Everything old is new again in this remastered and reimagined story that revisits the past adventures of the original four gallant heroes of the Dungeon Defenders universe.
Type: Single-player, Multiplayer
Genre: RPG, Strategy
Developer: Chromatic Games
Publisher: Chromatic Games
Franchise: Dungeon Defenders
Release date: 28 May, 2020
A long time ago I played a game called Dungeon Defenders with a friend of mine who I have lost touch with over the years. We played it for hours. Just the two of us steadfast warriors versus the world. Then I learned he was skipping the cut-scenes (which I never knew existed) and was a disappointed that we were missing out on them (well I was missing out on them, he had seen them before). Back then they were not easily accessible on your favorite streaming services (or maybe I never thought of checking there) so I ended up having to replay the game. I rerolled a new character and started the adventure all over again, minus my video skipping friend of course. It was fun at first due to the DLC character I was now using being so different than the stock character I had been playing with before, but eventually the game seemed a little lifeless without my comrade at arms there. I never did catch back up to where we left off… mostly because the game can be a bit hard on your own! When Dungeon Defenders 2 came out, I dabbled with that one as well. A little over half a decade later a different group of friends joined forces to defend those dungeons yet again. We didn’t spend as much time with it as I had with my old friend in Dungeon Defenders 1, but we still had our fun for a little while. Why did I share this backstory with you? Well since Dungeon Defenders Awakened is a retelling of the previous story I figured this was a fitting note. Plus it ties into something later, so just bear with me until that time.
I would also like to say that I do not typically read other reviews before writing my own as I don’t like to either get jaded by the negativity or swayed by the positivity of others. I didn’t even read the Preview we posted on our site a few months back! To all I know I am contradicting HotShot! Basically what I am saying is that I like to form my own opinions. I apologize to HotShot if we are in disagreement.
The Dungeon Defenders franchise has been around for about a decade now and it follows the same basic formula through all its iterations. It’s a Tower Defense game at its core with a playable hero for you to control too. If you are interested in trying the series without actually buying it then you can give Dungeon Defenders 2 a try as it is free to play. Dungeon Defenders Awakened is as the developer says a reimagined version of the original Dungeon Defenders. It plays very similar and actually looks very similar however it definitely does have some improvements over the original. While the original had its roster expanded by Downloadable content allowing you to play as heroes other than the starting four, for Dungeon Defenders Awakened they opted to just get back to the basics. Depending on your play style the four heroes available are sufficient for you to find one that suits your needs and tastes. Let’s talk about that first.
The four heroes are sent back in time to their earlier days, and they even take on a more youthful appearance too. From the Huntress drawing on her ranged weapons and traps, the Apprentice armed with a staff and manipulating the elements, the Monk with his pole/spears and auras or the Squire who prefers to just use his swords backed up by some basic towers to dispatch the evildoers there is a hero with a play style which will likely meet your preferences. Nothing stops you from playing more than one character either! I took a bit of time and played them all and found the Apprentice to be the most well rounded in terms of towers and survivability so that’s the one I played with most. Each hero has their own defenses they can build. It’s important to find defenses that meet your personal preference more than the hero in my opinion. I found the Squire’s defenses felt like I was using them wrong because I didn’t really seem to get much benefit out of more than half of them. The Monk’s Auras and the Huntress’ Traps play differently than the towers the others use as they deplete over time rather than take damage. They felt more challenging to use than the standard towers but they did make for an interesting twist on the gameplay. The reason why I said the Apprentice felt the most well rounded is I liked the variety of Element Towers better than the Squire’s Blockades (which I kind of didn’t find all that useful in comparison to a ranged attacking tower). I also liked that the towers took damage rather than have charges as often times my towers don’t get hit. That meant I could actually safely ignore them and run around way more without having to worry about refreshing my traps/auras. With that said I eventually hit a brick wall when playing the campaign where nothing my poor Apprentice does seems to be sufficient so maybe one of the other heroes would shine more. That or the multiplayer nature of the game is starting to show.
And now this is where my Reviewer’s Note comes in. This game is fun enough as a single player title but it doesn’t really shine until it is played multiplayer with friends. Some missions are downright punishing for a single hero, but are quite a bit more enjoyable when four people team up together. I unfortunately had to delay posting this review a few days because the people I knew who had this game were in different time zones so it took a bit of effort to find a time that worked for all of us. It definitely paid off though as this game was far more enjoyable as a group than it was on its own. Not saying on your own isn’t fun, it is, but you can really see the interplay and the intended interconnected design of the various Towers, Traps and Auras coming together when they are all used together. While you can use the less is more strategy and have carefully placed, upgraded Towers in your single player adventure and do decently, being able to intermix some Towers, Auras and Traps really helps punish those who dared to try to take out your core.
