Over eight years ago Trendy Entertainment, now Chromatic Games, set the downloadable games market alight with their action-tower defense title Dungeon Defenders. There is no mistaking the indie market has transformed from the Xbox Live Arcade days and smaller, indie titles are no longer referred to as downloadable games as the industry sweeps towards an all digital future.
You shall not pass!
Set in the fantasy world of Etheria, the Champions of the realm locked away the lurking evil, The Old Gods inside Eternia Crystals, safeguarding the citizens of the realm. Spending their days guarding the crystals from an impending evil they were called on a far-away crusade and left their younger kin to tend to the castle and its chores. Becoming bored, they set out on their own journey to find their parents while battling against an immortal entity that seeks to unleash The Old Gods from the Eternia Crystals.
In this co-op experience packed to the brim with entrancing visual effects that really emphasize the magical world, it is down to you and your squad to work your way through a series of campaign and subsequent bonus missions and modes that are included in the Dungeon Defenders Collection.
Dungeon Defenders Collection merges tower defense and light RPG mechanics with action based gameplay. In typical tower defense fashion, you and your friends or strangers online, must lay down defences and utilize the unique skill set of each playable character to take a grip of the missions and stop the horde from destroying the Eternia Crystals scattered around each of the intricately designed maps.
The original release resided around the four characters featured in the lighthearted storybook like narrative; the Apprentice, Squire, Hunter and Monk. Later DLC saw the addition of the Initiate, Countess, Ranger, Adept, Barbarian, Series EV, Summoner and Jester, with the latter four being the most unusual. The Summoner is played in a pseudo-RTS style and can view the map from a birdseye view, Barbarian is a full-on DPS character that specializes in weaponry and attacking foes head on while the Series EV can cascade powerful proton beams or tower buffs with the Jester having the ability to use any type of weapon.
This cavalcade of playable characters provides a fun learning experience when studying the nuances of each and discovering how their particular abilities can best be used.
The Dungeon Defenders Collection is jammed full of RPG elements that not only make sense for this fantasy-brushed world but for the action tower defense game that Chromatic Games has created. Each character gains experience points towards their overall level, where levelling up provides skill points that can be divided in to any matter of slots that boost their skills. Increase health, damage, tower radius or any other number of stats as you see fit, this can all be reversed from within the Tavern, the games’ lobby between missions, by having a good ol’ chinwag with the tavernkeep and purchasing a character respec from a pool of earned mana which serves as the in-game currency.
Each character can be kitted out with their own set of gear, weapons, armour and pets which can all be levelled up and renamed as you see fit. Speaking of weapons there are tonnes! While mulching orcs in the Deeper Well or accurately shooting wyverns from the skies above in the Magus Quarters prepare to be gifted with interesting drops from staves to huge swords and even flamethrowers – Anthem, take note.
Genre fusion perfected
This genre-bending experience consistently throws new enemies in to the mix that require varying tactical approaches with a blend of orcs, ogres, wyverns goblin-copters and everything in between. I would love to have seen Chromatic Games lean more in to the wacky, over-the-top world that they created by adding an even wider variety of foes that have featured in other RPG’s like Diablo; overwhelm me with spiders, lizardmen, wolves, vampires and everything inbetween.
The action doesn’t stop there as several missions feature boss waves that offer a variety that is not seen in other missions as flying demons that spew fire and mechs under the helm of goblins and even partaking in an epic battle with a dragon atop a castle.
Overall gameplay is rewarding as I was hacking down enemies with one swoop of a giant lancer-like sword or sending magical blasts of energy in to overcrowded areas while upgrading and repairing the defences that are stemming the tide of the horde on the opposite end of the map. It makes for a frantic experience when playing on any of the five included difficulty levels. Testing your mettle on nightmare is not for the faint of heart.
In particular, one of my favourite experiences is the inclusion of a boss rush mode that takes place on its own, Eternia Crystal like map. Fighting against a constant stream of enemies while attempting to take down bosses with minimal character lives and a time limit is intense, fun and hilarious when played with friends.
