Saturday, December 10, 2011

Off the List: Dungeon Defenders

I was fortunate to receive a gifted license of this game from Aaron Stack a while ago, and have been playing it with him and another of his friends on a fairly regular basis. The central premise of this game is that while the big heroes are off Elsewhere, some ancient evil awakens and their younger heroes-in-training have to protect, well, basically everything. Dungeon Defenders is a kind of modified action tower defense game.While there aren't tiled out areas like in Sanctum, or Defense Grid, or even Sol Survivor, you do have to construct traps and barriers to keep some large, glowing crystals safe. There are four little apprentice heroes, each with their own set of abilities and structures they can build, so if you do co-op like we did, you can get a much more effective marshaled in a much shorter period of time. Aaron Stack and I, for example, found that the Squire and the Apprentice make for a particularly devastating one-two punch. The Squire has a number of structures that do a good job of keeping enemies from passing by them (or at least, passing by unscathed) and the Apprentice has about a thousand lethal variants on "magic blasting tower" so the Squire builds barricades and the Apprentice constructs magic towers that fry anything that approaches said barricades. However, much like Sanctum or Orcs Must Die, once the wave starts, you don't just sit there and build stuff, you are down in the thick of it, fighting monsters and sometimes repairing your defenses. Also, unlike any of the other games I've mentioned in this review, it also folds in some lightweight Diablo-style leveling and loot. Your character persists and can pick up loot from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the games' levels. It's a fun game that can get a little tense, but it doesn't take itself too seriously. Or seriously at all, really - the art style is very cartoony and while enemies do bleed, it's in no way gruesome, as their blood is about a zillion bright colors and there's never any visible wound - slain foes go down in a splash of garishly-colored liquid and vanish. That lightheartedness, plus the headset banter one inevitably gets when playing with friends, makes this a great co-op experience. I'd recommend it for sure, especially to play with friends.

RPG notes: There's really not much to spoil here, so feel free to read on, even if you haven't played the game. For my money, the best RPG material to be gleaned from this game is the idea of young heroes that nobody expects to be able to do much of anything actually stepping up and doing the job, and doing it admirably. Now, this idea isn't exactly new in video games (how many times have teenagers saved the world in the Final Fantasy series alone?) but I haven't seen too much of it in my tabletop gaming, and I can't help but wonder why. I also can't help but wonder, for that matter, if my experiences are typical. If you're reading this and feel inclined to reply, weigh in on this for me: how often do you see young heroes, seemingly out of their depth, in your tabletop RPGs, especially as player characters? And is that a cliche, underutilized, or indifferent?

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