Evolved Tower Defense

Start off with the truth, first impressions were pretty jarring coming from playing the original Dungeon Defenders. But there was a lot of hope for a beautiful future with revamped levels, deep capabilities for character design, astonishing costumes, and an active player community.

Design Grief in Five Stages

Denial, Anger

Some of the UI design choices, and the overall feel of the game is dramatically different from the original Dungeon Defenders. It isn’t fair to compare the two, it is like comparing your son to your daughter. Nevertheless, I can’t help but struggle with some of the UI choices, and overall play. The Squire towers have to be placed with the Squire behind them, as you cannot rotate them after placing them. If you want to put towers up on a ledge pointing out, you cannot.
They replaced the bowling ball turrets with cannon shots. They’re not quite as much fun. The Huntress’s traps appear woefully underpowered. The electric auras had what appeared to be no effect on enemies at all. I checked the auras later and they showed a large amount of damage done, but no kills. Then I was trying to solo a level with the Huntress and my traps were quickly overrun. Frustration was mounting, but there is a curiosity here.

The special abilities on the weapons were also confusing and not actually evident. They might need some small icons on them so we can see them and quickly assess their impact on the weapon’s effectiveness. Is it a speed custom ability, or a lightning ability? Icons would help answer those kind of questions at a glance.

Acceptance, Understanding, Love

But after playing for 2 hours, the design choices started making sense. Dungeon Defenders II has evolved from the first one. Repairing towers became second nature, and the button layout began to make more sense in terms of expanding the game’s ability to create variety. Now the D-Pad (originally only able to activate one ability at a time) and other buttons can activate multiple abilities, and they can all have shortcuts. Also, there was a lot of love thrown in for gamepad controllers, which is unusual in the PC space. That was wonderful and very appreciated. I became able to quickly summon five defenses into an area in a matter of moments. No more “RB, A, Right stick up, position aura, wait for summon to complete” and then repeat that process for another aura. Just pop it right onto the ground. Tower Defense expanded and simplified at the same time.

In the original Dungeon Defenders, at the lower difficulties, if you could put down a trap, you could solo the level. You didn’t need to build a DPS character until you got to the higher difficulties. In Dungeon Defenders II, you need to plan ahead. Build different characters. Every piece of armor has a different variation, rings do different types of stat boosts than medallions, and so on. It is well crafted play on encouraging users to build different types.

Astounding Graphics and Levels

Many of the graphics are jaw-dropping. When exiting the starting room of the Tavern town, I gasped. It felt like a real town, with wind blowing, shops everywhere, beautiful colors, and cute details everywhere you see.

The details continue into the levels. The levels are difficult to navigate, but not in a frustrating way, but in a challenging way. The jumps are all attainable, but it still requires a certain amount of prowess to run really fast across the map to save a crystal. There was definite sense of satisfaction when you jump over a bridge, onto a pipe above the battlefield, and skirt over to one of the other crystals. And beyond that, there are more than just crystals to defend now. There are secondary objectives, different paths, multiple tiers to the path. Long gone are the flat 2D maps of classic tower defense games. All other tower defense levels will pale in comparison to Dungeon Defenders II’s level layouts and deep intensity and strategy required to complete them. Playing a map solo is difficult, and the hero struggles to make a difference on his own, but throw in 3-4 other heroes/friends and your team will literally turn the tide, close the valve, and keep the town safe.

Character Build Strategy

In the original Dungeon Defenders, at the lower difficulties, if you could put down a trap or tower, you could solo the level. You didn’t need to build a specialized DPS or builder character until you got to the higher difficulties. In Dungeon Defenders II, you need to plan ahead. Build different characters. Every piece of armor has a different variation, rings do different types of stat boosts than medallions, and so on. The game and equipment selections strongly encourage users to build specialized characters, and then switch between them in the middle of battle. All experience is given to all the hero cards you have, so go wild!

When you first step into the game, get to know your heroes, and figure out which towers you like the most. Play the earliest levels with each one, which one you like the swing the sword with? Which one builds the defenses that play best into your style? Then specialize and focus your equipment, as it really does make a difference in this game.

Stream and Commentary from First Playthrough