A Couple Of Hours With… Dungeon Defenders II

Dungeon Defenders II is a tower defence/action-RPG hybrid, with a very heavy focus on co-op multiplayer, in which your fantasy archetype lays traps and wades into the fray themselves in the hope of defeating waves of marching monsters. Its ‘pre-alpha’ has been out on Steam Early Access for a short while now, and is proving rather popular. I gave it a very quick look to try and find out why.

Aka “ageing man plays game not really aimed at him.” Perhaps that should be an ongoing series? I can find a million of ’em, I’m sure. Anyway: given I’m partial to tower defence, and to action RPG spin-offs like Orcs Must Die, I thought I’d take a look at Dungeon Defenders II. It’s doing well for itself on Steam despite being early access, so presumably was doing something right.

First thing to say is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite this slick and glossy with the phrase ‘pre-alpha’ stamped on it before. DD2 feels much further down the line than that, and is presented lavishly. I can’t tell you yet how much content the current build offers before petering out, but it’s certainly got its core up and running, I haven’t hit any bugs to speak of, the networking just works and there’s no shortage of players. It is bright, colourful, cartoonish and feels like it came from a huge studio: there is no doubt that a great deal of care has been poured into this.

On the other hand, what I’ve played so far is as shallow as a Hollyoaks cast member’s crayon drawing of a puddle. It may escalate to far greater tactical complexity some hours in, but so far it revolves around one thing: gimme gimme gimme.

Dungeon Defenders II is primarily a loot delivery system. Shiny things drop regularly during a match, chests appear at the end of it, unwanted items are frantically sold in the midst of battle or upgraded outside of it, and everything glitters and gleams and makes those Blizzardy ‘ooh! a trinket!’ sound effects. This is the operant conditioning chamber incarnate. Even the art style, falling somewhere between Warcraft and kids’ game, is risk-free and built from distractingly familiar parts; its evocation is cuddly safety and instant gratification. I found the ephemerality of it all to be oppressive.

Old man plays game.

Many people want that sweet, sweet loot, of course. I’m not saying that it’s a great evil, just that there wasn’t enough else for me to attach to, and I didn’t enjoy the extremely commercially-minded aesthetic.

Where I can imagine DD2 offering me something is in multiplayer at higher levels, as managing the rampaging swarm of personality-free goblinoids turns from perfunctory bashing and zapping and into desperate ‘oh God get over there!’ and ‘aaargh it’s trashed my lightning trap!’ and general panic/recrimination.

It’s Orcs Must Die 2 with far less invention in terms of trap types, placement and combination, but on the other hand it’s better at straight-up carnage. There’s less punishment for not having traps just so at every choke point, and more focus on smacking things down yourself, ideally in combination with others’ traps. Wade in, unleash hell, grit teeth as the enemies just keep on charging, come out of it all with some reward.

It grows more interesting the harder it gets, in other words. I can see why people are enjoying it – 15 minute adrenaline surges with a candy fountain at the end of it. You’ve got to really care about finding a hat that’s 2 better than another hat to connect with this game, and frankly there’s no shortage of people who do.

With a bolder look, and not these instantly-forgettable infantalised characters and chunky, squat constructions, I might have been amongst them. I quite like getting new hats. That the stuff I’ve claimed so far achieves nothing other than raising a number turns me off, though – I found nothing to show off, nothing to be proud of, nothing to drop my jaw, nothing other than licking at the salt block. Even the wacky fonts made me wince. Old man.

It really is impressively slick, though. Least Early Accessy Early Access game I’ve ever played, I think. On a technical level and even on a presentation level, it’s as solid as they come, but I won’t be going back. Then again, I am far too old for it. Don’t mind me.

Dungeon Defenders II is out on Steam Early Access now.


  1. Lars Westergren says:

    Dungeon Defenders II is primarily a loot delivery system. […] I found the ephemerality of it all to be oppressive.

    That was my experience with the first game too. Me and my friends were looking for a new co-op title since we had worn out L4D2. This looked like a great candidate at first so we all bought it, we had a blast playing the first levels some 3-4 times each. Then the original difficulty became trivial, and the next step up was impossible unless you got much better items. So we could either grind the current difficulty for hundreds of matches, collecting gems and hoping for a lucky random drop….or we could start buying better equipment and/or higher levels for real money.

    As we bought the game full prize, it was a disappointment to end up with a mobile style F2P grind so quickly. They gave up the pretense of being anything else soon thereafter and went completely “free”. Even the artstyle feels feels so very Clash of Clans now. Can’t you imagine those cutesy bland semi-anime faces on a square little mobile icon?