Now that we talked about the Heroes and a little bit about Multiplayer, let’s try actually talking about the game play itself. I kind of grew up with Tower Defense (TD) games. I always enjoyed them. They were similar to my Base Building Real Time Strategy games I enjoyed, just on a much smaller scale. To that end, I picked up Dungeon Defenders (the original) when it came out because I liked the idea of having a hero with the towers too. That wasn’t really that common at the time. Defenses are placed in strategic points (wherever you feel those are, the game doesn’t force you to place them in certain spots like some TDs) and are used to attack enemies who are marching down paths towards your Core (Crystal that if lost loses the match.) It is your job to kill enemies, collect equipment and resources and ensure the Core survives all waves of attacks. The game is broken down into Acts, Stages and Waves, each stage has a certain number of waves you must survive and between each wave is a chest full of gear for you. There is also plenty of gear left in the wake of battle spread over the map usually so you are never likely hurting too much for something new. There are sets you can build or simply equip gear that meets your needs. As you progress you gain levels and unlock new abilities, tower upgrades, etc. You will also be able to set talents based on your preferences and even if you make a mistake the game kindly lets you reset those talents to place them again. All in all, there is a lot of tailoring you can do to make your hero your most spectacular hero.
Each map you play on typically has multiple enemy spawning doors. These doors release an assortment of enemies which march their way to your Core. You must place your defenses in such a way that they can eliminate all the enemies before they reach your Core or at least that they are thinned out enough that your hero can personally deal with any that slip past. As you progress through the waves, different enemy types are introduced. As you progress through the stages the more challenging enemies start showing up sooner in the waves or in greater numbers. The number of enemies in a wave also increases as the challenge increases. While you can adjust the difficulty of the game, you can’t do so quite as freely as some may like. Stages are unlocked based on the highest difficulty you completed them on so you are best to play it at the highest challenge you are willing to play it at first and adjust down as needed rather than playing on the lowest level and working your way up. The game tracks which difficulties you have completed though so if you ever do feel like going back and playing an easier version of a stage for fun you will easily be able to tell which ones you have and have not completed on that difficulty yet.
There are a few different modes for you to play through other than the Campaign. Survival mode pits you against wave after wave of enemies to see just how long you can survive. Challenges are there to see if you can win given certain restrictions or other modifications to the basic gameplay. Mix Mode shakes things up a little and adds a touch of randomness to the waves coming out to attack you. Pure Strategy feels like a bit of a watered down Survival mode and serves as a great place to practice and build up before taking on Survival mode. These additional modes do add some extra interest to the game and allow you to level up and/or unlock even more gear for your characters to use. If you ever get stuck in the Campaign hit up these modes and get yourself some experience, new equipment and even some Familiars (they give bonuses) to help you on your way.
This is a hard section to add in for this sort of genre. It’s basically defenses doing their thing striking at marching enemies who do their thing striking back at the towers. The heroes can also do their striking thing too. It’s actually kind of dull to even talk about it to be honest. There isn’t much to say about the defenses. There are defenses that do things differently but in the end it is basically the same thing as the others are doing. Melee style ones felt kind of useless to me in comparison to their ranged counterparts because they tended to take damage much more easily and ultimately were destroyed much faster. Sure they protected the ranged defenses, but the ranged defenses don’t even really need defending most of the time (especially early on!) None of the defenses do any kind of impressive power moves, but that is okay as they are just tower defense style defenses after all. The heroes themselves, while they can do damage, are not really all that more impressive than the towers that support them. I mean sure the Squire seemed to cut through enemies like they were refrigerated butter, but the others didn’t really do that much. The Huntress despite her firepower seemed to have the stopping power of an enemy combatant in any major spy movie. The Apprentice did a decent job of it but it still kind of felt like a magically charged orb of that size should do more damage than a long ranged dodge ball to the enemy. The Monk (I named him Grodd)… I tended to get beat up with him for some reason and died a lot when attacking with him directly. I think I am just bad with him! His auras though make him definitely worth playing and make him invaluable in late game levels. Watching someone else play as the monk, who was far better than I, shows he can hold his own pretty well, but even then he died more than the rest of us (cowards who stand far away and lob kind of melted snowballs at the enemies while cowering behind our defenses.)
