STAFF REVIEW of Dungeon Defenders: Awakened (Xbox One)

Friday, April 16, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Dungeon Defenders: Awakened Box art Chromatic Games has a specialty of creating tower defense games under the Dungeon Defender names. The latest entry to the series, Dungeon Defenders: Awakened, has just released onto console for those looking to scratch their tower defense itch. It’s been a few years since the release of Dungeon Defenders II, so Awakened now celebrates its return to the genre with four player co-op action to try and save the world of Etheria. Mixing traditional tower defense and action RPG combat, Dungeon Defenders: Awakened is an entertaining few hours with some friends, but a test of patience solo.

While there’s no traditional campaign with a larger overarching narrative, there are three main acts to get through, each with a handful of stages before taking on a challenging boss. While the campaign is not terribly lengthy, there are a handful of difficulties should you want to challenge yourself. You’re simply tasked with defending Etheria, somehow linked to the crystal that you must protect, but to do so you’re going to need a good amount of strategy and hopefully a friend or three.

While the three main acts won’t take too long to complete with friends, there are some other modes at least to fill your time when you do complete them. There are a few interesting additions like Challenge maps but I enjoyed Survival Mode the most. As you could probably guess, this will have you trying to survive as many waves of enemies as possible before they manage to destroy your crystal, and it’s just a matter of when, not if. Tower Mode was another interesting option, not allowing you to fight in combat, but simply having to rely on your built defenses to defeat the waves of enemies, something that is much harder than first appears. With tons of loot that’s constantly dropping and the ability to play alongside some friends, there’s enough longevity should you want it, though I found playing solo wasn’t nearly as entertaining compared to playing alongside a friend or even randoms.

Your main goal is to protect your crystal but your also going to be leveling your different characters, customizing them and hoarding tons and tons of loot along the way. Team up with 4 players and choose from one of five different characters, each of which play completely uniquely. The tutorial has you begin with the Knight character, teaching you the basics of the different phases, how to place defenses and attacking enemies. Aside from that there’s really not much else that is taught, which is a shame, as it actually hindered me in the later acts because I didn’t know about some specific mechanics which I’ll delve into shortly.

The five classes you can choose from are your typical choices of Mage, Knight, Archer, Monk and well, Robot. Each plays completely different from the others and has its own role to play in a party makeup. Now, you’re able to create multiple characters, but can only place four in your Hero Deck. The purpose of this deck is to quickly swap heroes when needed but all the experience you gain in matches are shared among your Hero Deck. While I like that I won’t have to grind out multiple characters separately, the odd choice to not have 5 spots in your deck, meaning that one character is going to get left out if you decide to try all the classes. This is how you’re going to check your loot on one character, swap to the next, outfit any upgrades, swap to the next and so on. It’s very tedious and I eventually gave up constantly trying to gear all my characters as once because of the tedium.

As you start a new map you’ll be given some time to look around, orient yourself to it and all the lanes that the enemies will be coming from. The first real phase will then be the build phase. Here you’re going to place all your defenses and traps that will hopefully impede or kill all of the waves of enemies. You’re able to see the lanes that enemies will take to get to your crystal, so you’ll know the best places and chokepoints to set your traps.

Your build options are going to vary depending on the character you choose, so some are more defense based like having pinball bouncers, spiked shields, laser grids, auras and much more. Which defenses you have access to is based on your level but it doesn’t take long to unlock them all. You have a set amount of defenses you can place though with a hard cap. Different traps cost a varying amount, so do you place many weaker defenses or less more powerful ones? You’ll also have to have enough gems dropped by enemies to even build in the first place, so you’ll have to become versed in combat as well. You’re also able to upgrade your towers and traps by spending gems, but this is something not really taught to you in the beginning, so once I learned this I began having a much easier time, especially versus the boss levels. This is pretty essential to learn and be successful, so it was frustrating that I figured this out by accident once I was in the second Act.

Once you’ve placed all your traps and you’re happy with their setup, it’s time to begin the attack phase. This is where a wave will start, having enemies pour out through the doors to try and destroy your crystal along specified lanes. While you could simply sit back and see if your defenses and traps will do the job, you’re going to want to get into the thick of battle. Each class will play completely differently, but I favored the Squire, as I liked getting up and close with my sword and being able to block with my shield. Each character also has their own special abilities that can help you in combat, such as my sword swing that let me spin in a circle and hit everything nearby for massive damage. Each class will suit a different playstyle, so try each one out and you’ll find the one best for you against the hordes of goblins, orcs and more.

Each stage is broken up into about 5 waves, but in between each you’re able to rebuild your defenses and spend your gems on upgrades should you wish. Bolster those defenses and grab your loot, as there’s going to be a ton of it on the ground to scavenge. You’ll also be rewarded with a chest of loot after each wave as well, so it’s worthwhile to take a few extra moments to check the gear for any upgrades, even though this is a very tedious process. To say that you’re going to get a lot of loot during each stage is an understatement. Oddly enough, actual upgrades are far and few in between, so you’ll be selling most of it. Also, actually picking up the loot itself is tedious, as you need to hit ‘X’ with the tiny cursor over each item, but it needs to be pixel perfect or it won’t work. This basically results in you spamming the button whenever you see loot nearby, hoping to pick it up as you run by.

While multiplayer is a big component to ideal gameplay, it’s not without its issues. For starters, quite a few of my matches had some serious lag, to the point of teleporting around and ping-ponging back and forth. I’m not sure if dedicated servers are being utilized or if its peer-to-peer (my guess), but I had issues about half the time with random players, but was generally fine when playing co-op with friends nearby. Also, to progress from build phase to attack or even finish a match, all players need to accept, so if someone doesn’t hit the button you simply sit there waiting which can be frustrating and made me want to stop playing online with random people.

Visually, Dungeon Defenders: Awakened is very colorful and bright, though there isn’t much enemy variety across the three short Acts. Also, if you’ve played the previous Dungeon Defenders titles, many assets seem to be quite familiar. There’s not much noteworthy about the music or audio either, as you’ll get typical sound effects from battle and attacking enemies, but that’s really about it.

Dungeon Defenders: Awakened is a perfectly serviceable Tower Defense with action elements to it, but it just feels a bit janky, especially navigating the menus, swapping heroes and cumbersome loot management. If you’ve got a few friends to play alongside you should have an entertaining time with Dungeon Defenders: Awakened, not so much if you’re going to play alone or solo though, even if there are plenty of modes to challenge yourself.

**Dungeon Defenders: Awakened was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 5.5 / 10


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