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Dungeon Defenders preview: Defense of the Diablo


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Dungeon Defenders originally began as "Dungeon Defense," an indie game created with Epic's Unreal Dev Kit that mashed up the tower defense and action-RPG genres. Developers Trendy Entertainment then decided to revamp the game, which became Dungeon Defenders, and it's now being readied for release on XBLA, PC and PSN (with support for Move and stereoscopic 3D) later this year.

After a recent preview session with the game, I'll say this: It's complicated. Dungeon Defenders doesn't just mix pieces of a few genres, it totally combines them. There is a full tower defense game here, and a full action-RPG game, and even a little bit of real-time strategy resource management. There's a lot going on, but just like recent genre-mixer Monday Night Combat, players who can juggle a few genres at a time will find a lot to like.

Gallery: Dungeon Defenders (9/23/10) | 14 Photos

The tower defense side of the gameplay is most apparent at the outset. After choosing one of four classes (I played with the Mage and the warrior-like Squire; though was promised we'd hear more about the Huntress and the Monk soon), you're tossed into a story mode with a tower full of levels, each one requiring you to defend an "Eternia" crystal in the center of the map against waves of goblins, orcs and various other fantasy-style meanies.

In the "Build Phase" of each wave (which starts out a few minutes long, but shrinks as the level goes on), you can run around the map and place towers using your mana resource. Each class has its own towers, and the full 3D gameplay brings some fun into tower placement -- some towers use area of effect spells, some are simply barricades and others use the physics engine, throwing bowling balls down stairs or firing out spinning blades. Each tower is placed and positioned using the analog sticks on the controller; and while manipulating them was not simple, it was still intuitive, and I got the hang of it after just a bit of practice.

After the Build Phase comes the Combat Phase, when the enemies appear from their spawn points to attack your crystal. At this point, the camera zooms in a bit and the gameplay switches to an action-RPG. The Squire can hack and slash away on enemies, while the Mage uses ranged spells (and I was told the Huntress fires a crossbow). Additionally, all characters can use various abilities purchased during the Build Phase. As your towers whittle away the encroaching horde, you run around helping as best you can, shoring up any gaps in the defense, while earning back gold, items and mana.

Fast-paced, complex and, at times, utterly overwhelming

Combining the two genres leads to some interesting strategy options: Do you put all your towers on one side of the map and defend the other with your character; or do you spread out your defense grid and keep your character mobile, just in case something goes wrong? Periodic mini-bosses will tromp out with the horde, too, requiring you to put a little extra firepower in the right places. And if you find yourself overwhelmed, you can recruit friends. Dungeon Defenders features jump-in, jump-out local or online co-op for up to four players. While there's an obvious advantage to four players building defenses at once, when all four are hacking and slashing through the hordes as their towers rain down attacks, the chaos can be difficult to follow.

The action-RPG elements also support the in-between stages of the game. Your created heroes are persistent and earn experience and gold that carries over between matches. You can also pick up items and armor from fallen enemies and looted treasure chests, which provide bonuses to characters' health, defense and attack stats, as well as resistances against certain kinds of enemy attacks. Some items even grant bonuses to your tower types, and all of them can be leveled up and traded between characters and players. Once you max out an item, your Gamertag (or other system ID) will be attached to it, so if you trade it along, anyone who's in possession of it in the future will know you were the one who put the work into it.

In addition to the routine maps, I also played a special boss level from the campaign. To defeat this "Demon Lord," I had to first take out four pylons, which took down the boss' shield, and then had to quickly slay the demon before the pylons regenerated. Dungeon Defenders will also include challenge levels, which add in certain gameplay variants, like a moving Eternia crystal, to test your high-level characters. There's also a standard set of options that can tweaked for any stage. By turning on "Survival Mode," for example, you morph the level into an endless challenge of enemy waves.

Packed with content, Dungeon Defenders is a fast-paced, complex and, at times, utterly overwhelming game. If you can handle that, it should offer an enticing mix of two very popular genres.

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