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Dungeon Defenders 2: hands-on with improved combat and new strategies

It's been two years since Dungeon Defenders' quartet of child heroes saved the colour-saturated world of Etheria through tower defending and action-RPG hacking and slashing. Since then, the Squire, Apprentice, Monk and Huntress have grown into teenagers, and Dungeon Defenders 2's tower defence fusion has grown up with them.

I donned the Apprentice's floppy wizard hat to blast orcs in an early build of Dungeon Defenders 2, which Trendy Entertainment put together in just four months. This build, it says, is all about getting the core mechanics right. I played about 100 hours of the first Dungeon Defenders; the tower defence was fun but the combat was mindless, and interface and camera issues kept the two genres from gelling. In other words, the core mechanics needed work.

A new trait system is part of Trendy's solution to the genre schism. In DD2, towers, equipment and abilities can be assigned traits such as freezing damage – frozen enemies shatter. A new Apprentice tower spews flames that spread from enemy to enemy; enemies doused in oil take more damage. I spent much of the match bouncing enemies into the air with a tornado spell, where anti-air towers hit them for critical damage.

Combat already feels better than in DD1. Previously, when the Squire swung his sword back and forth with each mouse click, there was no finesse or weight to his attacks; the same animation looped forever as he casually sliced through mobs. Now the teenaged Squire and Monk perform combos with a series of attack animations.

The strategy side of the equation has also been upgraded. DD2 ditches generic defence points for tiered objectives. On the map I play, we have to defend a castle gate from orcish invasion at all costs, but two smaller gates are optional – if we can't guard them, more enemies will pour out of them. During the final round, we make the decision to sell our forward defences and pull them back to the main gate.

It almost works, but finally we're overwhelmed. Still, as orcs pound our gate into splinters, I can appreciate the number of enemy paths woven through this castle town, and how many ways we could've chosen to defend it. It's better-designed than most of the stages in DD1.

DD1 zapped me hard in a loot addict nerve I didn't even know I had, and the satisfaction of earning and upgrading better gear made it easy to overlook the game's shortcomings. DD2 is shoring up those shortcomings, and the trait system has the potential to make loot more varied and addicting this time. Trendy plans to launch the beta in early 2014. I may be holding the first Dungeon Defenders Anonymous meeting a few months later.

Wes Fenlon
When he's not 50 hours into a JRPG or an opaque ASCII roguelike, Wes is probably playing the hottest games of three years ago. He oversees features, seeking out personal stories from PC gaming's niche communities. 50% pizza by volume.