Dungeon Defenders II, a tower defense RPG from Trendy Entertainment, opens up for Early Access on Steam today. Early Access is paid, but at launch the game will be free-to-play — however those who invest in Early Access will receive in game currency and premium items to offset the cost (as those features are implemented).
Sequel to Trendy’s 2010 original, DD2 mixes tower defense with action-RPG elements, comfortably merging melee combat with base-building. Games alternate between build phases and combat phases, where up to four heroes prepare for and battle escalating waves of enemy creatures.
Four unique heroes will be available during Early Access and each fills a typical role, such as tank or ranged DPS. Each hero has a primary and secondary melee attack for managing groups of enemies and supporting team structures. Additionally, a small set of active abilities are available for more targeted or circumstance-specific attacks.
The other side of the coin are defense structures, of which each hero can unlock four. Again, these structures fit naturally into the well-understood role-playing tropes; The Monk may build a support structure that heals player characters, while The Squire creates cannons that deal high damage to single targets.
Meanwhile, increasingly challenging maps provide predetermined spawn points and areas of defense, and create ample opportunity for clever defensive strategies. The heroes cooperate well together, and combat phases are fun, frantic, and potentially deeply challenging depending on the difficulty undertaken. Defeating enemies, completing maps and amassing currency will yield incrementally superior items to equip for each hero.
DD2 is rendered with a bright, illustrative art style that transcends its fairly simplistic graphics technology. Environments are beautifully designed and make even the hub spaces fun to explore. In its present state, some gaps exist in the interface design that make certain tasks unintuitive or difficult to adopt, while in other areas there are deficiencies in the communication between game and player. However, these are easily navigable if one is willing to take the time to experiment. The game mechanics are relatively simple, and the art design actually makes some concepts (such as item upgrades) easy to understand without hand-holding.
Notable, however, is the apparent absence of a friends list. Since finding a group may sometimes be difficult in an Early Access environment, the inability to easily friend players met through the game interface is unfortunate.
My experience playing the game was very positive, but whether one is willing to invest in an Early Access title must be a measured decision. It’s common to see extreme reactions online when an Early Access game does not live up to what is “promised” during the development of the title. However, anyone who’s ever worked in an environment that builds products or services understands: the product you set out to build is rarely the precise product you put to market. A lot can change along the way, and rarely are such changes undertaken for nefarious purposes.
If you are going to invest your money into an Early Access game, be it Dungeon Defenders II or any other, do so with that understanding. Much like a Kickstarter project, expecting ever minute detail to materialize as if in prophesy is not realistic.
Every such purchase is a gambit, and if you are not prepared to take the risk then do yourself a favor, and wait. However, for those interested in supporting the development of the product, Dungeon Defenders II is a comfortably low risk proposition. Trendy suggests the title will be in release for “at least a year,’ and the existing foundation provides fertile ground for improvement. Even in its current form, the title feels well established, and is characterized by solid design that suggests the team is likely to meet further goalposts between now and the time the game sees release.
Additionally, a certain level of confidence can be gleaned from the fact that Trendy has already successfully fielded such a title in the original Dungeon Defenders, and the pricing model for this particular venture is reasonable in the rewards it confers.