Bolstering the series with an eye on new players
The fourth instalment of the hit tower defence series has certainly had a rather rocky post-launch. Released last year, Dungeon Defenders: Awakened is a tactical, multiplayer, tower defence game with a heavy focus on the five character’s classes and their individual building options. Reviews amongst the community have been mixed and additional content development has been slow, but as a newcomer to the series I must say that overall, I sincerely enjoyed my time with Dungeon Defenders: Awakened. I admire it as a fast paced, action packed, and great to look at strategic game that is remarkably simple in its design while also forcing me to think tactically and engage a part of my brain seldom used since lockdowns began.
But… that all sounds remarkably similar to the original. And truth be told, it is. The sequel nails exactly what it had nailed in the first iteration of the game but remains fairly restrictive in scope. It even includes the same four base characters that had all been seen in previous games and one character that was later added as DLC to the first Dungeon Defenders. And yet I still found a charm within the game that I find hard to describe. A lot of care and attention to detail has clearly been put into the game, wholeheartedly attempting to improve at every turn upon the previous, while staying faithful to what made the original such a success.
In Awakened, there are five different solo game modes to try, each with their own trials and tribulations to create a fairly replayable experience. Additional toggles such as ‘hardcore’ mode (no respawns) and the new ‘rifted’ mode (every enemy type is altered, new weapons, new armours, and unique accessories) add an additional layer of challenges and overhaul certain aspects of the game. Furthermore, one of the main draws of the franchise has always been the multiplayer and co-op modes that make a return in this instalment as well. As a D&D player, I know that nothing is more fun than grabbing a few friends and slaughtering hordes upon hordes of enemies together for that lovely bonding experience.
Unfortunately, the game stumbles a little when it comes to the quality of certain audio and visual elements. These aspects seem a little unpolished, resulting in an overall uplifting and engaging soundtrack detracted by a constant popping noise in the player’s ear and voice lines (or, noises?) that sound equitable to that of a man emphatically shouting at an iPhone 4 on the opposite side of his living room. There are often quite hefty pauses and frame drops, long loading screens, and the enemy animations when at range are very jittery, however I feel as though this is likely intentional to reduce the strain of the otherwise beautiful game on my poor, elderly console.
If you’re looking for a narrative masterpiece, this isn’t exactly going to check that box either. Essentially there to set the scene and allow the campaign to take place, the story is very much an afterthought and scarcely features besides an introductory cutscene. The premise is very much along the lines of ‘evil creatures want to attack you because they are evil’ and, well, why shouldn’t they? If the game is enjoyable and evil needs to be slain, there needn’t necessarily be a reason for that, in my opinion. Though the world of Etheria is still fleshed out in another, more artistic way…
On the whole, the game really is rather visually pleasing despite the minor visual bugs. Stark colour contrasts and intense lighting effects combine to create a beautifully unique and stylised aesthetic. Enemy designs are simple and defined, at no point blending into one another or losing any sense of identity. Level locations are hugely varied in theme and colour palette to match and a lot of time has been put in to ensuring that each stage is clearly defined as its own.
The same can be said about the armour pieces and weapon drops that you can use to upgrade your characters, each so well designed and crafted that they almost give me flashbacks to Destiny’s uniquely detailed sandbox. What it does one step further than Destiny, however, is allow you to equip one set of armour as accessories while gaining the benefits of wearing another. For a game with five established characters, the customisation is actually pretty varied, allowing you to change the colour of almost every detail of your characters and, as mentioned, the visible armour pieces on your model.
Dungeon Defenders: Awakened was a fun introduction to an established franchise that I would recommend to new players looking for a taste of the tower defence genre. It is both beautiful to look at and engaging to play with a whole host of interesting enemy types and level locations. Mechanically simpler than its predecessors allowing anyone to pick it up and boasting multiple ways to play for a little extra fun, I can easily see myself pouring a good few more hours into the experience and pulling some mates in along the way.