Dungeon Defenders II Seeks Success in Starved Tower Defense Market

With Orcs Must Die going the MOBA route and Plants vs. Zombies 2 staying only on mobile for the forseeable future (and perhaps forever), this generation of games lacks a marquee tower defense title. The long-awaited sequel to Dungeon Defenders just might do the trick, if only barely. Dungeon Defenders II enters the genre with a free-to-play model and scores of new features, all the while shunning Xbox. The challenge for Dungeon Defenders II will not only be satisfying a core audience while innovating, but also becoming more than just genre filler.

Dungeon Defenders II brings two elephants to the room, not the least of which is its free-to-play model. While originally reported to be able to buy weapons and heroes (that would eventually be available with in-game currency), Dungeon Defenders II will be using Dota 2-style free-to-play, meaning only cosmetic bonuses. This can carefully avoid ruining or souring the experience like other free-to-play games have, but it will be a true challenge to succeed with this model the way Dota 2 has, since Trendy Entertainment has nowhere near the dedicated following sported by Valve. The developers are making money in the mean time off Steam Early access users.

Dungeon Defenders II

So what are they doing with that money? In addition to the features still to come, Trendy Entertainment has an already refined arsenal of gameplay elements to toy with, starting first and foremost with its revamped loot system. Enemies again drop items but they are now for towers or for your hero, each with the potential for special effects in addition to stat bonuses. Trendy Entertainment could have easily created juicy items that cost real money to further their free-to-play goals, but they broke away from the script. Better weapons can be bought with in-game gold earned through playing, which is another good way of handling loot without making it pay-to-win.

That’s all well and good, but the loot should also be worth it. Grabbing a weapon with modest stat increases or even a special effect produces little, if any, noticeable difference in gameplay. Loot systems are great when the developers take time with them. The Diablo series has always done a good job of making each weapon or set of armor feel completely different while playing. Dungeon Defenders II seems more like a game that put in a loot system for the sake of it, and it manages to not add anything. The upgrade system is not immediately intuitive, consequently.

dungeondefendersii1

Using irrelevant loot or not, you are to stop hordes of monsters from destroying your base, and even the Early Access version brings an interesting variety of enemies. Dungeon Defenders II uses both physical and magical damage and has enemies weak to either or both. This is a nice addition, but unfortunately comes at the sacrifices of much enemy variation. Players don’t have to change up their overall strategy too much to deal with the different enemies; only the damage type. This ends up creating a too-often stale gameplay experience. Flying enemies can be killed with most towers, running enemies are inconsequential, and the other enemies are either weak to magic or weak to physical.

Level design is where Dungeon Defenders II excels. The intricate paths create their own challenge, while sub-towers throughout the level add more points to defend. In an enjoyably frantic experience, Trendy Entertainment shows us what they’re all about. Whether or not Dungeon Defenders II will be a standout of the genre remains to be seen, but I can’t imagine an immediate future where this isn’t the go-to tower defense title, whether it’s exceptional or just okay.