By TheBookNerd 9 Comments
“DUNGEON DEFENDERS, YOU JACKHOLES!”
Somewhere between the GiantBomb staff’s fourth and fifth day of Game Of The Year deliberations, as I yelled that exclamation to everyone and no one, I resigned myself to the fact that the fine gentlemen at GiantBomb never actually played Dungeon Defenders. That’s understandable. They have a finite number of hours in the day, the month, the year. They can’t play everything. And so some things will be missed. And that’s too bad.
During the early parts of the Day Five GOTY podcast a conversation ensued about “worst trends” and whatnot. One of the nominated worst trends was the over-serialization and resulting burnout of some franchises. As Jeff had said multiple times this year in reference to games like Modern Warfare 3 and Uncharted 3, “We have played these games before.” Developers of successful mega-hit games are resigned to mass-produce followups to their critical successes without giving those sequels the proper amount of care and consideration, resulting in less-than-optimal releases. This is the crux of the BombCrew’s argument against annualization of franchises. And yet we have titles like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Saints Row: The Third vying for the title of “Game Of The Year.” I will be the first to say I have played a lot of both games, and other sequels to franchises that many would classify as “tired.” Still, I always like something new.
That’s where Dungeon Defenders came in. It was new—at least to me. Granted, I have not played every video game known to man, so I could be wrong. But it seems that nothing quite like DunDef has ever existed before. It combines tower defense (Gerstmann would be rolling his eyes about now…) with an action RPG in a cute and immersive art style. Throw in some very handy co-op elements (Why, yes, I do need some extra mana. Thank you for sharing.), an enormous amount of loot, and a deep series of both story levels and challenge levels each with four different difficulty settings, and it’s easy to see why after all this time with the game I’m still eager to play. All of that in one package, to me, is new.
And it still feels new. I’m hundreds of hours in, and I still have not been able to complete some of the missions and challenges. (NOTE: I didn’t write that, “I have not finished” these parts of the game. I wrote, “I have not been able,” because even after all the time I’ve put in to the game, my characters still aren’t up to the really tough challenges.) There is a boatload of DLC to boot with more characters, more weapons, more enemies, more maps… For an inexpensive downloadable game it is an enormous value.
But value alone doesn’t make for a Game Of The Year contender, admittedly. It seems that when the BombCast guys really start talking about their favorite games, it comes down to the experience and memories created by the games themselves. So where does Dungeon Defenders weigh in experience-wise? Let me lay this on you very simply:
It brought and continues to bring my entire family together for hours at a time in a way that no other entertainment device—video game, movie, book, board game, etc.—has ever done.
That, to me, might not make it a Game Of The Year. That might make it the Game Of The Decade. Or more.
Late at night when I’m the only one awake, I pop in Saints Row or Rocksmith or Skyrim. My wife plays Angry Birds in the morning with her coffee, while my little girl looks at the screen and cheers her on. Our two boys, each with their own 3DS, wander off alone to play Super Mario 3D Land or Ocarina Of Time by themselves. We are a gaming family. We play games, talk about games, think about games… But we had never had a single title that we could all agree to play at the same time and derive equal enjoyment from. Sure, I would stomach Kinect Adventures for the sake of my kids. And they would humor me by playing Burnout: Paradise and making cars blow up. My wife even tried her hand at Gears of War 2 for one night until she threw down the controller in frustration. So we never had one game that all four of us could play and enjoy like we have with Dungeon Defenders.
An example: I stayed up late one night and finally finished the challenge called “Ogre Crush” on Insane difficulty, netting me the unique loot item known as the Ogre Party Hat. The challenge was finally beatable with one of my characters. So I tried again. And again. And a fourth time. And finally I had not one but FOUR Ogre Party Hats. Late that morning when I was sure the kids were at school or otherwise occupied, I texted my wife: “Tell the boys I have a cool new surprise from Dungeon Defenders for them.” Sure enough, when I walked through the door after work, I was deluged by the boys and their little sister begging to know what the surprise is. I told them. They flipped out. We spent dinner talking about it. We finished up dinner, cleaned the kitchen, then sat down to play. And the next couple of hours were spent testing out our new gear in different ways and talking about how awesome it was.
This kind of thing STILL happens. None of us have gotten tired of it yet.
Those hundreds of hours of gameplay I mentioned before? Probably one hundred of those are with one or more of my family—either my wife, one or both of my two sons, or even my little girl. To create a game that compels grown-up gamers, their wives (who have little-to-no interest in gaming to begin with), and their children of varying ages to sit and play and cheer and laugh and scream and come back to do it all again the next night… That is no easy accomplishment. And the fact that Trendy Entertainment pulled it off in a package that is such a great value at the same time is a significant feat. I have really come to appreciate what they developed and the value it has provided my entire family.
So that’s why Dungeon Defenders is my Game Of The Year for 2011. And by all appearances it will be one of the games that we play the most of in 2012. While I wish the guys had given it more props—or any, for that matter—I understand why they may not have. Just take it from me, if you’re looking for a quality experience that’s different than a lot of other games, give it a try. And that goes double for you family gamers out there.