All of this is tied together with the Tavern, a hub that allows players to fully prepare for the journey ahead by sorting through their item box for new goodies, spending banked mana at the tavernkeep for more powerful weaponry and calculating DPS at the training dummies. You will find a plethora of trophies scattered throughout the nooks and crannies of the expansive tavern showcasing all of the many achievements; reaching certain levels, completing missions on specific difficulties and more. It is good way to showcase the time and effort that I put in and the challenges that I overcame.
Player trading can take place at the tavern, loot drops are shared and not instanced which can become an annoyance when playing with randoms as they snap up everything in sight, even if it can not be used by their particular class. However, it is possible to trade items back at the tavern and there is actually a substantial trading community that can be found on the official Dungeon Defenders forums.
The Dungeon Defenders Collection is still receiving support as of January 29th 2019. A new map, Emerald City, was added along with bug fixes, balance changes and new functionality that allows owners of Dungeon Defenders on Steam and Discord to play together. This is a game that is eight years old and has had a remake in Dungeon Defenders: Eternity and a free-to-play sequel in Dungeon Defenders II. Complete dedication and support by the developers this long after its initial release has to be commended.
There is just so much content here that it would be nearly impossible to cover it all; each level can be played in survival mode which has no endpoint other than defeat, a hardcore mode, a pure strategy mode and added challenge and campaign missions via the DLC included in the collection.
Mistakes were made
All of this is not to say that the game is perfect and I do have some minor gripes with an otherwise splendid experience.
Placing defenses can pose particular problems as the camera transitions from your setting of choice to an overhead view showing the area in which a tower, aura, blockade, etc can be placed as well as highlighting it’s area of effect. The problem here is that the overhead view inherently blocks my actual view of where the defenses are hitting – some area of effect or attack radius’ are outwith the camera view and it becomes impossible to see exactly where each defense is covering. Attempting to zoom out seen the camera clipping in to walls, the mission ceiling and everything else near, blocking my view altogether. Why the camera does not stay in the usual freeform mode that the game can usually be played in is a strange decision.
The need to repair individual defences can be a tedious and time-consuming venture – the act of repairing defenses absolutely needs to be in the game, but on larger maps like Glitterhelm Caverns it can take some time to navigate and repair everything that is damaged before the next wave begins.
Although characters colours can be customized and skins unlocked, I would have prefered this system to go a little deeper. Let’s include individual vanity items that can be mixed, matched and shoved together so I can make my Etheria defending Champion look aesthetically ridiculous, please!
Likewise, once a mission is completed a stats screen will appear showing how many more enemies you killed than your buddies. From here there are two options – close the stats panel or advance to the next mission/level. When opening the menu and attempting to return to the tavern I was met with the horrifying you will lose all progress if you quit message. I was forced to load up the next mission and quit out of the game that way.
Speaking of the Tavern the item box is just a mess that is meshed together with a clunky UI. It does not feature tooltips when hovering over nameless buttons and as a result I had absolutely no clue that I could even make folders to divide and store my items in instead of trying to function through a cluttered mess until I had put in around 20 hours of gameplay. There is also no option to sort items by level, type, specific classes, etc, which makes navigating it all a bit more of a hassle than it needs to be.
P.S LET ME DRINK AT THE TAVERN BAR!
The Dungeon Defenders Collection is by no means perfect, but it is one hell of a magical time, especially with friends as the solo experience is lacking. The entire premise, setting and visuals are nailed down to a tee and it is plain to see the developers had a clear view of where they wanted to take the game. I’d love to see Chromatic Games’ take on a full-blown RPG set in the Dungeon Defenders universe.
With a variety of characters to choose from who all feature their own unique abilities, it can be time-consuming but rewarding to master. I spent many nights defending Etheria and racking up kills with college buddies back in 2012 and I am still having as much fun now as I was then.