After spending quite some time in Steam Early Access, Trendy Entertainment has officially released Dungeon Defenders II across PC and home consoles. Just like the first game, Dungeon Defenders II blends tower defense with action-RPG elements, expanding certain areas, while streamlining the process in others. After large patches (over 60 game updates) expanded the game’s content on PC, the console release (specifically the PlayStation 4 build) has more content than I was expecting. Along with it, the game has officially become a free-to-play title, offering costumes, characters, pets, and more with real-life currency, however, you can adequately play the game without spending a cent. Trendy Entertainment almost knocked it out of the park with Dungeon Defenders II, but some finicky UI controls and performance hiccups hamper an otherwise pleasant light-hearted multiplayer experience.
At its core, Dungeon Defenders II is a tower defense game, as you must stop the evil forces from reaching and subsequently destroying the Crystals. There are additional objectives within each map, forcing players to defend multiple locations and not just a single point. Waves are divided into two different phases: build and combat. During the build phase,e players gather green gems to summon towers from their selected character. These can be placed anywhere on the map. However, you’ll want to pay attention to where enemies spawn from and what path they take to reach their goal. During certain waves, enemy reinforcement will spawn from a portal anywhere on the map, making it much harder to prepare for those waves. Even if you have additional currency to spend on new towers, each map does have a limit on the amount of defenses that can be built. From personal experience, it is sometimes better to upgrade your defenses than to simply flood the screen with multiple low tier ones.
The game’s campaign is broken up into different acts, with multiple quests within each one. There are almost 20 different stages to play, set across both the normal and hard difficulty, but Dungeon Defenders II isn’t a game that will survive based on the narrative alone. As an action-RPG, with tons of loot, the game focuses on its endgame content, as do most online games. Your character's journey has barely begun by the time the campaign ends. From gaining levels to finding epic loot, Trendy Entertainment has ensured that any action-RPG fan will enjoy the game well past the game’s last act. Even your gear can be improved by pumping both of the in-game currency into them. It doesn’t make sense to do this at lower levels, but if you find something that you know you want to stick with, it may be worth to upgrade.
Each hero in the game has a different playstyle, and while The Squire may focus on putting up blockades and spawning massive cannons, EV2 can create electrical energy towers that connect to zigzag their way across open areas. Cthulhu has been one of my favorite heroes to play, but I found his towers to be initially lacking. Summoning skeletons with various powers, they start quite weak and are easy to destroy, however, once I learned the key to playing as Cthulhu, things have changed. Besides placing towers, all heroes can fight using standard and special attacks. These attacks allow for you to react to the situation, from focusing on single boss targets to using all of your area of effect abilities to dispose of dozens of weaker enemies flooding the screen. Special abilities all have a cost associated with them, tied to a separate cooldown meter. What makes Cthulhu unique is his ability to trigger ultimate attacks on any of his deployed towers. When used correctly, this can decimate any enemies in the path of the attack.
With 11 different hero classes currently in the game, I’m not going to go into depth on the different abilities for each one. Instead of locking you into a set hero during a match, you can build a deck of four heroes. This means that at any time, you can swap to a different hero, summon a tower, and swap to someone new. This is more important when playing single-player, as you now have four different tower sets and abilities to utilize. As some of the heroes offer more of a support role, such as the Monk’s auras, it made the original game almost impossible to play by yourself.
Loot has always been an essential component of the game, and Trendy Entertainment has not disappointed. Currency and loot bursts out of defeated enemies, littering the field with new weapons, power-ups, armor pieces, medallions, and more. You can easily check the stats of any fallen loot, and it also lets you quickly equip it without going into a single menu. Loot is divided up into different rarity tiers, represented by their color; white-deep yellow (common to legendary). More importantly, loot is not a shared resource so that each player will have their own loot drops online. Everything collected is placed into various bags in your inventory. Each one of your bags have unique settings that you can change. Auto collect (where the item will appear in your inventory) is without a doubt the most useful, but you can also sort items so that each bag that you have (you can purchase more) is used for a different character or only is used for a different rarity of the item. For example, I have a bag that will auto collect weapons and armor pieces only if their rarity is epic or above for Cthulhu (the game calls him The Abyss Lord in certain menus).
As a free-to-play game, players can purchase gems that can be used to buy costumes, unlock heroes, accessories, pets, lock boxes, additional inventory space, and more. Heroes can be purchased using in-game currency earned by playing the game, but the paid currency acts as a shortcut. With 11 current characters, it is one of the most diverse cast of characters that range from a gun-arm touting robot (very reminiscent of Samus from the Metroid series), the Abyss Lord (Cthulhu), to the Gunwitch with a Splinter Cell-like skintight suit and night vision goggles.
Dungeon Defenders II features an online social space that allows 20 players to run around a wide-open town, complete with various NPCs and shops. Here, you are free to form parties with others, join games or create your own, purchase new heroes/costumes, etc. or test your newly acquired loot on training dummies. After you complete the campaign, you’ll gain access to bonus and daily missions, providing an infinite amount of content. Not to mention, the campaign is best played at higher difficulties. There are even plenty of challenges to complete, yielding currency as a reward for completion. With that many characters running around and triggering their special attacks, the framerate and game engine doesn’t hold up. Textures take a long time to load correctly, and hitching is quite rampant. All of these issues are nonexistent if you choose to start a private party, as the game instead sends players to an enlarged, but enclosed Tavern. The same options that appear in the public social space appear here as well.
One component that desperately needs to be updated is the clunky nature of the UI. When in the open space, hitting start (Options) will show both the game’s menu – letting you access tutorials, change options, or equip new items – as well as the current player list. From here, you can form private parties or send friend invites. However, anytime the list is updated, the cursor will change to the player list. At times, it makes something as simple as changing equipment while in the social space much harder than it needs to be. As weird as it might sound, but I almost want to see a controllable cursor instead of window selections, as there are too many different buttons prompts to switch window panes, equip, move, or sell items. Not to mention, sometimes things just don’t work, such as trying to equip a different costume for a hero.
Dungeon Defenders II is a vast improvement over the previous game, even with its move to a free-to-play model. Sure, it may take some time to unlock the new heroes with in-game currency, but the option is there for those that don’t want to spend money. Even with the UI shortcomings and the tutorials being out of date with the current version of the game, Dungeon Defenders II is quite enjoyable. The colorful visuals and stylized characters are a joy to play.
Note: Dungeon Defenders II was reviewed based on a digital PlayStation 4 copy of the game, provided by the publisher.