Dungeon Defenders: Jack of All Trades, Master of None

What sold us on Trendy Entertainment's Dungeon Defenders is basically that it sounded like the video game equivalent of a smore, the awesome combination of three great ingredients into a cohesive whole. The idea behind the game is an experience that combines tower defense, roleplaying games, and hack and slash. The question is, will it blend and is it digestible?

You control one of four classes, a squire, a mage apprentice, a huntress or a monk. These young warriors were left behind to guard magic crystals, and of course they immediately break the seals holding back hordes of monsters that want to destroy the crystals.

Each stage is set in a basic map resembling your basic tower defense setups, and you spend time erecting defenses before the wave of enemies come. Unlike tower defense games, though, you are able to supplement your defenses by actually going out into the battle and attacking the incoming enemies.

We've spent a fair amount of hours playing the game, and our reaction is somewhat mixed. The game has some incredible positives. First and foremost amongst them is that it looks spectacular. We've never felt more like we were actually inside a cartoon. Also, the melee battling is addictive as hell. If you're one of those people who could get lost for hours in old-school games like Gauntlet, Loaded and Smash TV, then you'll feel right at home here.

The amount of customization you can do in the game is its main selling point. You literally can change any aspect of the game. Everything from your clothes, to the crystals themselves, to your pet that aids you in battle, to investing magic power into your weapons and armor to increase their power, is under your control. The goal is obviously to allow a player to build an avatar that perfectly mirrors his personal playing style.

However, this is not a game that is very easy to jump into. The learning curve is so steep it's damn near vertical. Setting your defenses in the beginning can be an exercise in frantic desperation. You'll have to repair them many times between waves. Also, you can only hold a certain amount of magic power, so picking up more from slain enemies is a pain in the ass because you have to acquire the maximum, go spend it, them come back to get the rest.

Battling isn't any easier. Even while playing the tutorial, it took the game forever to tell us which button was used to attack, and finding a balance between charging your enemies and utilizing your defenses is crucial if you don't want to end up very dead very quickly. Observation can be a problem because the camera can rotate horizontally, but not vertically, though this is alleviated somewhat by the minimap feature, which is easy to use and extremely helpful.

All the customization comes with a price as well. Navigating the maze of menus for upgrades and equipping takes a lot of practice, especially if you're trying to make quick decisions in the heat of battle, though it does pause while you ponder. The print is quite small, even on our flatscreen, and the icons that indicate enemy weaknesses and elemental properties are confusing even for someone who mastered the 9 million different symbols in Final Fantasy XII.

What we're saying is that no matter how much the game looks like a cutesy little battle game along the lines of Castaway or one of the Secret of Mana titles, it is actually very in-depth and intense. We're getting the hang of it, but war is hell and Dungeon Defenders is probably the closest you're ever going to get to what it would actually be like to be involved in a real magical campaign. You'll have to worry about all the logistics a modern army would, as well as how to swing your magic sword.

In the end, by combining three different genres, Dungeon Defenders has become none of them. Don't download it expecting that proficiency in one area will pull you through. Versatility is the only thing that will bring you success.

Dungeon Defenders is now available on XLA and PSN.

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