Dungeon Defenders: Awakened
Publisher: Chromatic Games
Developer: Chromatic Games
Release date: 17th March 2021
Approximate size: 5 GB
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
Screenshots: Xbox Series X / Xbox.com
Dungeon Defenders is a franchise mixing tower defence with third-person action and RPG elements as you control a hero who’s tasked with protecting Eternia Crystals against an ever-increasing horde of enemies including Goblins and Orcs.
The original Dungeon Defenders was released back in 2011 and while I was by no means a hardcore player, I thoroughly enjoyed the game.
Fast forward to 2017 and Dungeon Defenders 2 was released, but switching to Free to Play just didn’t feel right, the grind was a little over the top and the early levelling felt slow and mundane with too much emphasis on the heroes and less so on the defensive towers which made the original so appealing.
2021 arrives as the franchise approaches it’s 10 year anniversary and Dungeon Defenders Awakened is a reboot of sorts, which uses some fan favourite maps as well as adding new locations, with the added promise of future episodic content, new maps, new characters and abilities and all free for owners of the base game.
As it stands, Dungeon Defenders Awakened feels closer to the original game than the F2P sequel, and that’s mostly for the better, the jump to unreal engine 4 is apparent and everything moves along smoothly with plenty of quality of life adjustments that gamers like myself who haven’t frequented to the franchise for a few years, will find appealing and effective.
It’s light on story, while you’re introduced to the task at hand and the new enemies early on, between levels, it’s more like a lobby system ready to throw you back into the fight, with only the end of each chapter offering any sort of narrative progression.
These improvements range from lesser-used abilities being removed, improved movement making map traversal much easier..
As you start on the Campaign, you’ll find yourself with 4 character slots, it’s worth populating these straight away as even those you don’t use will gain XP and level up.
Each character has its own strengths and weaknesses, some might give better-ranged attacks like the huntress, while others might have better abilities and available towers.
I started off with Series EV-A, an android who had a clone ability which was great for distracting enemies, as well as a tower that allowed two points creating damage of time for enemies crossing the path, most weapons seem to be capable of long-distance, with the exception of the melee only Squire, but each character has a fully upgradeable stats allowing you to increase their effectiveness with vitality, attack, skills or their defensive towers.
Newcomers to the franchise are likely to find the early grind a little tedious, especially if they’re late to the table, as multiplayer games are hard to find on the early levels, leaving most with the grind of playing through the 3 acts of a campaign to start building up their team.
Thankfully with every level you play, you’ll start to pick up loot dropped by fallen enemies, these are mostly useless, but you’ll occasionally stumble upon something that will upgrade your current load-out, which combined with the stat upgrades continue to improve your character. These early sections do get a little repetitive, but if you enjoy the action-defence gameplay, they’re easy enough to endure and do offer a way to get used to each character, especially as you’ll want to learn the ins and outs of at least a few, as you’re likely to be switching between them to utilise one characters towers, maybe the healing abilities of the monk or the elemental benefits of the apprentice.
Graphically, Dungeon Defenders Awakened is obviously an improvement on its predecessors, the jump to the Unreal 4 engine is positive and everything plays smoothly and looks good, there’s a few parts I feel could be improved, such as distant enemies seem to suffer a framerate drop which makes their movement noticeably staggered, which is a little tedious especially if you prefer the ranged characters. Considering this is on the Series X, and launch patch notes state “Reduced enemy counts to improve performance across all platforms” It’s clear that Chromatic Games are working on fine-tuning console performance and with the promise of those extra episodes and ongoing balancing, there’s a bright outlook for players who do immerse themselves for the long haul.
There’s no denying that Awakened looks very good, and like it’s gameplay elements it’s more polish and refinement of the franchise rather than a redesign, which is great news for returning fans but might not broaden the appeal.
Audio is mostly positive, music can get a little tedious, but characters, enemies weapons and effects all sound great, there’s not much destinction, so you’re more likely to rely on visual clues as to whats happening rather than hearing enemies at a certain location.
Another area that could have been better is the new Transmog system, which boasts an unparalleled level of customisation, by this, they mostly mean changing the colours, which is pretty light when you compare it to the customisation options in a game like Warframe, granted that’s a different genre, but considering there are currently only 5 characters in Dungeon Defenders Awakened, I would have liked to see more to help people stand out in online games, especially considering that’s where the real fun of Awakened lies.
Playing single player is a grind, co-operative with friends or even random players (if you can find a game) makes it instantly more fun, but Dungeon Defenders has always been about the long haul, the higher difficulty levels, better loot and the overall end game.
When action and loot titles mostly sit around older gamers, Division, Destiny, the forthcoming Outriders, it’s great to have a game that appeals to a much wider age range.
At £24.99 it’s pretty good value, but I do fee £19.99 might have made it that little bit more accessible for younger gamers. Either way, there’s certainly a lot of game to enjoy, and if you have got a few friends who are willing to join you on your journey, you’re likely to find months of entertainment. The added benefit is the Dungeon Defenders community has always had a pretty strong core, and even in the early hours I was finding online lobbies, sadly I did have a few troubles joining them, but as these early bugs are ironed out, things will improve further but already, Dungeons Defenders Awakened offers a fun action-defence, loot-based RPG for all ages.