Tower defense games are admittedly not my favorite genre, so it usually takes quite a bit of effort on the game’s part to win me over. But, even for those who aren’t traditionally fans of what most RPG vets like myself would refer to as “the least interesting job” of playing gatekeeper, Trendy Entertainment’s upcoming Dungeon Defenders II is still worth a look. The game mashes up role-playing and and tower defense by bridging them together with action-oriented combat in a way that builds upon the predecessor as a considerable improvement.
A co-op game by design, the demo at PAX stuck four players together in defense of our dungeon against a few waves of Orc-like creatures. and allowed each of us to assume a specific class. I was given the role of Huntress, which actually made me feel right at home because I prefer ranged characters who use bows. Like all other characters, the Huntress has two offensive abilities right out of the gate, and two defensive traps to command. On the defensive side, she could lay down an Explosive trap – which does what you’d expect – and a Geyser trap, which launched enemies into the air with a gush of water that made them A) vulnerable to extra damage and B) drenched in water and thus weak to combination attacks that are compatible with the water elemental.
One of the greatest things about Dungeon Defenders II is that players can work together to create devastating combination maneuvers to deal extra damage to opponents. In the case of the Geyser trap, another player with lightning abilities could strike down the poor creature flailing helplessly in the air to devastating effect. In the case of other combo strikes, if elemental abilities seem like they would go together, they most likely will. An offensive example that my Huntress could execute all on her own involved both of her attack abilities: Oil Flask and Piecing Shot. After throwing out a flask of oil and coating the enemies, a follow up Piercing Shot would launch an arrow that took the form of a Phoenix, lighting up the green fiends like a Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Before and after each combat phase, where the team takes on a set number of enemies storming their keep, there is a build phase. The build phase allows players to catch their breath, plant traps wherever they please, use keys they’ve acquired to open chests for loot and crystals, and upgrade traps/barriers set up across the map. The crystals are used to upgrade traps and use abilities, which leads into one of the first changes made for the sequel: Split mana bars. Dungeon Defenders II uses both a blue mana bar and a red mana bar. The blue mana is spent on abilities, and the red bar is spent on tower defense (read: traps). There’s no swapping the two, so players will have to manage their resources and spend accordingly to optimize their battle strategy before each wave.
Another change to the DD formula for the sequel is that upgrading is now a toggled option. Players must hit a hotkey to enter “build mode”, where they can then upgrade traps and defensive structures, but must then remember to toggle out of build mode before they can start attacking. In theory, this makes it so players don’t inadvertently upgrade or interact with objects by mistake. In practice, it took more than half of the play session before I got the hang of switching in and out of build mode, especially if I wanted to upgrade a trap in the midst of combat. I would consistently leave build mode on and panic as enemies marched towards me while my Huntress stayed her hand. Of course, this might be user error, but it felt foreign to have to toggle between modes.
Overall, Dungeon Defenders II turned out to be surprisingly fun, even for someone who isn’t easily impressed by the genre. Combat was fast-paced and engaging, resources felt properly balanced to offer a fair challenge – so long as I used them wisely – and the colorfully cute graphics were super easy on the eyes. The best part is when your team is working in sync, pulling off combination attacks to finish a wave of enemies off in style. For fans of action tower defense, and cooperative games alike, Trendy Entertainment’s sequel is definitely one to watch. Dungeon Defenders II is scheduled to release – as a soft launch – on PC, Mac, and Linux sometime in Spring 2014. Follow along on Twitter for updates, or check out the official website for details.