Dungeon Defenders [$2.99] is an ambitious title full of carrots that propel a basic hack-and-slash experience. It also has systems and content out the wazoo, providing a level of good depth rarely seen in App Store titles. But as effective as its smoke and mirrors are, and as much as it has to offer, its controls and interface are a pain to use and navigate, making it hard to recommend.

A lazy bit of shorthand to describe Dungeon Defenders is "Diablo meets Tower Defense." Dungeon Defenders has the hack-and-slash appeal and the character classes from the former, and the tower building and flow of the latter. Overall, the two mesh into a good whole, providing a ceaseless stream of stimuli to play with.

You'll spend more time hammering away at fantasy foes with the "action" button than anything else, but this basic offense is always in the service of defense of large, neon-blue crystals that sit in the middle of the game's instance-based levels. These crystals have their own health meters, and if foes manage to pummel it to zero, it's game over.

What makes defense manageable is the scripting and flow. A preset number of monsters amble out of spawn doors on scripted routes during each "Wave" of play. You can choose to confront these foes with weapon in hand or set up defensive towers via a character-specific radial menu. But maps are huge and enemies spawn in every possible corner, so towers quickly become the star of the show.

The placement of towers versus your decision to be in a certain place during a certain "Wave" is satisfying and rewarding. And there's no shortage of towers. Each of the four character classes -- the mage, the archer, the knight, and the warrior monk -- have different spins on the same five or so towers, presenting some unique gameplay opportunities when coupled with the Rock, Paper, Scissors nature of the strategy you'll need to consider.

Player-side, the combat boils down to basic hack-and-slash. Each of the classes do bring their own style of combat, which helps to mix it up, and the loot and grind lust that the game encourages with its constant drops keeps things interesting, too.

Dungeon Defenders has a neat online multiplayer compliment to the play and the characters are balanced in such a way to provide a rich experience. The catch is that the single-player balance is off, so you'll need to get with some pals to push through the later levels.

For the most part, the network code appears to be stable. You'll encounter a fair amount of latency and matchmaking oddness as you get into and attempt to find matches. And the lack of voice chat is annoying on a fundamental strategy level.

If the game controlled well, this would easily be a highly recommended game. Alas, the controls and interface are terrible. It's painfully obvious that this is a game designed foremost and balanced for a dual-analog controller. Instead of integrating good touch-based controls, Trendy Entertainment has chose to just put all of a controller's functionality up on the screen. It's littered with buttons, bubbles, and dials to the extent that they obscure play.

But Dungeon Defenders is also fundamentally an awkward game to move around in, in part, due to the terrible 3D camera which needs to be babysat with an on-screen pad. As you can see below in the image of the game's overlay, the camera control is not in a convenient or intuitive location, meaning you have to take your eyes and hands off the action in order to swivel the camera to a sensible spot. Also, a virtual d-pad for movement?

(Edit:  There's a virtual joystick-less control option that you can turn on from the game's menu, but it's no good.)

Dungeon Defenders iOS is a deep, sometimes entertaining game… but the controls are a core, critical, nasty flaw that I don't think can be "fixed" or addressed in any meaningful way. The game, quite simply, requires all the stuff the UI is lit up with. There's a chance that if you're the kind of guy who can play, say, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light without issues, you might be able to get into this one. If you're not, I'd stay away from Dungeon Defenders until it hits Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, and PC at some point.

Just a note: Dungeon Defenders is a Universal App. Playing on an iPad does reduce the UI clutter by virtue of being a bigger screen, but it's still a mess and doesn't alleviate any of overwhelming button overload going on here.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001059220248 Harrison Preusse

    This is disappointing. I really was looking forward to this game. Do you think they have an update planned or are they just going to leave it like this?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Benteknol-Segers/100001525126777 Benteknol Segers

      This i a little to much ... you make the game look like it sucks fubar. I really enjoy it.

