Similar in concept to Double Fine's Trenched or Robot Entertainment's upcoming Orcs Must Die, Trendy Entertainment's Dungeon Defenders is a hybrid of the action role-playing and tower defense genres. You play as one of four characters, and your goal is to defend precious crystals against an onslaught of fantasy foes. And while there are a lot more of them than there are of you, fear not: that's where the tower defense part comes in.
Each character has a special set of towers he or she can build to help repel the enemy waves. However, towers alone won't win the day. Your characters will have to personally enter the fray and hack and slash their way to victory.
Any high-fantasy buff will already be familiar with the game's four characters: the apprentice, squire, huntress, and monk. The first two were described as the basic classes, the apprentice being a long-range spellcaster specializing in offensive turrets, such as the magic missile turret, and the squire being a melee specialist who can build defensive structures, such as spike walls.
The huntress is another ranged class who, instead of building structures, can deploy traps, with each trap having a limited number of detonations before being exhausted. Finally, the monk just thought he was better than everyone else since he has both ranged and melee attacks. His structures are also a bit more abstract and come in the form of auras that enemies pass through and have bad things happen to them--such as a speed decrease.
Each level in Dungeon Defenders is broken up into two phases: the building phase and the combat phase. The building phase is where you plan out and construct your defenses, while the combat phase is where you get overrun by monsters and lose. OK, maybe you don't always lose, but you do get overrun pretty frequently.
That's when you have to start dividing your time between smacking around the latest goblin incursion and repairing, or upgrading, your defenses. That's right, all the housekeeping you can do in the building phase you can do in the battle phase, though it will take longer, and you can be interrupted if you're struck by an enemy.
Once you complete a mission you're transported back to your very own, personalized tavern. This is only a little inappropriate since you're playing as a group of children, but we're not complaining. Every player's tavern is populated with banners and trophies reflecting their achievements in the game. There's also your own personal item vendor whose stock--which includes weapons, armor, and pets--is randomized after each mission.
Everything in Dungeon Defenders is controlled by mana. It's the currency for performing special attacks, purchasing or upgrading structures, and buying items. Thankfully, it's also easy to come by via treasure chests that refill in between each enemy wave.
During our play session we teamed up with an apprentice and played a few rounds as a low-level squire. By fortifying stairways with spike walls and turrets, we were able to hold off the enemy's advances. All of our construction abilities--buying, selling, upgrading--were handled with a few easy-to-understand radial menus, any of which you can map to the direction pad or keyboard. However, in combat, it was at times difficult to see who was attacking what given the sheer number of enemies and narrow arenas.
In a later level we switched over to a huntress. All characters in Dungeon Defenders are tied to a single profile and share the same items. That means if your squire happens to find a bow for your huntress, all you have to do is stick it in your backpack, and the next time your huntress is in play she can open up her inventory and find the bow waiting inside. You can also switch characters during the building phases in each mission.
However, if you're planning to switch from a low-level character to a high-level one just to make things easier, know that the game drops loot based on the difficulty of the stage you're playing, meaning that your high-level character probably won't have much use for the early-game +2 Boots of Uselessness.
There's still a lot more to discover in Dungeon Defenders, such as the PVP and item trading, than we can discuss here. And while it may not be available at launch, the team is planning to have cross-platform play between Android, iOS, PC, and PSN--sorry Xbox 360, apparently you're not a team player. PC players can also look forward to mod tools postlaunch. Speaking of launch, Dungeon Defenders will be released on the PC and XBLA on October 19, with a PSN launch further down the line.