    But then I’m old too. Let’s be old and grumpy together, Alec.

    • Gaytard Fondue says:

      Wait a second. People bought items for real money in DD1? When did this happen?

      • Gnoupi says:

        Exactly, I wasn’t aware you could do that. Then again I played it a lot on release, not much after.

        • LexW1 says:

          The game Lars is describing certainly is not DD1 within a year of it’s release.

          So I kind of wonder if he’s confused, or if the game changed dramatically much later. When I played it, firstly, there was no buying items (only cosmetics, extra classes, etc.), and secondly, it was perfectly easy to upgrade as you went.

          It also wasn’t a “mindless loot fountain” like DD2 is being described as. In particular, wading in with your weapon was rarely that great of a plan – it was more of an “OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT” thing.

          Pretty sure Lars is confusing it with this (as some others may be):

          link to rockpapershotgun.com

          • Lars Westergren says:

            It wasn’t Epic Loot, never played that. Since so many say I’m wrong, I’ve started to wonder though. I’m pretty sure we reached a point where we needed better weapons to have a chance, or needed to unlock a new level or something, and when I looked at the market it cost like 800 000 gems. And we got around 10 000 gems for completing a level.

            And it kept nagging us to buy DLC and booster packs.

          • Kitsunin says:

            Definitely not Dungeon Defenders. There are no booster packs, and as long as you’re not playing solo, you can go into the campaign until the stages at normal difficulty get too hard, then go back and redo the earlier stages on a harder difficulty to level, and go back to later stages once more. While there are pretty stupid amounts of loot (It almost puts Diablo-likes to shame) I don’t recall particular amounts of grinding being necessary (at least, before late-game), there were always stages/difficulties which fit your level and gear well.

          • Cantisque says:

            In the first year or two of release, being able to play and complete the highest difficulty (I think there were 4 difficulties if you had the DLC?) was a huge ramp up from the one beneath it.
            For example, on the Alchemy Lab stage I could solo 25 waves (and earn the Giraffe pet!) on the second top difficulty, but going up to the next one I couldn’t even do a single wave. The amount of grinding required to get the equips necessary to survive this difficulty was insane.
            Of course, this was my experience within the first year or so, it seems to have changed a lot since then.

      • mezron says:

        There’s Dungeon Defenders Eternity, which at a glance looks like it’s a GOTY like version but it’s not. This one has a cash shop.
        link to store.steampowered.com

      • benkc says:

        As I recall, it wasn’t that you bought items for cash money per se — rather, there were a bajillion DLCs released in rapid succession, many of which consisted of (IIRC) stronger weapons, stronger pets, higher level maps that drop higher level loot, bumps to the level cap, that sort of thing. As far as this consumer is concerned, that felt the same as buying power with cash money. Once it became apparent that that was the developer’s model, my group soured on the game pretty quickly.

        • socrate says:

          it was pretty much my experience,tons of DLC that would also end up having tons of item upgrade that basically was buying power not only this if not you were pretty much locked out from certain content it was a huge turn off in the end…but they were a mobile company and acted like one…i wont get fooled twice and if they do go F2P i doubt they will do it in a good way but at least we have TONS of other really good F2P that do it right at least…overall the experience with this company was extremely negative…its sad because at the base the game was AWESOME…if they wouldnt have flooded it with these crap tons of DLC not to mention some that gave you power or completely locked you out of some content if you didint have them then it would have been an instant buy on the second one full price….but game today go full on DLC all the time its getting dull.

          Im actually to a point were i actually just wait for the “FULL” edition…game of the year or gold or w/e they call each one…they are just not worth it…give me an expansion like World of warcraft with tons of new content and feature and il buy it….other then this im done with DLC…they are never worth it anyway unless you end up buying all of them most of the time and they end up costing you 2 time the game sometime….ridiculous

    • Baines says:

      I want to recall that Dungeon Defenders II started as a free-to-play game. Mind, I also want to recall that it started as a MOBA-style game.

      Trendy ‘s reputation certainly took some hits last year as well. Multiple employees called it a toxic environment, with forced year round 7-day-per-week “crunch time” and an abusive and sexist president. To be fair, it was claimed that Trendy started cleaning up its act after the stories went public.

      But then back to the other hand, Trendy released Dungeon Defenders Eternity. A full price mobile port of the first Dungeon Defenders, touting multiple improvements but which also had some content removed and some criticism of its changes.

    • JM says:

      For the record, if you’re still looking for that L4D2 replacement, Payday2 is phenomenal.

      • Lars Westergren says:

        Yeah it is, we played that a lot too for a while. Currently we mostly play Dota, but one of us isn’t as fond of it as the rest of us unfortunately.

