Dungeon Defenders – Tactical gameplay in an unbalanced game

I love Dungeon Defenders and have already written a few articles on it (1 & 2). However one of the most notable flaws is a poorly implemented difficulty curve.

Tactically the game is good fun, plotting how the setup will be and trying to identify how to take out enemies using your limited build and on the first go, how you’ll stop enemies from the many routes with limited mana. Solo play does make this a lot harder because you can’t get around the map quickly enough, or might simply be busy fighting off the enemy hordes. This is especially relevant when you are a lower level. Eventually you can setup towers and they’ll do the job but getting going can be very tough.

Playing multiplayer does help somewhat as you can cover different crystals, but I found it a little flawed. The distribution of crystals is a bit of a problem as it means that you need to physically separate so is it really co-op gameplay? Not really. You have a common goal and must all succeed but, especially on the larger levels, it isn’t like you’re covering each other or making tactical maneuvers. It is more a case of I’ll cover here and you go over there. This can also mean that one player could be bored and the other working flat out when the one crystal is further away than others, or is requires a specific combat type (melee or range).

That said, I don’t think splitting up is the biggest issue with the non-cooperative co-op mode. As with oh so many other games, the key issue is leveling. Unless you both level up at exactly the same pace (meaning no playing solo and somehow ending with pretty much the same xp every time), sooner or later one player with grow much stronger than their team mate(s). In my case it means then when playing multiplayer, either I play at an easier difficulty and be less challenged and earn sod all rewards or my girlfriend will get mauled, even defending a smaller area.

Also going back to an earlier ramble, there are a bunch of other modes that really lack balance. First up is survival, which should be frigging amazing but they’ve gone totally the wrong away about balancing the game. Naturally each wave you’d expect tougher enemies and bigger waves – and you do get it. However what I think a wave system should do is flatten off the growth in wave size so they don’t get too big and keep ramping up the difficulty until you can’t take it any more. Curiously Dungeon Defenders seems to do the opposite. The enemies get a bit harder each time but what is much more noticeable is the quantity. If you’ve beaten 1000 enemies of – picking an arbitrary number – strength of 100 without a scratch, then sending 2000 enemies of strength 102 isn’t going to challenge me. A couple of waves later I may be facing 10000 enemies at strength 110 – still easy.

I think the key thing here is that the number of enemies coming at you at any given time doesn’t increase too much. Given the levels have lots of choke points where you want to set up your defences, it doesn’t matter how many are coming because my defences won’t get tired, well aside from the auras & mines. As a result for 15 minutes you’ll be repairing auras and mines, waiting for the wave to be over so you can sell loot etc. Then repeat for 20 minutes. Then repeat for 25 minutes. Then repeat for 30 minutes…

Of course there’s difficulty levels but the difference is far too severe. Throughout my playing I’ve often hit “walls” where my character & defences don’t deal enough damage to beat the next difficulty level but I’ll win at the current difficulty every time. This is quite frustrating and can risk losing the player’s interest as games like this thrive on having the carrot on a stick. However if the next shiny thing is massively out of reach, you’ll lose interest. In Dungeon Defenders this can apply to both beating the next level/challenge/difficulty level and also to actual levelling. The requirements to level up goes absolutely crazy after level 70. They suddenly start asking you to double the experience points that you’ve had since day one. Grind through than and its about double again…. and again and again.

The challenges are a nice diversity but they also seem to suffer from being poorly balanced, in particular for single player. I have some pretty awesome level characters and am pretty good at the game, however beating some of the challenges just seem insanely difficult – perhaps impossible – playing solo. Even with 2 players it is a bit much!

Similar to my previous gripes, the number of players only varies the amount of enemies. With the challenges the difficulty is usually in covering the many different areas so as a result of the “spawn more enemies” approach of Dungeon Defender’s difficulty scaling, you’re having to simultaneously fight back lots of enemies from different angles with one hand tied behind your back. Bit of a shame really because they’ve some great ideas for the Challenges but getting four folk together ain’t easy (I hate online nowadays).

So yeah, Dungeon Defenders is a very fun game but it is hampered by the difficulty curve that can have you hit a brick wall and maybe more importantly, the ridiculous emphasis on spawning more and more enemies to make it harder. Gaming shouldn’t be an endurance test!



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