Dungeon Defenders is like that friend you meet who seems pretty cool; they're a great host, listen to good music, and like to have people over for parties every now and then. But then they start saying some inflammatory things, you realize that they've said a lot of lies, and you feel a little uncomfortable with them when you're with other friends. And yet this new friend of yours has a really cool cottage, and they've just invited you over for the weekend, and you wonder if all those bad things are worth the good you can get from them.
You see, Dungeon Defenders is, at its core, fun to play. A blend of action-RPG gameplay and tower defense, you take upon the mantle of one of four heroes a wizard, warrior, huntress, or monk and defend a core against waves of enemies. Building towers helps, but consumes mana, which can also be used for special abilities or deposited into a 'bank'. The game is fast-paced, frantic, and full of challenge and style that makes each wave an enjoyable romp.
The ability to level up your hero through matches, equip them with loot from the battlefield, and give them pets to assist them adds a lot of depth to the gameplay, allowing you to choose if you want your hero to be focussed around doing damage with towers, supporting others, running into the fray to take out the monsters yourself, or any other number of strategies. You can even invest money into any piece of equipment you have, adding to the stat bonuses it grants you: a chain helmet is fine and all, but throw a few thousand mana at it, and you'll find yourself with something that can out-perform any piece of equipment you'll be picking up for quite some time (unless you level those up, too).
The true meat of the game comes from the multiplayer of the game. Each match allows up to four heroes to play, and you can seamlessly jump in and out of games at any time (though, if you join in the middle of a combat phase you'll need to wait until it's over). There's also an option for split-screen gaming, even on the computer.
Some of the game's problems begin here with some...curious design choices. First is the aspect of loot: there's a lot of loot to collect from the game, and picking it up after the monsters drop it allows you to equip it immediately or store it. The issue here is that the game follows what I've heard dubbed as 'speed before need', in that the loot simply goes to whoever reaches it first. So, if someone manages to scoop up that weapon that is exclusive to your class, you're fresh out of luck. And trading isn't easy either, requiring you to go through some annoying hoops just to trade items with someone right next to you.
There's also the issue of the multiplayer service, TrendyNet, which forces you to connect to it unless you want to play on 'Open' matches. The difference between the two, however, isn't something I can see. The biggest problem is that despite playing in Ranked matches, the host of the match is the one everyone is connected to. This means connectivity problems as well as issues of hacking. For example, last time I checked, it is possible for the host of a game to use a memory editing tool to reduce everyone in his game to level 0.
There are more problems, believe me. The ramp of difficulty that exponates in the last wave of each match, nullifying all previous metrics of success moot; the inability to name a character if you create it in the tavern hub; the lack of sharing of experience points between players when it comes to monster kills, and so forth. The list goes on. But here's the thing: the game is a lot of fun.
If the game wasn't so compelling, I wouldn't still be playing it. Powering up a hero, making your way through waves and waves and waves of enemies, often numbering in the hundreds, is what makes the game so much entertaining. There are a lot of stages to get through, and a number of challenges afterwards that present you with unique objective to meet: defend an ogre, watch your core teleport every 30 seconds, fight off a wave without building towers, and more. The levels are varied, the enemies numerous, and the action non-stop.
The style of the game is pleasant to the eye, a cartoony, soft feel with decent music and a playful atmosphere. Be warned, however: the user interface is outright terrible. Finding your way through menus is far more of a pain than it should be for such a simple interface, and even on the PC, there are still pictures and prompts that refer to Xbox 360 controls. It took me far too long to figure my way around the shop menu, and even something as simple as selling equipment is a chore. That trading problem I mentioned earlier is just part of this problem.
But still, despite all its foibles, problems, and issues (for which there are many), Dungeon Defenders is a good game at its core. Every so often, I find myself shaking my head at some of the design choices in the game, and cursing when the connection drops on a ranked match, yet again, but I still come back to it because it's a fun game to play when you're not running into these incidents. It's a fun multiplayer game to play through when you want to hack at a hundred goblins, and as long as things go right, it's easy to find yourself wanting to play just one more match.