App Review: Dungeon Defenders: First Wave

A few months ago, the public got its first peak at a preview of the upcoming Unreal Engine graphics engine (that was being ported to iOS from other platforms, most notably the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) in the form of Epic Citadel. As you may know, Epic Citadel was a demonstration of what would eventually become Infinity Blade: the game with the greatest graphics on iOS ever. Struck in awe with the Unreal Engine, you may have been looking forward to the third coming—the second was Rage—of the engine in the form of Dungeon Defenders: First Wave. With a short absence from the App Store due to major bugs, it looks like Dungeon Defenders is here to stay. Read on for my complete breakdown of the game.

Gameplay and Controls

It’s difficult to categorize D.D. (short for Dungeon Defenders) into one of the standard genres of games; it features tower defense, RPG and arcade elements, making D.D. one of the most complex games on the App Store. While your goal of most levels is to defend your Eternia Crystal from waves of fairytale enemies using towers, players will find that the game goes much deeper.

While at first empty, play fields quickly become covered with layers of defenses strategically placed by players

Players choose from one of four character types and soon discover that their characters can be improved in various ways, among which are attack damage, mana storage, and tower attack range; by leveling up through the earning of experience points. Each of the character types differ through their types of available towers and through their attack types, allowing players to choose a game style that best fits them. For example, the Squire class allows players to get up close and personal with their enormous blades, while the Apprentice class allows players to summon ranged towers and use their staff to safely strike enemies from a distance. Dropped weapons and armor can be collected from fallen enemies, and are also upgradable through purchases with collected mana.

An example of the armor and weaponry that can be collected, earned, and bought in the game

Like other tower defense games, towers can be upgraded to inflict more damage to your enemies, but D.D. is unique in the sense that your towers can be healed and placed practically anywhere, meaning that they need not be fit into a grid. The levels are designed in ways that force players to make decisions as to where their defenses best be placed and use even better judgment to the positioning of the towers so that they are faced in directions that will be most effective.

While at first confusing, the controls become easy to use and extremely functional. There isn’t much to be said about them because I did not experience any difficulties with them.

Score: ★★★★

Presentation and Graphics

After the customary introduction credits upon opening the app, users are brought to a strikingly beautiful first menu with panning scenery as a background and buttons that are thematically styled with a middle-ages aura about them. While mostly good-looking, as you fiddle through the menus, you’ll notice that the font colors are neon-colored and are quite obviously out of place in what would have been nearly a perfect menu system. The in-game menus are absolutely gorgeous and are styled in a way that flow nicely with the intended theme.

The main menu of Dungeon Defenders

The topic of graphics is somewhat hazy when it comes Dungeon Defenders. Each frame you see has superb definition, colors, shape, and design. If you’re looking for more of a description for the quality, use the screenshots as a reference. You’d think that aside from quality, the graphics would go off without a hitch—silky-smooth, like in Infinity Blade— but hey: I never said how many frames you’d see if you owned the game. Between waves of enemies, you won’t have anything to complain about in regards to the graphics, but when the enemies are numerous, the frame rate drops tremendously, especially during online play, where the iDevice must also track your allies’ movements and actions. The issue is probably due to RAM issues, but there are no excuses for this inconsistency: if it was done on Infinity Blade and Rage on non-A4 processors, why should Dungeon Defenders have problems with it? At higher levels on higher difficulties, crashing also occurs. Aside from the bugs and small menu design issues, D.D. looks superb. However, the issues of frame rate drop and crashing are enough to justify a deduction of 1½ stars.

The graphics department is just one of the areas in which D.D. usually shines

Score: ★★★½


D.D. brings a top-notch performance to this category. Sound effects are crisp and clear. Also allowing for iPod music in the background (although I do not recommend it because of its use of precious RAM), the game features its own orchestrated soundtrack. In my experience, the use of headphones enhanced the overall enjoyment that I had; the sound effects indicate not only the direction of any action that was going on, but also what the action was. If I were to close my eyes and be commanded to differentiate between various types of enemies and towers, I would have no difficulty in doing so. In fact, I could tell you the direction that the noises were coming from, and whether the tower is beating the enemy or vice versa—that’s how complex the sound effects are.

Score: ★★★★★

Replay Value

As explained earlier, D.D. offers players plenty of ways to spend their time including, but not limited to, online play, different character classes and tower types, a leveling system, four difficulty levels of play (easy, medium, hard, and insane) on 11 maps, and collectible and upgradable weapons. What’s that? Excited about the online play? You should be. Players can team up (or against) with each other to take on levels and difficulties that they weren’t able to before, and even if they’ve done everything, it’s nice to play with other people and see the ways that they decide to play the game. Also, it allows for the cooperation of the different character classes to create impeccable defensive strategies, making replay value truly the best thing that D.D. has going for itself.

Nonetheless, I have no choice but to subtract a whole star because of the frame rate drop and occasional crashing that sometimes made the game unappealing.

Score: ★★★★

Value For Money

At its current price of $0.99, in my opinion, this is the biggest steal in App Store history. For your $0.99, you get some of the best graphics on the App Store and hours of complex play time. I’ve been playing since December… Need I say more? At $2.99, the game is still a definite buy for me—that’s what it cost me, and I do not miss any of my pennies.

Score: ★★★★★

Final Thoughts

After the release of 4 updates and a removal from the App Store, it is clear that the developer team intends to get this app right. If you’re smart, you’ll buy the app at its discounted price of $0.99 and wait for the update that will permanently fix any problems you might have or try dropping by their online forum and checking out their tech support section. While I did find myself with an unusable app during its initial release, the wait ended up being well-worth the wasted time.

Overall Score:

† All prices are in US currency unless stated otherwise.
This review was written by the Review Team. Overall scores are rounded to the nearest half or full star.
All applications and accessories were purchased at their respective prices unless stated otherwise.

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