huh!” And he was like “Nuh Uh!’ and I just gave in because we can do that for hours.  My bad.  Carry on.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the shop system.  When you use it, the selection is limited to three weapons, three pieces of armor, and three pets at a time.  Well that’s a bucket of lame sauce.  Also lame is that the selection doesn’t always logically apply to how much progress you’ve made in the game.  The first time I entered the shop, there was a pet that cost over a million mana.  I had just started the fucking game, mind you.  Following the first level I had maybe 2,000 mana tops.  It was such a tease.  Apparently you can lock an item in the shop so that it doesn’t go away, and maybe it will even be a good price for it.  I don’t really care what the reason is, but only three possible items per type is total horse shit, and the lack of scaling the prices to fit your current resources is a dick move supreme.

My biggest complaint is that this is a game that absolutely requires four players to proceed.  On your own, you might be able to handle a couple of the early stages, but once you delve further and further into the game, you better have a full party or you might as well not show up at all.  There are adjustable difficulty levels, but when it’s just you against nearly a thousand enemies, all coming from different directions, you’re hosed.  It’s a battle of attrition that you often can’t possibly hope to win, leaving you helpless unless the stars align properly and all your bestest buds have free time at the exact moment you do.

But those complaints are so minor compared to the big picture.  Dungeon Defenders is sublime.  The main quest offers a decent twenty hours of gameplay, which is pretty good for a $15 arcade game.  But that only scratches the surface.  There’s tons of side challenges too.  Some of them are pretty creative, like one where the core teleports randomly around the map.  This isn’t DLC, mind you.  This is all in the initial package.  There are plans for DLC that will add more characters, maps, and challenges, but I’m still at least fifty hours away from seeing everything the current build has to offer.  The amount of content here is staggering.  Dungeon Defenders might be the best total package of any Live Arcade game ever made.  Hyperbolic?  Maybe.  Truthful?  Absolutely.

If I was one of those twats that gave out a Game of the Year award, this would be an honest contender for it, and that includes stuff like Arkham City, L.A. Noire, and Portal 2Dungeon Defenders offers more gameplay than pretty much any mainstream game, but at a fraction of the cost.  With the right teammates, you’ll keep coming back to this one again and again.  In a perfect world, this would be an unprecedented hit.  Alas, we’re not in a perfect world.  Tibet isn’t free, gas is still expensive, and your mother is still a whore.  Trendy Entertainment could not have possibly picked a worse time than this gaming season to release this masterpiece to the masses.  In the history of bad timing, it ranks right up there with the Vienna Academy of Art running out of room for new students around 1908.

Dungeon Defenders was developed by Trendy Entertainment

1200 Microsoft Points think charging 50,000 mana to rename your character is criminal extortion in the making of this review.

A review copy of Dungeon Defenders was provided by Trendy Entertainment to IndieGamerChick.com in this review.  The copy played by the Chick was purchased by her with her own Microsoft Points.  The review copy was given to a friend with the sole purpose of helping the Chick test online multiplayer.  That person had no feedback in this article.  For more information on this policy, please read the Developer Support page here

Shortly after I posted this score, my right hand filed for divorce.

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