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Dungeon Defenders II – First Look

Dungeon Defenders II, Trendy Entertainment’s follow-up to the popular Dungeon Defenders, has finally emerged from early-access and gone into its official launch on PC, Xbox One, and PS4. With games like Orcs Must Die Unchained occupying the same space though, can Dungeon Defenders II establish a foothold?

Dungeon Defenders II is an action-rpg-tower-defense game, like games like Orcs Must Die. In fact, both franchises launched within two weeks of one another back in 2011. The game is straightforward; you choose a character from a roster of heroes. Each one has a unique playstyle and set of traps available to them. You choose a mission in the campaign or one of the end-game maps if you’re far enough along to do it, and you team up with random players or your friends to defeat hordes of enemies. You gain Green Mana between waves to build and repair your defenses, and you win once you survive all the waves on a given map. There are boss monsters, enemy shortcut portals, and all kinds of challenges the game throws at you to change the formula and keep things interesting. Dungeon Defenders II separates itself from its competitors by focusing more on an RPG experience. Characters gain XP, level up, and equip with weapon and armor slots making this feel less like Orcs Must Die and more like an MMORPG. Players upgrade items using gold from enemies to increase their stat buffs, and the game scales loot based on what your strongest hero is wearing which means there’s a steady, if not sometimes slow, sense of growth that remains constant.

Visually, the game is gorgeous. The bright colors and charming art direction are like a living, breathing cartoon. Everything pops out of the screen, and the animations are fluid and crisp. Particle effects and auras can be a bit much from some of the traps sometimes, but I feel like having to navigate through all the traps, explosions, and other effects of the combat around you creates a chaotic feeling that adds to the fun.

As I mentioned earlier, the game has many different characters that have their own playstyles and traps at their disposal. By the time you complete the tutorial, you’ll have at least three characters to play: The Squire, the Huntress, and the Apprentice. The Squire, my personal favorite, is a tank character who benefits from a larger health pool and shield that he can use to minimize damage while on the front lines. His traps focus on building barricades and setting up cannons and crossbows to mow enemies down. The Huntress is a ranged damage character that uses a variety of hunter-traps for crowd control effects and explosive damage. The Apprentice is a Mage that uses Frost and Fire aoe magic to great effect. You unlock characters with Defender Medals which are the reward for completing quests, or purchased with real money. Going the Defender Medal route takes some time though, as each character costs about 10,000 medals and quests reward between 100-200 medals on average in the early game. As you progress through the campaign though, these rewards get larger.

Players find quests and campaign missions in the Tavern, which is by far my favorite thing about this game. Rather than navigate through bland menus alone to get into the action, Dungeon Defender II takes a page out of Platformer games from days gone by. The Tavern hosts most of the game’s content and serves as a hub world. You can access a campaign map to queue up for missions, accept quests from NPCs, and talk to merchants who sell things for every type of currency in the game. The in-game store even has a representation within the Tavern, allowing you to see what skins and characters look like in-game as opposed to judging based on stock artwork in a store menu. Everything about this hub-world idea evokes feelings of games like Spyro the Dragon or Crash Bandicoot and it really struck a chord with me as something unique and different.

Dungeon Defenders II has its share of flaws though. The biggest of which is the progression toward new characters. In the early going, earning Defender medals is slow. Really slow. After a few hours of play, I only have 400 of the 10,000 required for a new character. This wouldn’t be so bad if the asking price for a single character weren’t 10 dollars. Not to mention the fact that monsters drop lockboxes that you can only open with keys that require Defender Medals or Money to buy. Each key cost 500 defender medals or about 1.50 to buy. Not terrible if you’ve already got the characters you want to play as, but if you’re still trying to find your favorite among the roster, you’re forced to choose between throwing away lockboxes that could contain powerful loot or setting yourself back even farther in the already slow grind to get characters by using medals on a key instead. The monetization is the only thing really holding this game back. There are bundles you can buy so that if you want to support the developers who have poured a lot of work into this game, you can do that. The bundles include extra bags to increase inventory space, more character slots for your hero deck, and enough gems to buy a few characters beyond what the tutorial grants you.

Dungeon Defenders II is an incredibly fun multiplayer action RPG built around tower defense that you can play in bursts or long sessions equally well. The game’s sense of power growth is satisfying once you’ve found the characters you want to play, but the grind to unlock roster slots without spending money is a bit frustrating. Still, if you want a different flavor of tower defense MMO that gives more of an RPG experience, Dungeon Defenders II is worth trying.

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