Dungeon Defenders II Preview: Now with everything!

Dungeon Defenders II Screenshot - Dungeon Defenders II

The first time I played Dungeon Defenders II at NYCC last year, I was blown away by how approachable and immediately fun the game was. My second time playing the game, last week, was a little different. I was immediately overwhelmed -- not because the game was bad or because Trendy had lost their way in four months -- but because they’ve added a lot to it in a short period of time.

It didn’t help that my demo was at a midway point in the game, at a high level, with three Trendy devs playing alongside. Needless to say I was tossed into the deep end, where chaos ensued, new enemies barrelled toward me, and the battlefield filled with loot drops. My teammates were well-worn Dungeon Defenders II vets (they made the game after all) and they all had strategies in mind for combining their skills and tactics. I, in turn, felt like a chicken with his head chopped off.

Regardless, I felt the ever-increasing potential of DDII as I played and saw the pieces fit together. What Trendy seems to be developing is a guided missile aimed straight at every gamers pleasure centers. Four-player co-op? Check. Addictive tower defense gameplay? Check. Loot and leveling? Check. The potential for infinite replay value? Check. Oh, and did I mention it’s a free-to-play game?

A quick note about that free-to-play thing

Dungeon Defenders II

I asked Trendy Marketing Director Philip Asher how Trendy planned to make money off of the model, but it wasn’t their focus just yet. “Nothing is written down or close to being in the game yet,” Asher explained, assuring me that their primary goal is to make a great game. When they do start thinking about monetization, it sounds like they’re taking their inspiration from a smart place: DOTA 2 and Valve. They want to satisfy players so that spending money becomes a no-brainer. “How Valve says ‘make everyone happy to buy everything,’” Asher said.

On improving the tower defense

Dungeons Defenders II

The first demo I played for DDII showcased how Trendy is evolving maps through sub-objectives. At the start of a match you must defend both your main objective(s) and sub-objective(s). If a main objective falls you fail, but if a sub-objective falls the map layout changes. A new lane may open, or two lanes will close in on each other, forcing you to deal with higher concentrations of enemies

I asked Trendy if that meant a team who lost a sub-objective was then being doubly punished with a harder experience, but Asher assured me this wasn’t the case, “It makes it easier in terms of strategy but harder in terms of pure numbers.” The goal is to change things up, and that carries over into the new enemy types.

“How do we get players to react differently to our different enemy layouts?” asked Producer Brad Logston, referring to players who have their ideal tower setups and never change. To disrupt typical Dungeon Defender strategies they introduced the Javelin Thrower and Whither Bug, two new units that force players out of their comfort zones. The Javelin Thrower, rather than walking blindly into your defenses, hangs back and picks them off from a distance, forcing you to take them out on your own. Meanwhile, the Whither Bug rushes in ahead of the other units and tries to burrow into the ground in front of your defenses, buffing enemy units as they arrive.

The Wave Director and infinite replay value

Dungeon Defenders II

One of the joys of Dungeon Defenders is figuring out the perfect way to solve a level. There is a sort of puzzle game aspect to it, and Trendy doesn’t want to take that away from the players that enjoy it. However, they are introducing a new way to play that could offer a tremendous boost in replay value: The Wave Director.

The concept takes a page from Left 4 Dead, introducing an AI director that assesses the map and introduces new wrinkles to the level as you play. “Say you’re fighting a lot of land units,” Logston explained. “On the last two waves it will be mostly air, and all of a sudden you’re like ‘Oh crap, how do I deal with this?’ You really have to work together and think on your feet.”

“You have to make some really interesting decisions that you normally wouldn’t have to make like, ‘Oh, should we sell stuff on that side and move it to this side?’ It makes all the pieces matter a lot more,” added Asher.

“We don’t want to make the mistake of introducing an auction house.”

Dungeons Defenders II

That quote comes courtesy of Logston, who assured me that while they’re thinking about item trading, they want to make sure they do it right. In my demo the battlefield was littered with colored loot, Diablo-style, which gives the game another addictive wrinkle. Items buff multiple stats like your own health, mana, and damage output, as well as the initial strength of your towers when you drop them in. The goal is to allow players to craft vastly different builds of the four different character classes.

Having played my fair share of co-op games with leveling, like Borderlands, I asked how they intended to handle level disparity between players. Usually if I’m level 5 and all my friends are level 20, I have to play catch up and get wrecked by over-leveled enemies. Trendy is working on a couple ideas to address this. One is dynamic down-leveling, an idea they site was used in Final Fantasy XIV so that higher level friends could level down to their buddy’s level. Their second solution is to offer up smart matchmaking and playlists so that players can find people at their own level to play with.

All the things

Dungeon Defenders 2

In speaking with Trendy, I got the impression that they’re still eager to add more features, functionality, and fun to Dungeon Defenders II. Some things are still up in the air, but the playability, the graphics, and the consistent world design gave the impression of a finished product.

With addictive, co-op, tower defense gameplay at the core and loot/leveling added in, Dungeon Defenders II has an addictive stew going. Add to that the potential for infinite replay value with the new Wave Director and you’re looking at a game that, as long as they can avoid F2P foibles, will probably keep you very busy when it comes out.

Enjoy random thoughts about the latest games, the Sega Saturn, or the occasional movie review? Follow me @JoeDonuts!

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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