    • Brian

      Same, I'm having a blast. There is a bit of a learning curve to get used to the controls, but in general you dont notice it 30 minutes to an hour after you learn to work with it. With the amount of time you will spend playing the game if you really want to get the full experience, those 30 minutes will be forgotten quickly.

  • CGarcia

    I do have to agree with the reviewer. I like the game, but the screen is so cluttered I lose easily as much as 50% visibility. The camera is also so clunky. The fact that the camera surrounds the map has also led to the map showing up at the worst possible time. I haven't tried the multiplayer yet.

    I see there's a suggestions thread going on, and that the devs are already lisiting the UI as one of the main points.

  • Irandomryani

    Terrible review. First of all, there are two control schemes. A joystick and a touch based interface. Second, voice chat is available in the tavern but not actual gameplay because of memory issues. Single player is off balance? Do you suck at video games? I'm on the last level of the campaign, and I've done earliar levels at hard. This is a deep and rewarding game. A Korean website gave this game A near perfect score and we all know how crazy they are for strategy games.

    • http://twitter.com/nicholsonb Brad Nicholson

      "Hey another person from a different country liked this game, so that must mean it's great, right? RIGHT?"

      • Anonymous

        Wow. Responding in such a manner because someone doesn't like your review is about as professional as posting a "FIRST!" comment in your own article.

        Oh, wait, you've done that, too!

        You have to be able to accept people's criticisms and opinions of your pieces, if you are choosing to publicly announce them. Otherwise you just look like a jack ass.

        And in response to your review, I agree with the most of the commenters, that the UI, while a little busy, does not detract from the game at all. And of all things that developers would have a hard time fixing, assuming the placement of buttons can't be fixed is ludicrous. I had no problem getting the camera to do what I wanted.

        My main gripe with the game, is the tutorial is not scripted very well. For example if you level up in the middle of the tutorial, your character stat sheet is covered by the tutorial text and you can't see anything. That is it though. A bad tutorial system. Not too shabby.

      • Irandomryani
    • Munkie

      I agree with these comments, they were exactly what I was thinking. The reviewer has no manual dexterity what so ever.

    • Brian

      TouchArcade... I love most of your reviews but really think you should give this game another honest try. The UI, though clunky, is easily manageable and the game itself is probably one of the coolest ideas in my opinion. I will defiantly be trying it on the Xbox/PC though.

    • http://twitter.com/rsttm Ryan Scott Tandy

      Agreed… I haven't tried playing on the phone yet, but on iPad I've had no problems with the controls.

    • http://twitter.com/rsttm Ryan Scott Tandy

      Agreed… I haven't tried playing on the phone yet, but on iPad I've had no problems with the controls.

  • Anonymous

    I fully agree with that review. The game has a lot to love, but the controls, especially the camera controls, are pretty messed up. And what puts insult to injury is the extremely poor German translation and the fact that I cannot switch to English without changing the language settings of the iPad. I really had some high hopes for that game but alas it needs a couple of updates before it's as good as I anticipated.

  • Irandomryani

    Btw, take a look at the main thread in the forums. It's almost to 1000 posts. I wouldn't say a "non-recommended" game can get up there in numbers. NOVA 2 isn't even half that many.

  • emi

    I thought it went down in price when I saw the new post and almost got mad! I do not have problems with the controls. I agree it is clunky but after awhile I got used to it but I don't use joystick mode.

  • trystero

    I love this game, even with the interface "warts" that the devs are in process of fixing. I haven't played Aralon, Infinity Blade or any other recent purchases simply because I've gotten so wrapped up in this. I recommend people check out the threads on this game in 'Iphone Game Releases' and 'Game Discussion'. The developers are posting all over the place providing information on what they plan to address and how they plan to grow the game ( familiars, cross platform play, etc ).

  • Daft Eng

    Just wanted to say that you get used to the size and positioning of the buttons after a while.
    At first i thought they were way too big (and they probably are), but it becomes second nature after a while.
    I really can't stop playing, it is really awesome, easily one of the best purchases i've made for my iPad, ever.
    Also, if a dpad isn't your thing, there is an option to tap where you want to move to...although i've found this not as good as the virtual dpad.

