Dungeon Defenders: Awakened is the latest entry in the tower defense series.
The game opens with a colourful comic-book-esque intro that contextualises the story and the player’s purpose. The four main heroes: the Squire, Huntress, Apprentice and Monk are sent back in time – severely weakened – as they continue their role of protecting the ‘Eternia Crystals’ from the invading forces of typical high-fantasy villainy. Beyond this colourful intro, there is not much else distinct or memorable about the narrative.
The story primarily functions as an excuse to get from A-B, and whilst brief, infrequent cutscenes seek to remind the player of the narrative stakes, all it really denotes is a change in locale. This formula continues all the way up to the final boss.
Thankfully, the gameplay here is deep.
Good old tower-defense:
Through 4 player co-op (or offline, solo play), you control one of a number of different heroes. Each hero functions as a different class. For example you have your ‘Squire’ which fills the role of Knight; ‘Apprentice’ – or otherwise Wizard. Each class develops different abilities and it is up to you to decide how you want to develop your classes.
Gameplay contains two phases: the build phase and the combat phase. As the name suggests, the build phase involves constructing your defense systems, such as towers, which can function in both offensive and defensive manners. Each class has unique towers that they can construct, like the Monk’s different ‘Aura’s’ which can heal players and electrify enemies.
As the game progresses, and the difficulty increases, the build phase becomes far more calculated and requires a much greater deal of planning. The structure of each area is something that the player should utilise, by identifying choke-points and generally using the terrain to your advantage. A rushed set-up can be the difference between victory and defeat in the later waves, where much stronger enemies exist to push your tactics.
I found carefully planning my class set-ups and tower placements to be deeply satisfying, and when overcome by a powerful enemy, rewarded by my careful planning. Whilst not quite reaching chess like levels of forward-thinking, there is still enough variables to consider to make each defense feel unique and engaging.
… With a splash of ‘hack and slash’:
The combat phase strays away from the typical tower-defense formula, by favouring ARPG ‘hack and slash’ gameplay. The gameplay itself is extremely simple, but the options the game provides allows for some variety.
Each class has three different combat abilities and five different towers that unlock as they level up. Experemination comes here in terms of what abilities and towers synergize well together.
Basic upgrades to health and damage are nothing to write home about, but modifications you can make to your classes tower, such as an increased fire rate, feel fairly significant.
Loot is dropped at a generous rate, so as to match the difficulty climb. Very quickly, you will see your heroes capable of dishing out hefty damage and your towers possessing insane range across the field.
The quality of loot varies heavily, and I often found myself selling equipment in batches. This seems by design, as the gold you accrue from selling the loot is then used to upgrade the actual equipment you want to use.
Sadly, I never quite got into the hook of defend, loot, upgrade, that the gameplay seems tailored to encourage. The sheer volume of loot – that quickly becomes indistinguishable beyond minor stat changes – sapped out any excitement I had when it came to unlocking new gear. Coupled with a crowded and obtuse UI, I quickly lost interest in trying to manage my characters stats.
Of course, this is how I felt: I could just as well see how other players could get hooked by the number-crunching potential of the loot system.
Dungeon Defenders: Awakened is at the very least a very solid tower-defense game. Supported by a high-level of customisation – with varying quality – and diversified by ARPG elements, and what you have is a title that fans of the genre will no doubt appreciate. Especially if playing with friends.
But, an absent story, mindless loot system and clunky UI means that this game is unlikely to win over many newcomers to the genre.