The original Dungeon Defenders was a fantastic hybrid of ideas; a clever cocktail of tower defense, third person combat, and RPG elements blended smoothly together into a creative, addictive experience. It’s a tough act to follow, and wisely, developer Trendy Entertainment did not try to reinvent the wheel, focusing instead on expanding the ideas that made the first game a success and layering in enough new content to tantalize returning players. The end result is a very similar feeling experience with just enough new wrinkles to not feel like a carbon copy of the original.
Dungeon Defenders II tells the story of a kingdom plagued by monstrous, interdimensional invaders intent on freeing their dark gods from Eternia Crystals, the primary mcguffin of the campaign and object players are tasked to defend against waves of hostile beasts. The story is as paper thin as you’d expect (and, frankly, want) and wisely backgrounded to make way for the gameplay, which is the beating heart of the Dungeon Defenders franchise.
Players begin with an Eternity Crystal to defend and a limited pool of resources from which to conjure their defenses. Which defenses are available depend on which heroes the player has selected for their hero deck, a catalog of four heroes available to freely swap between during each mission. Each hero has different abilities and a different battlefield role: the fighter is, unsurprisingly, a frontline tank, with straightforward defenses like a cannon tower and blockade, whereas the monk plays a supporting role with passive fire traps and towers that buff other defenses in their area of effect. New heroes can be purchased with in-game currency or bought with real money, and each can be leveled and equipped individually.
Speaking of equipment, Dungeon Defenders 2 is a game replete with loot. There is a staggering assortment of armor, weapons, and trinkets to slot on your favorite heroes, and the variety has real effects on the gameplay. Weapon handling properties vary significantly and the various buffs and effects attached to each item have a critical effect on gameplay. The loot treadmill, matched with challenging gameplay and the RPG mechanics around leveling and upgrading your heroes provide a great incentive to delve into the game’s abundant end game well after you’ve completed the campaign.
Properly equipping your heroes is key, because they represent the front line of your defenses, particularly in co-op matches, which is where the game really shines. Having four players with different skill sets and defensive arsenals all unleashing traps and turrets and explosive special attacks on the menacing hordes of cartoonish foes provides some of Dungeon Defenders 2 finest moments. The game is fully playable solo and you never feel punished for going it alone, but it does feel a bit hollow without an entourage. Dungeon Defenders 2 truly shines when you’re surrounded by allies, desperately striving to hold the horde at bay at the very precipice of disaster.
The action is bolstered by a colorful, vivid art style, bright and garish and reminiscent of a high quality Saturday morning cartoon. Effects are flashy and attention grabbing, and character and enemy design adheres to a cohesive aesthetic that really shines against the fantasy backdrop. Heroes ride the line between stylized and over-exaggerated well. Foes manage the difficult trick of looking both cartoonish and darkly menacing at the same time.
The discussion around free-to-play games is a thorny one, particularly around franchises like Dungeon Defenders or EA’s Plants Vs. Zombies that transition from a more traditional model into F2P. And while Dungeon Defenders does an admirable job of ensuring that there are ways to earn most of the content purely by playing it does fall into the trap typical of many free-to-play titles of feeling a bit repetitive as you try to grind out enough coin to unlock new heroes.
The F2P model is very much both a boon and a bane in this case: on the one hand, it’s a model that incents the developers to continue to update and expand their game, because their revenue relies on the game-as-a-service model and a living game. On the other hand, it means that pitfalls like creating a grind to frustrate players enough to shell out a few bucks are almost inevitable.
In the devs’ defense though, while there is a grindy element, it’s not nearly as egregious as it is in many other games in this space, or even some full-priced triple-A titles that have supplemented their retail price tag with microtransactions of free-to-play elements. And in the game’s current state, there’s enough content, and diversity that the sensation of endless repetition is greatly diminished.
Should you buy it?
While there are a number of trinkets and items and shards and a host of other resources you’re welcome to spend real money on, on top of the heroes, none of them are so critical to the experience that you feel bullied into opening your wallet. The treadmill means that unless you’re saving cash to specifically unlock a new hero or item, you’ll never feel trapped or as though you can’t progress through the campaign.
In any game the key is the experience itself; if you’re having a great time playing the actual game, a lot of the peripheral elements can be dismissed or excused. And Dungeon Defenders 2 has a great, robust, addictive core that, while it never revolutionizes the concepts from the original, feels like a worthy successor. Whether you’re looking for a quick fix or a deep experience you can sink tens of hours into, Dungeon Defenders 2 is an easy recommend, particularly at the low price of absolutely free.