There is a bit of visual improvement over the original Dungeon Defenders, which itself looked great at the time. The game has a cartoon hero feel and there is plenty of detail to go around such the links in his chain-mail armor as well as the little red hearts on the Squire’s boxer shorts. While the areas you visit do blend together a little bit, there is still plenty of variety in the various tile-sets used for each of the stage’s maps. They use the lighting/effect options available in the Unreal Engine 4 quite well to really help set the atmosphere of the map and make it more enjoyable to look at. Even the plethora of duplicate bits of gear your find laying around may have a different colour scheme to it rather than just being a copy paste. There are enough varieties of enemies to keep it interesting and they are visually different enough to help you pick the particularly troublesome ones out of a crowd.
The music in the game is pretty standard for the series. It helps spur you on in battle with its more thrilling and dramatic tone and is nice and relaxing when not in danger. Atmospheric music is always welcome and even though there really isn’t that much variety of it in the game right now, what is there is well used. The narrator doesn’t say much, but he does a good job doing it when he does speak. The individual characters don’t really say anything understandable, they kind of do their best Link impressions to be honest. That makes the game more marketable to folks who may not be able to understand English so they won’t be left feeling like they are missing something. While it is always nice when characters talk, it isn’t even really needed in most games. The rest of the sound effects are of your standard generic variety and not really worth going into further detail on. I don’t say that out of negativity though, just you can only say so much about a clink and thwack sound as an example. It would be nice if there were better audio (or even visual) clues to when your towers are in danger or your traps/auras need refreshed but it doesn’t really seem to do much to let you know. Sure you can check the status of it, but it would be nice if there were some much stronger clues.
Controls and User Interface
The controls and user interface was a bit challenging at times. Sometimes when I would point at a tower or piece of equipment I wanted and pressed and held the requisite button nothing would happen. Sometimes you have to wander around the tower/item in question until you find that sweet spot where it recognizes what you are trying to do. I didn’t experience that quite so much once it left Early Access but it was still a bit of an issue. The inventory screen allows you to filter by sets and various other ways. With there being a glut of items thrown your way it can be a bit of a challenge even with a well sorted inventory to figure out exactly what is better than what. Especially since the majority of the gear you find is just copies of other gear you already have. Sure you can sell the extras, that’s great (although I never did figure out where I could spend the money I made selling it), but sheesh there is a lot of gear to wade through to find something marginally better! Mind you it was like that in the previous games so no surprises there! The game does try to help you by putting green triangles on items that are improvements, but I actually got caught in a bit of loop listening to that once. I equipped a new staff to Vivi, my Apprentice, as it had that green triangle on it and it sounded interesting. Different staffs do have different looking attacks so it’s always fun to try out new ones. Then as soon I was done admiring it I saw another staff with a green triangle on it, so I equipped that one instead… and then the staff I just replaced had that green triangle on it. Turns out it gets marked if it has any stat that is an improvement, not just a general overall improvement. Since each staff, armor or familiar has its own stats there will never be the perfect upgrade for you as prescribed by the green triangle, it still is by your personal preference. Are you willing to sacrifice damage for speed? Perhaps more power but no elemental effect? It really comes down to personal preference. Plus the fact the towers do most of the work, it likely doesn’t make that big of difference anyway (at least not early on). Looking past the responsiveness to controls issue and the confusion a cluttered sea of equipment can be, the game actually has a good user interface.
I used a keyboard and mouse with this game because my gamepad felt almost useless. I have no idea if it was me or if it was something with the game but it just did not go that well for me. [Edit: In an open letter from the Developer they identified controller support as poor and a major issue they plan to fix. Yay! It wasn’t me!] The game does a good job showing you on the screen what buttons you need to press and what kind of press it is expecting such as if it wants you to tap the button or press and hold. As mentioned though in the previous paragraph, even following the directions on screen and looking at my keyboard to ensure I was pressing the correct button, it would fail to register.
