Dungeon Defenders II Preview

Early Access games is a strange concept for games. You can't really evaluate them with the same level as finished products, since they never profess to be finished in that state. Bugs are an accepted part of the game and you are expected to find and report them as a kind of amateur QA tester. I find that the lower bar for quality evaluation leads to forgiving rather important flaws, focusing on interesting mechanics or concepts while neglecting to treat game-breaking errors and unfinished areas as the major issues they are.

Dungeon Defenders II, coming into Early Access, provides a colourful, if somewhat confusing experience, for its early presentation.

The game's structure is that of a tower defense/action game – enemies run along pre-set paths through a level, attacking anything in their way while heading towards a 'core' objective. The map itself is both an obstacle and a boon, with the purpose being to set up your towers to slow and stop enemies from attacking your core. DD2's stages have five waves of enemies, with free “build” periods in between, though you can build during combat phases (it takes time, making filling holes in your defense problematic).

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So far, there are four classes you can play – the heavy Squire, the hybrid skill monks, the bow-wielding Huntress, and the spellcaster Apprentice. Each has their own set of personal abilities with which they can fight off the hordes themselves, as well as their own unique towers. Some classes are critical, with Squire and Apprentice having largely similar towers, and comprise the 'physical' structures that deal damage and obstruct enemies, while Huntresses make use of traps that damage enemies as they pass over them, and the Monk uses 'auras' to support other towers. Fortunately, you can bring three separate characters to a match, switching using a structure in between matches to better synergize with your group.

Graphically, everything has a colourful, cartoonish atmosphere, clearly intended for humour. Monsters are green, diminutive orcs and plump dragons, with exaggerated toothy maws cackling as they throw explosives at your towers Likewise, your structures have either a wood-and-clockwork machinery structure or n 'magical' motif, with floating orbs and flashy crystals. It's not terribly standout, with many of the enemy models looking rather similar. The bosses who occasionally appear – fountains of loot that utterly devastate your defences – are more interesting and fun.

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Matches tend to rely heavily on mobility and placement. Ranged heroes work best where they can take high ground and shift quickly to new hotspots, while melee heroes require some more legwork. Levels tend to have multiple elevations, platforms, and overhangs to shoot down from and to run from path to path. Considerable detail was put into the arenas, particularly regarding stage objectives and hazards – you can trigger built-in hazards to devastate troops, adding some strategic planning. Sub-cores exist that, if destroyed by enemies, open up previously-sealed passages and give enemies new avenues to attack.

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When leaping about and fighting, I found myself often having trouble targeting and manoeuvring about to cover multiple lanes, which is a necessity even with three other people. Shots would collide with pieces of scenery, and it's quite easy to get stuck on your own towers when trying to manoeuvre around them. Your floaty jump is usually fine to move between areas, though it can sometimes overshoot and leave you waiting out a respawn timer due to a sudden pitfall. I would frequently get lost in the backgrounds, whose stylized colours blended together and made it hard to tell dips in the road and keep track of enemies, especially when their dark-green skin nearly matches the grass!

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The scramble is part of the fun – keeping track of multiple waves of enemies, while evaluating your defenses and managing stage hazards. It's certainly hectic to leap from path to path, shooting a horde to soften them before they breach your damaged defenses. I do find it becomes somewhat repetitive with five rounds; so far, there are a limited number of stages, some locked to your character level.

Finally, after my opening paragraph, I should refer to some bugs I was willing to forgive – but I personally didn't experience that many. However, others I grouped with felt the sting of being trapped in assets or falling through the world – I was even denied my mission victory reward because I pressed the Use key to try and skip the cutscene. The game seems solid by Early Access standards, even if many of the lobby features seem unfinished.

There might be some potential here as a short, fun arcadey early access game. There's an item upgrade system using other equipment to reinforce your gear, though I didn't quite figure it out yet. Or find anything that useful in the game shops. It seems interesting, though it doesn't quite stand out due to samey monsters and confusing levels.