After spending what seemed like an eternity in early access on other platforms, growing and evolving with the help of the community, Dungeon Defenders II, an action tower defense and RPG hybrid, finally received a full launch. Gone was the exclusivity, allowing it to debut on the Xbox One at the same time as exiting early access on PC and PS4. The developers, Trendy Entertainment, simply wanted to build upon the factors which made the original game enjoyable. And best of all, it’s free!
What could possibly go wrong?
Initially, on Xbox One at least, it was almost everything in truth. You see, upon the official release, Dungeon Defenders II was virtually unplayable as it was plagued by server errors, bugs and frequent crashing. If by any chance you could get into the tutorial, there’s no way in hell that you were going to be able to complete it. Fortunately, the devs got their act together and patched it up somewhat, but does that mean players are now in for a treat?
Dungeon Defenders II sets the scene with an opening sequence explaining that Etheria was once under attack by the Old Ones and the heroes managed to seal these evil foes within Eternia Crystals. Now though, the evil hordes are trying to smash them all to pieces in order to unleash the Old Ones from their prison. All the greatest heroes of the realm must band together to protect the crystals and deal with this new threat.
There’s just no real substance to the story following this part however, with each campaign level merely preceded by a text-based overview of that part of the narrative. Even the very rare small cutscenes do nothing to hold my attention, nor spark any kind of interest in why I’m doing what I’ve been tasked to do – which basically amounts to defending and building to succeed in the objectives.
Within the Campaign there are 18 different levels to complete, with the general aim of holding out for a set number of waves, the last of which includes a boss-like beast to really test your defences. You’ll be protecting the Eternia Crystals for the most part, but occasionally it can be something else such as avoiding the breach of an Inn entrance. Survive and the rewards will arrive in the form of a loot chest, but failure to be an almighty protector means that level is over and you’ll need to restart from the first wave.
It’s not easy to complete the campaign by any means, as the levels get difficult pretty quickly and require a fair few tries at times – or a lot more if you’re rubbish like me. There’s quite a bit of longevity in the Campaign, but should you overcome it all, then the Chaos Trials await you. These are additional levels that test your skills with even tougher, more specialised enemies, ultimately providing the most coveted loot. You won’t see a plethora of different modes, but one thing Dungeon Defenders II doesn’t suffer with is a lack of content in those modes that are present.
To defeat all onrushing enemies, you need to take control of a character from your hero deck – which is limited to four character slots at the beginning. The central heroes of the story are the Squire, the Huntress, the Monk, and the Apprentice, and these are available for free to kick-start your roster. What’s great is that you can take four characters into a battle and although only one can be in use at any time, switching between them on the fly to mix and match their best features is possible. It’s just a shame the button configuration makes it a little confusing as it requires a bumper button and the D-Pad to initiate a swap; the problem is I forget which direction a character is attributed to and if pressed without the bumper, it drops all your bloody mana.
Each character has a standard attack, a charge attack, three increasingly more powerful blue mana abilities to unlock and four unlockable defensive structures/traps to place upon the map which use a green mana. The general attacks are nothing special, but the impressiveness of the abilities depends upon the character chosen. My personal favourites are the blazing phoenix fired from the bow of the Huntress and a fallen knight summoned by the Abyss Lord. In terms of the specialised defences at your disposal, some of the best ones come with the initially locked down characters, but the starting quartet still have fiery towers, spiky blockades and a blazing balloon that scorches all who pass by.
Enemies arrive from multiple directions indicated during a building phase, the ideal time to strategically place your defensive bits and bobs. There is a limit to how much you can actually put out and if you don’t have enough mana, which is garnered between waves, then that’s tough luck. The controls aren’t very intuitive when dealing with the defences, whether you’re placing, selling, or upgrading; especially when you try and cancel an action, it’s iffy as to whether it works immediately. Not ideal if any mid-battle changes need to be made, however the general frantic nature of the game works well to keep you on your toes.
Where the map designs are concerned, they are the most impressive part of the entire game, ensuring not a single area feels too similar to another. From the depths of the sewers, to a room fit for a king, each has its very own style and a well thought out, often complex, layout with both low and high areas. I also quite like the interactive environment traps dotted around, meaning the hordes are hit with extra force from the likes of oil spills and spiked barrels, should you be in the close vicinity to activate them.
Given how many enemies you can expect to see in a single map, variety certainly goes a long way in helping to avoid monotony and there does seem a decent amount. As such, your tactical nous will be tested as waves can feature ground-based goblins, ogres, mages etc. as well as airborne beast like wyverns. Placing fire traps is no use for the flying enemies, forcing you into playing smart and checking what’s coming up.
The characters level up via experience earned by completing waves and maps, increasing their stats and allowing for better items to be equipped. Despite not being a big RPG aficionado, I know my loot systems well and regardless of the fact there are plenty of slots to equip armor and other boosting equipment to, most of the items themselves are bloody rubbish. Even after acquiring loads of loot, I’ve barely had to change any of my best characters’ equipment because it offers nothing much in comparison to stuff I picked up early on. That’s probably a blessing in disguise though, due to the inventory UI being pretty awful.
Everything outside of play is located in the Tavern, which works as a hub for trying out abilities of the characters you own as well as being home to a number of vendors and the place to launch a map. What irks me most is the lack of indication on the Tavern map as to which vendor is at the nodes of interest; they all look the same, so I’m left to wander so I can find the one that I want until I learn the entire layout. Some vendors are pricey too, expecting large amounts of the hard to accumulate medals or the paid for currency. The coins, which are the easiest to earn, can be spent on purchasing items and upgrading currently equipped stuff.
It’s clear that Trendy Entertainment want you to spend though. Why else would they hold back a load of characters which are difficult to obtain the free way – and bring about the grind – unless to force you into submission and spend well over ten pounds for just one hero. Don’t be mistaken, the heroes are great, but way too pricey. On the flipside, although they do the same for additional inventory bags, at least there’s a shed load of inventory slots to start with, probably more than most other RPGs.
The whole of Dungeon Defenders II is playable either solo, local co-op alongside a pal, or online with up to three other players. Unfortunately, venturing online has drawbacks, most of which are due to the servers and when selecting a game lobby. Will it let you in to other people’s matches? Is anyone going to join your game? Will it just crash you out? Sometimes, rarely and it has happened a couple of times. There’s also no way to stipulate being matched with similar levelled players, so it’s either a task of carrying a team of rookies or you’re the weakling who’s left twiddling their thumbs as the rest of the team takes over the defensive phase – the amount of times I’ve had to join mid-game and the defences limit has been reached already is ridiculous.
Overall then, Dungeon Defenders II provides an action-packed tower defense game, featuring a lengthy Campaign and a decent array of starter characters, each of whom possesses interesting abilities. The story is lacking however, and you’ll soon grow tired of switching between the same four characters, wishing that you had enough currency to unlock more; the additional characters are very cool, just pricey. The most difficult things to ignore though are the issues I’ve found in the online side of the game, and the half of the time it works. There’s no saying who you’ll end up with either.
Dungeon Defenders II is free and when it works it’s pretty darn fun, but the UI, the steep difficulty curve and the online problems make it tough to recommend as the experience is really hindered.