  2. TormDK says:

    I would play this game more, if the characters were adults. I can’t seem to agree with those darn youngsters that should be getting off my lawn!

  3. Sian says:

    I didn’t really see the appeal of DD1, though others seemed to like it. It just didn’t feel like fun to me, and the humour being on the level of having a knight run around without trousers was a downright turnoff. For some reason I don’t remember, I checked out the options menu in German, a language I’m very familiar with. I think Google translate could’ve done a better job and to my knowledge this was never fixed. Since I’m a language nerd by trade, this kind of sloppy work made me quite furious. I wonder whether they did a better job of it this time.

    • fooga44 says:

      There reality was DD1 could have been stellar, it ended up being a cheap timewaster with a lot of potential if devs made a sequel. That’s what I thought when I played DD1. The knowledge of basic game is there they just haven’t found the right rules/combination/tweaks to make it super fun beyond inserting the loot grind mechanic.

      For someone new to videogames DD1 can be a blast because they don’t have 20+ years of gaming history remember. People of vastly different ages and gaming backgrounds are now gamin gaming among us which skews game quality and game quality perception.

  4. bstard says:

    IMO DD1 was already a typical konsole title, and 2 seems to go that road now as well. Without any dept, tactics or skill, a game that turns around grinds and loot and lots of button smashing. It didnt even had the meditation value some hack’n’slash have. Plain peasant entertainment.

    • clearb says:

      That’s … pretty elitist. I don’t like it either but surely there’s no need to holier-than-thou it.

      • LexW1 says:

        It’s not even accurate elitism. DD1 had plenty of tactics/skill and did not reward button-mashing (that guaranteed a loss, actually). DD2 maybe that’s changed.

  5. Razumen says:

    Nice article, but I’d like more of an analysis of how the game differs from the first, but judging from the author’s familiarity of the series, that’s not very likely to expect.

    Aside from their MOBA idea they fortunately scrapped, I was a little miffed at them Re-releasing DD1 as Dungeon Defenders Eternity that scrapped all your previous characters saves, and didn’t even have all the content of the original. Needless to say, I’m a little hesitant about DD2, especially since it’s going the free to play route now.

    • Archonsod says:

      Given it’s still in Alpha take it with a pinch of salt, but .. it’s not actually that bad so far. There’s been some expansion of the item stats – items not only push up numbers now, but can grant abilities and traits to your towers (eg giving them fire damage and the like) . The level design thus far is slightly better – there’s more freedom of movement and interactive features – although they seem somewhat smaller than the first outing. There’s some interesting set ups with multiple crystals or other objects to defend, so it looks like that will be solid.There’s also some tweaking of character abilities (nothing radical – the roles are all the same) though of course this is probably going to carry on until release. Oh, and the loot comparison pop-ups are now somewhat more informative.

      Only real annoyance so far is the tavern. Stages are grouped by suggested character levels, and in order to switch between them you need to go back to your personal tavern, then a general tavern, select the new group and back to your personal tavern. This could of course be a result of the alpha (this is generally where you’d get the cutscenes in DD1, so it may just be to cover that) but it can be a bit of an annoyance to play a couple of stages, unlock the next set and have to go all the way back through. Beyond that my other complaint would be that easy is ridiculously easy at present, but that’s another thing likely to be tweaked before release.

      Based on the game as is I’d have no problem recommending this to existing DD1 fans; though it doesn’t look like there’ll be anything in there likely to change someone’s mind if they didn’t get on with the first entry.

  6. Moraven says:

    Never could get into it. Tower Defense part seemed meh and the action part was not that interesting. Just another Horde mode…

    Orcs Must Die I liked a lot more where the TD part felt meaningful. I would do as little as possible attacks from my character. Maybe a slow or stun here and there.

  7. Skabooga says:

    Warning! Warning! Old men!

  8. Martel says:

    I think where DD1 was fun was coop, especially with higher difficulty and things going crazy. It did get old, even in coop, but we’ll probably check this one out at some point.

  9. LionsPhil says:

    The killer for us for DD1 was just how slow and sluggish the characters were to move. Seriously. It was just painful not being able to react to events because even with persistant upgrades (sigh) crossing the map required a packed lunch. Gods help you if you were the slow class.

    • whorhay says:

      That improved a lot as you geared up and got more speed through gear stats. But even at max speed the maps are deliberately designed so that you can’t easily man all of the defensive positions with one character without perfect tower placement and strategy.

  10. CptPlanet says:

    The first game was one of the best co-op games ever, no question about it. Now that the second is f2p I might be able to convince more of my friends to play it (I played the first mostly with one other friend).