Dungeon Defenders is a saccharine concoction of raw meat, cocaine, and the blood of a thousand million orcs.
That is a high compliment, I swear.
Its premise is comprised of some of the most lethally addicting game mechanics around: deftly-tuned, bouncy killing, coca-infused customization, and the chest-thumping camaraderie of four players placed against an ever-swelling, gloriously technicolored horde.
It all revolves around the Eternia Crystal – excuse the horrible, stock-fantasy name, please. The player, who selects one of four heroes (apprentice, squire, monk or huntress), is tasked with defending the Eternia Crystal from legions upon legions of evildoers, and, on occasion, horrific, gargantuan bosses. These heroic defenses occur in waves – once the player completes every wave, they beat the level. In between waves, the player gets to place defense mechanisms – towers, if you will – in strategic locations around the map.
This area of the game, what I like to call the raw meat, is fine-tuned and effortlessly playable. The heroes scurry and hop around the map with ease, and the dispatching of spells, towers (you can lay them during combat phases, too), and standard attacks is quick and ripe with compulsion. Every action is mechanically sound and dripping with the kind of feedback that makes them satisfying. Watching a furious knock-back attack send dozens of baddies flying backwards is the kind of visual narcotic that makes playing Dungeon Defenders so damned exciting.
There’s another addictive substance at work. Between and beneath the frenetic tower defense cores of the game is a layer of customization that will leave you foaming at the mouth. Both heroes and towers are upgradable in a variety of ways, from damage to health to movement and casting speed. I, for example, created a deadly glass-cannon-esque apprentice character – he looks like Vivi from Final Fantasy IX – by pumping stats solely into damage. Interestingly, the game eventually brings about diminishing returns on stacking abilities sky-high, which forces players into creating well-balanced heroes, and prevents game-breaking over-specialization.
"This kind of depth hurls Dungeon Defenders far past the typical tower defense game…"
And fear not, packrats, for there is an overflowing amount of gear. And the gear, too, is customizable. There are pets as well – and, you guessed it, they are customizable. This kind of depth hurls Dungeon Defenders far past the typical tower defense game and into something exceedingly rich and rewarding.
The game glows and sparkles too. Its visuals are a sugary kind of super-deformed, like if Final Fantasy V were 3D, a supercharged tower defense game, and far more brutal. The colors are lush, the models detailed. The sounds and soundtrack burst from the speakers with a youthful exuberance. These things only serve to make the raw, meaty core of the game taste sweet and fun – Dungeon Defenders could work wholesale without them, but the polish and swagger only make it more a joy. It runs like butter, too, even on low-end machines.
What matters most is that Dungeon Defenders is an unholy amount of fun to play with three other people. It’ll eat your nights and weekends alive and leave only a sugary-sweet resin behind. Cutting through the oncoming hordes and barking out commands through voice chat is a rush that will leave you grinning. Collaborating on defense placement will tease your brain, reward your smart moves and punish your idiocy.
It’s a game that wants you to play it. It’s a little complicated, but simply jumping in and slaughtering couldn’t be easier. Figuring out the depth will take a little bit, but – here’s a testament to how much I like this game – it will make you want to learn. It feels good to be clueless in Dungeon Defenders, and the thrill of discovery and, “Oh! That’s how that works,” will suck you in. It doesn’t hold your hand, but it isn’t frustrating, either.
Here’s a confession: there is a story, but its implications are minimal. I ignored it. I suspect it provides some context and additional flavor to the game – but it’s entirely non-essential. Dungeon Defenders is a game, a thing meant to be played and smiled at. It makes no pretenses.
The game’s single-player mode is practically non-existent – and I understand if people expect me to knock a few points off because of this – but I refuse. This is a downloadable game – you need an internet connection to obtain it and thus have one to play it. The match-making system is quick and streamlined. Jumping into a multiplayer orc-fest could not be easier. There’s no real reason for single player Dungeon Defenders, sure, but it’s there if you want it. The multiplayer is so accessible there’s no real reason not to play it – and thus no reason to punish Dungeon Defenders for a lackluster single player mode. And besides, the only thing single-player lacks is the rush of kinship that multiplayer has in spades (it is identical to multiplayer; you’re just alone) – and isn’t that intrinsic to solitary gaming?
"…this is the center of a Tootsie Pop, guys."
The bottom line: this is the center of a Tootsie Pop, guys. The sweet, sugary core of what it means to be a gamer – to hang out with your friends and play the night away. It is the pure joy of floaty, delicious, and streamlined gameplay. It’s the compulsive twitch that made you collect every Pokemon. It’s gaming in a pure, untainted form. It might not send the medium hurling into art museums around the world, but it will remind you of why you started gaming in the first place.
And there’s so much I haven’t told you. I could mention the time my mighty sorcerer, Aberforth, came crashing down from the heavens (read: the stairs above) to send an unholy (read: level 11) knock-back attack crashing down upon an oncoming mass of an enemies, saving one of my teammates in the process. I could grimace and recall games lost in the waning seconds as our crystal was overwhelmed. I could describe how you might find your brow sweating a little as you spend an almost-eternity whittling down a boss’s mammoth health bar. Or I could tell you about the exhausted cheers you’ll let out alongside trusted companions – your battle-kin – as you collectively clear increasingly more difficult levels.
But I won’t. Instead, I’ll see you in the dungeons.