Dungeon Defenders was first released on PC in 2010, later coming to the PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles. It proved a success, selling over a million copies across all platforms and receiving positive critical reception. It spawned a mobile adaption, an Eternity version which promised several enhancements over the original, and then finally its first true sequel in 2014. Fast track to the present day, we’re now treated to another sequel; Dungeon Defenders: Awakened.
For those who haven’t played Dungeon Defenders; it’s tower defense meets action adventure with light RPG elements. Your ultimate goal is to protect the Eternia Crystal which is placed at the end of multiple pathways. Enemies, including archers, goblin grunts, wyverns and dark mages, travel down these paths in waves and you must defeat them. You do this by building weapons and traps, as well as use your character’s own abilities.
Dungeon Defenders: Awakened has a basic premise. The four heroes – the Squire, the Huntress, the Apprentice, and the Monk – find themselves accidentally breaking the Eternia Crystals and falling into a rift in time. Here they must once again protect the crystals from invading beasties until they defeat the final boss. The story really just sets the scene to give you a reason for all the ensuing shenanigans – it’s only touched upon briefly throughout the campaign and plays second fiddle to the gameplay.
Maps consist of a Build Phase and a Combat Phase. The Build phase is where you set up weapons and traps, which are unique for each character. The Huntress, for example, sets traps which have a number of times they can explode or poison enemies. The Monk can set auras that heal players and slow enemies. The Apprentice can build towers that shoot fireballs and magic missiles, and the Squire can build barricades that halt enemy progress. Each tower will cost a set amount of gems to build, which you will collect as you defeat enemies. If playing solo you can freely switch between the characters to pick and choose which towers to place, though this is obviously streamlined more when playing multiplayer with up to four players. It’s fun to work out where to place each tower, and naturally the appeal here is to strategise which works best in particular spots and scenarios.
The Combat Phase is where the series takes a unique approach to the tower defense genre. As the waves of enemies charge at the Crystal, players will take control of their character and can either fight back the enemies, support other players or repair/upgrade existing towers. For the solo campaign it felt like the waves did drag on – you’re basically just rushing around the stage and checking on your towers while waiting out the slow paced enemies. The game would benefit greatly from a speed-up option. Playing with friends, things go faster as each person can guard their particular area of the map and strategise together. It also negates the need to switch between each character to build the different tower types – assuming you don’t all play as the same character!
What will make or break Dungeon Defenders: Awakened for most players is if you tackle the campaign solo or via co-op multiplayer. The solo experience gets repetitive quickly, namely due to a lack of gameplay variety and that matches can drag on. But with a couple of friends, the experience is better. You don’t spend as much time in the Build Phase, and you can pull together your abilities and support each other when needed. Unless the developer adds the ability to play with bots, it’s encouraged to think twice before purchasing this game with the intent of playing solo.
Another focus of Dungeon Defenders: Awakened is its loot and customisation options. You can equip characters with different armour and weapons, and then level up these items or sell them for some quick gems. The annoying thing is the menus are not descriptive enough to identify what the items are. Each character has their own set of tools and weapons, and sometimes it’s simply confusing as to who the item is meant for. This isn’t helped by the fact you need to switch out characters to physically see what works with them, all while navigating a confusing and unintuitive menu system. It takes you out of the immersion of the game and feels more like a chore instead of a compelling mechanic. The PC version has received regular updates since launch, so hopefully this will be fixed in the future for all versions.
In addition to single-player and multiplayer supported campaigns, Dungeon Defenders: Awakened features a Survival mode, a Strategy mode where players can only place towers and not physically fight enemies, and a Mix mode which randomises enemies varieties. It’s standard flare but will keep invested players coming back for more to flesh out their characters with loot rewards.
The game features cel-shaded visuals which compliment the fantasy/medieval themes. It really makes the world pop with colour and stand out from some of the more generic looking fantasy games on the market. Explosions and various powers are on full display when in the thick of battles – there’s never a dull moment!
Dungeon Defenders: Awakened lacks a final polish to make it a truly great experience. The menu system is cumbersome, the solo experience gets repetitive due to lack of variety, the story is thin and there isn’t a lot that makes this entry stand out from previous games in the series. If you do like the franchise or like the idea of doing some tower defending with friends, then the game will not disappoint.
Dungeon Defenders: Awakened was reviewed on an Xbox Series X console with a review copy provided by the publisher. For more information, check out the game’s official website.
- Fun multiplayer shenanigans - Nice cel-shaded visuals
- Solo experience is repetitive - Very light story content - Cumbersome menu system/user interface