  • akira01

    I dont' understand. Lara Croft and now this...Lara Croft is very playable for me, no issues at all and so this wonderful game, one one the best for my iPhone.
    You must have big big fingers or finally you have issues with virtual joystick.
    Very terrible review for a very good game. Shame...

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Once again this comes down to would you rather have an honest review based on what we thought while we played through the game(s), or would you rather us just parrot your opinions back to you?

      • akira01

        But that's only your opinion. There are very good reviews for this game. So what ?
        They aren't honest ? I'm not ?
        It's one of the deepest games of the appstore, a very deep hardcore game.
        and the game is PLAYABLE. It isn't easy, but playable...why did you say it isn't ?
        1000 posts on toucharacde and we are all disonhest fanboy ?

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        Well presumably you're coming to TouchArcade to read reviews here because you're interested in our opinion on games, which again, might not always coincide with yours.

      • akira01

        yep.
        I'm here for your opinion. But today, as you says, it might not coincide with yours.
        And so for Lara Croft...
        For me Eternal Legacy is a bad game (but not "clunky controls" here), Shadow Guardian is a crap. Good controls don't do all...

      • SLDROFHLA

        I'd rather a game reviewer put out out a controversial review if its their honest opinion rather than them giving into hype. I think TA does a great job of keeping reviews fair and accurate. Some things I may not agree with, but that will always happen, no matter what reviewer you listen to.

      • akira01

        "I'd rather a game reviewer put out out a controversial review if its their honest opinion rather than them giving into hype."

        Yep.
        Me too.

      • Anonymous

        I think we all love a good honest review. But when the author of a review replies to those who disagree with him, with stupid and sarcastic comments because HE doesn't agree with the comment, it's a little hypocritical don't you think?

      • DeadClown

        You know what I want, Eli? A numerical rating system for your in general, fantastic reviews.

  • http://www.facebook.com/klotek Konrad Knitter

    I full agree that controls are looking terrible, and looks like they are the worst part of game. But anyway, even if half of screen are buttons. They did great job with it! It's very easy, to click rotating camera in example, look at screen it's 10x50px. Game looks great. Have a lot nice "patents", I would recommend it anyway, at least to try. Hey, it's 3$ for universal, and unlimited time of fun on multi.

  • Dk89UY

    Will we be able to play this with the Android lot?

  • Abbas

    Terrible review.

    There's too much depth here to dismiss this as a poor game due to a so called "clunky" UI.

    I expect better of Toucharcade...

    • DeadClown

      A bad UI can totally ruin a game.

      Personally, I really value a good UI, and won't play a game with a bad one. There are so many game options, it's too easy to say 'eh' and move onto something that's a good game AND has a good GUI.

  • Evodon84

    There are some parts about the review which I agree with, about the controls and camera. However the developers are very active on the forums and are already preparing an update to many of our suggestions. And the previous posters are correct the Dungeon Defender thread is pretty huge. Even with its faults the game is really fun to play and with a couple of updates will be even better.

  • Anonymous

    It's nice to see a more honest review on Touch Arcade - most of them are "it has some problems BUT IT IS STILL WORTH YOUR MONEY".

    This one is - "It's not that great" out of the gate. But I loved your work at Destructoid anyways, Brad - you're a keeper!

    • akira01

      Because it's harsh it's honest ?
      WTF !!!

      • Vail

        Because it's harsh it's *not* honest?

        WTF??

      • akira01

        very funny.
        You know what i mean...

      • Anonymous

        No, we don't.

  • SILen(e

    I agree with the review, the UI is absolutely horrible.

    Bought the game because of all the hype and buzz it got, but lack of options and terrible tutorial made me go back to Infinity Blade and Real Racing 2.

    The UI is cluttered with information, buttons and stuff, so that the real gameplay is blocked from view.
    The camera "control" and the unfortunate camera angle add the rest of "I don't want to play this again - ever".