More than Just Enemies Trying to Stop You
I played this game on what is known as a Press Build initially. That’s typically a stable build that showcases most of the major elements of the game and is relatively stable. It doesn’t usually get every little patch a beta branch usually gets to avoid breaking saves, introducing new bugs or other undesirable elements. Different Developers handle Press Builds differently. My general rule of thumb is if I am playing a Press Build rather than a Release, Early Access or Beta Branch, I tend to like to play the game for a couple of days post-launch just to see if the Press Build held back anything I should warn my readers about. Sure it makes me miss my deadlines a little sometimes and sure launch day is always preferred, but I believe myself to be an honest reviewer and I would hate to feed misinformation because I was unaware of the problems the non-Press version had. That seems to be the case here. This entire section was written based on my experience in the post-launch build aka version 1.0. The game seems to have become a little unstable for me. Sure I had some issues with my ability to repair/upgrade otherwise interact with certain towers/objects at random, but it was isolated enough to not be that serious of a concern and I attributed it to beta issues. Those issues have cleared up quite a bit post launch, however, now the game seems to have stability issues for me. Twice in a matter of an hour I had the game crash on me. Something it never did in all the hours I played it in beta. Another interesting thing that occurred was that sometimes when it loaded to the Tavern, rather than the third person view of your character you usually get, I was met with a zoomed in first person perspective that could only look around and not interact or even move. Just in case I had hit something randomly, I tried opening the menu to check the controls, but the game was unresponsive to anything other than moving the mouse (my gamepad was not connected to check it). That happened a few times forcing me to Alt-F4 the game and reboot my computer just to be safe. I’ve had a few other glitches happen here and there but they were usually one of a kind and never really showed up again. The game actually feels more beta now than it did in the pre-release build.
One last thing to mention before wrapping up. I will admit, my computer isn’t the newest one ever. I don’t have a water-cooled quad RTX Titan setup (or whatever the cool kids have these days) so take in the next bit with that consideration in mind. I’ve played plenty of Unreal Engine 4 games. I’ve even played Unreal Engine 4 games that I didn’t meet the system requirements for and ran them smoothly at or near max settings. My PC might have a few grey wires showing but I don’t think that is really a problem as I at least meet the system requirements for this game. In later waves when there are a lot of enemies, especially in survival mode, the game slowed to a crawl. It was pretty much unplayable at that point. Would a stronger PC have fared better? Probably, would it have ultimately done that much better? Probably not as eventually it would also get too bogged down. Even when there were not really that many enemies on the field the game would have random slowdowns as well, but that could be just those grey wires I mentioned showing.
So, should you pick up Dungeon Defenders: Awakened? That is actually a hard call to be honest. While I did enjoy the game, it felt so much like the original Dungeon Defenders that it didn’t have that new game feel to it. It gave more of an impression of being simply a stripped down version of the original. Since the graphics improvement isn’t actually that significant (I actually reinstalled the original for fun to compare), I am not quite sure if I would suggest Awakened over the first game with its wide assortment of DLC available to it. Ignoring that aspect, the basic concept can get a bit repetitive over time but that is a drawback of most Tower Defense games. There is only so much you can do to keep it fresh. Having more and more doors opening helps, but eventually that stretches you so thin that it becomes almost punishing to play on your own in comparison to playing with others. You can search online for others playing it or find some friends who have it (likely the better option) and you may have yourself an interesting time together.
It is what it is right now. The Developer says that they have a plan for the future of the game and I want to factor that in to this review but the proof is in the pudding. They actually posted a rather long open letter that you can freely read if you wish, that outlines what went well and what unfortunately didn’t. I also have to factor in what is largely considered broken promises. I won’t bore you with the details but the game is currently lacking major features that were understood by the community to have been promised for the first post-beta launch build. Those features will likely come in the future and I welcome another reviewer on Save or Quit to review the game once it is more complete (or maybe I will. I do/did kind of like this series!). The Developer did comment after the fact that 1.0 is meant to be a reflection of how it stands versus Dungeon Defenders 1 in terms of content, etc. but I have to say that this feels like it has less than even DLC-less vanilla Dungeon Defenders 1, let alone with all its DLC and the post-launch refinement it has had. Another “bent promise” is that it also basically wiped out all your progress if you were playing in the beta despite the Developer promising it wouldn’t. Sure technically it didn’t as you can still access your stuff in the Legacy Mode, but if you want to play with the majority of the future players out there, you will have to restart in the Play mode. It’s not that big of deal to me because I only lost about three weeks of progress, but I do feel bad for people who sunk a lot more time in it than I had. It also likely won’t impact new buyers too much unless they want to play with their overpowered friends who have had the game pre-launch. There is still a laundry list of other grievances people have put out in terms of the current status of the game, which again I won’t bore you with the details in this review as they did not impact the score. With all that said, I have decided to press Pause on this game for now as I can’t in good faith go higher at this time.