Thursday, November 24, 2011

Defending Dungeons!

Right, made it out the other side of that Exam.

One of my big tension relievers recently has been playing Dungeon Defenders with friends. Like many of my games purchases this year it's an "indie" title, although has been a big success on iOS and Android before reaching the PC. It's a little like Sanctum, in so much as the basic concept is to "play" inside a Tower Defense game, building and upgrading towers in a build phase, and then running around in a combat phase fighting in support of them. But that's about where the similarity ends.

The first big difference is the graphics - Sanctum is a clean and futuristic looking game, as befits its somewhat clinical level design, but Dungeon Defenders is a bright, dare-I-say-WoW-like cartoon fantasy world with busy, pre-build mazes that you can freely block off with your towers and traps. The second is that your characters are all different; they come in four classes, they level up and spend points to customise themselves, and collect items they can equip and level up them too. Its bright, colourful, and definitely not clinical, with a host of traits on both your character and their equipment to juggle, and it's not always hugely well documented as to what they all do, or what a "good" upgrade is in the first place.

However the class structure is really interesting. Rated in terms of difficulty, in practice they mean complexity of how they interact with the world and their traps, and playing in a group you would want to fill the "easier" slots first. So an Adept brings shooty towers to the table, the Knight blockers and knockback, the Hunter snares and traps, and the Monk Auras - but whilst they are all powerful its a lot easier to live without auras or traps than without blocks or turrets. What this is indicative of, more than anything, is that this is a game built for multi-player.

Single player you can swap between characters but it's a messy, cumbersome drag that doesn't really work, and that's about all I have to say about it.

Multi-Player soars.

Even with a single other player in a game, you cover two tower types and can double the coverage against incoming mobs. There is a wonderful synergy that you can discover with a little experience between not just towers, but players and towers and players and other towers. The gameplay also starts to change - with more mobs spawning big packs become disproportionately more dangerous but you also get more Mana to spend on towers and upgrades. But with a full quote of four players, you end up tight on build capacity (a limit on how much you can build) that almost limits your options rather than expanding them.

And the game knows this, and the levels reflect that. As with any tower defense game the key is placing the right combinations in the right places, and as with any third-person action game the key is keeping your head and reacting to changing situations. Dungeon Defenders is a near-perfect mix of these, especially when you are trying to rebuild a turret-line on the fly with a back of angry looking goblins, kobolds and orcs bearing down on you. I've even played some levels six or seven times with different numbers of people and different characters, and they're still fun, because the core gameplay is so solid.

Sensibly, Steam sells this on it's own or in a 4-pack, because playing this with friends has been one of the most fun gaming experiences of the year.