Dungeon Defenders: Awakened is the newest entry in the decade-old franchise Dungeon Defenders that blends RPG elements with Tower Defense. This new entry sees a return to roots with a re-imagining of the very first Dungeon Defenders that launched back in 2010. Developed by Chromatic Games, previously called Trendy Entertainment, the premise of Awakened sees the original four heroes sent back in time after the events of Dungeon Defenders II to when they first fought back against the monster hordes. But does it rise to the occasion, or should you hit snooze on this early access title? Here’s our review of Dungeon Defenders: Awakened in Early Access on Steam.
RETURNING TO THE WORLD OF ETHERIA
I have been a long-time fan of the Dungeon Defenders games, going as far back as the original launch on iOS back in 2010 and again on the Xbox 360 when it came to consoles the following year, so I was excited to learn that there was a new Dungeon Defenders in the works when Awakened got announced and I got to read our preview on it last year. I loved all of the improvements and additions that Trendy Entertainment (now Chromatic Games) put into Dungeon Defenders II and I was eager and excited to jump in to try out what I thought would be a great addition to the franchise.
Unfortunately, I did not do my research on this game before playing it and thus was disappointed to find out that there is a severe lack of content available right now. Even more disappointing was that my initial few hours of the game seemed like a remix of the first Dungeon Defenders and Eternity, the rebalanced version that launched in 2014. It was exciting and nostalgic to replay the first level of Dungeon Defenders again as the first level in Awakened, but the novelty quickly wore off when it appeared that nothing new had been done.
TOWER DEFENSE, LOOT, AND YOU!
The familiar gameplay loop of Dungeon Defenders combining the action-RPG elements and loot of Diablo with the tactical, strategy elements of a Tower Defense game has always been – and will always be – the biggest appeal to me. However, the gameplay in Awakened felt almost too familiar and it put me off from seriously considering it as anything new or improved. There are only the original four heroes to play as – Squire, Huntress, Wizard, and Monk – and none of the new characters introduced in Dungeon Defenders 2. As such, all of the towers’ and abilities of each hero are exactly the same as they have been for the past decade. Even the costs of building and upgrading towers wasn’t altered in any way from the first title.
I fell into my old pattern of using the Squire first to summon towers and defenses, then switching to a ranged character like the Huntress or Apprentice to add supporting towers while primarily focusing on pure weapon-based DPS. As usual, I neglected the Monk because I found neither his defenses nor his abilities to be especially helpful. It was nice that all of my characters shared experience points, so I never felt like one of them was under-leveled. I couldn’t help but miss some of the new heroes that got introduced in Dungeon Defenders II though, like the Summoner and the robotic Series EV. It does get a little boring playing the same four characters that I have for a decade now.
Similarly, several of the maps from the first Dungeon Defenders make a re-appearance which diminished my enjoyment of the already limited 12 maps available to play throughout the campaign. Although Dungeon Defender II’s campaign only featured 8 maps, there were over 30 maps to play in total. As of right now, there are 13 total maps in Awakened and only 2 more will be added by the full launch later this year. It really begs the question: if so many maps are re-hashed from previous entries, why not just add all of them? Thankfully new challenge modes, as well as Survival modes, can break up some of the tedium of repeating the same maps but it doesn’t solve it for long. I hope that Awakened will see as much post-launch support as its predecessor did and maybe new game modes or challenges will be added later on.
THE ENDGAME GRIND GAME
After finishing the main campaign I was sad to see that nothing new got added to the tavern, the central hub in Awakened that only has a solitary bartender. Unlike the first game, however, this bartender does not sell any new weapons or armor or offer any services at all. Instead, the tavern is really only good for checking your DPS on the practice dummies. I wish there was more added to this area, and I’m sure there will be eventually but I doubt it will be anytime soon. In fact, the sheer emptiness of the tavern made me miss the multiplayer hub that was in DD2, where I could see other players running around and not just whoever was in my party.
The only motivation I had to continue after completing Awakened’s campaign was just leveling up more in order to tackle some of the alternate game modes. The loot didn’t really interest me at all and seems mostly useless except for extremely rare occurrences where a certain combination of stats was on equipment. Otherwise, I sold most everything and hoarded massive amounts of gold that doesn’t hold any use except for upgrading gear to add additional stat points on to. It also surprised me that certain items didn’t start dropping until after I hit a certain level, like the accessories.
Whereas I enjoy any kind of RNG loot system like in Diablo or Borderlands, none of the loot felt especially unique or interesting. More than 90% of what I picked up was trash – so much so that I eventually quit picking up loot altogether so it would auto-sell at the beginning of the next wave during a match. Some of the really cool-looking gear, such as the lightsaber swords for the Squire or double-bladed lightsabers for the Monk, never had good enough stats to warrant using. It made me wish there was some kind of cosmetic system in the game, where I could transmogrify items to look like something else. Unfortunately, no such system appears to be in the works at all.
Recently, Dungeon Defenders: Awakened did have an update that added the previously-seen Nightmare difficulty mode from the original game. This exceptionally-difficult mode includes better loot, but much more difficult (read: spongey) enemies. Additionally, four new enemies have been added to this difficulty mode which have such amazing designs that I wish they would have been added into the base campaign as well. Each of these new enemies added an additional mechanic that I had to especially prepare against, like how the Spiders could spawn seemingly anywhere on the map – oftentimes behind my own towers!
This added difficulty is amongst the most challenging and most enjoyable content in Awakened, but it’s unfortunate that it’s pretty much considered the ‘end-game content’. New difficulty modes like this, as well as new monsters to fight against, would help to break up a lot of the monotony involved not only during the main campaign but also after the fact when there’s not much else to do besides continue grinding up levels and loot.
AND IN SUMMARY
Dungeon Defenders: Awakened tries to recapture the glory and nostalgia that the first game commanded so well. Many fans have clamored for Dungeon Defenders to go back to their roots like in the first game, but I’m betting they weren’t actually wanting the first game just remade again. There’s some fun to be had, but I don’t think it’s worth the $40 asking price for Early Access. Nor do I think that there will be enough content added later on to justify that price tag. Although I am excited that Dungeon Defenders: Awakened will be available on Switch when it launches later this year, I think I would rather have a port of Dungeon Defenders II instead.
Given that Dungeon Defenders II is available for free to download and play on PS4, PC, and XB1 – and the first Dungeon Defenders is still available for only $15 – it pains me to see this franchise cannibalize itself for seemingly no reason. I hope that Chromatic Games can polish this game into a gem worth defending. Dungeon Defenders: Awakened is available right now in Early Access on Steam, but in its current form I think is a game you should sleep on.
Disclaimer: This is our full review of Dungeon Defenders Awakened. Our belief at Gamespace is that once a game is available for sale, regardless of its status as an Early Access game, it becomes eligible for a full review score.
Note: A copy of Dungeon Defenders Awakened was provided on Steam by PR for review purposes.