    All of these problems can be encountered in the first minutes of playing and because of the tutorial, they multiplay their negative effect.
    Tutorial spams the screen with text messages, blocking the buttons and information what the f... to do, the amount of input and voice over in the tutorial is totally annoying.

    Less information thrown at the player in the tutorial would be lots better, but spamming information and spamming UI-information at the player in the first minutes is imho bad game design.

  • Tino

    After spending a whole lot of time with this...

    1) Frame rate issues. 15-20 fps most of the time. (On a 3GS. I'm sure the 4 and ipad are fine.)

    2) As Brad said, the UI takes up a ton of real estate and the controls are painfully imprecise to say the least. If I had a dollar for how many times I tried to confirm a tower placement and it moved the damn tower, I would be rich.

    This app is a great proof of concept and made me excited for it's PC/Console release. However it's only remotely playable on a phone. It's definitely NOT the way to play this. But certainly look for it's next release.

    • Tino

      Also I would like to point out Brad wrote out 9 paragraphs of praise and 1 paragraph voicing a very legitimate concern with the game. How can you call it a terrible review?

  • Bruno

    The review was very honest. In its current state, the game is not fun to play. However, I disagree with Brad, when he said that the controls, cannot be " "fixed" or addressed in any meaningful way." I am not sure about that, but one attempt is to add the option that developers o Chooper 2 did. Since the game is universal, give us an option to make our iphone a joystick.
    That will surely make things easier.

  • RealS

    wow reviewers here are assholes

    • http://twitter.com/AhiruDuck Ahiru Nakamura

      wow, readers here are as dumb as a light pole

      • DeadClown

        Haha @ Brad liking that reply. :D

  • Paulmcraelind

    Gret review, pretty much hit everything on the head.

    Note: One correction in the review should be, the controls are a chore, not core.

  • Ngohuyq

    WHY DO I HAVE TO SHIFT FROM LANDSCAPE TO PORTRAIT TO LOOK AT A DAMN MENU?!?!?!!? (see below)

    Personally, I've enjoyed this game overall despite it's flaws. They are major, but with some time you will adjust to them as with any other game, and when you do, you find it a very addicting and fun game. Definitely worth the 3 bucks I coughed up and I do expect that they'll fix the problems eventually.

    I concur that the controls are very imprecise, but my biggest gripe is the camera for sure. I more often lose my sense of direction and location because the camera rotation is hit accidentally. The second gripe I have is with the orientation of the damn forge and tavern menus. Why would I have to swap from landscape viewing to portrait to view a menu? Sigh. That was a weird choice but I can live with it.

    • Evodon84

      agree, the controls I can deal with but getting turned around because of the camera is very frustrating. I do believe fixing the camera is in their first planned patch though.

  • Big Albie

    I wholeheartedly agree with the review although I think that people need to balance the depth with the interface. The game has a lot of depth along with some terrific visuals. But, the clunky controls and the interface need to be addressed. While you become more familiar with them as you go along, they can be downright frustrating overall. The strange camera angle can add to the frustration as well. In general, the game is good, but the other issues can be make or break for many. If/when they address the issues, Dungeon Defenders could be a great.

  • Anonymous

    The UI was a little tricky to get used to, but it's not nearly as bad as the reviewer says. I've played it mostly on the iPad. I don't find the on screen virtual pad to be difficult to use at all. The manual camera does need attending to, but not so much that this hasn't become one of my favorite games. It's a bit challenging (i'm using the Hunter, on the second set of levels), I agree, but since your character is steadily leveling up, the waves will eventually become easier (as is typical of an RPG-like game). I would definitely recommend Dungeon Defenders, at least for iPad players.

  • iJayCee

    In my opinion. Poorly presented negative review. I had few problems with the controls at first but then I found the zoom-out option. This gave me more visibility and room to maneuver. There are plenty of buttons on-screen but some are presented in a single button that when pressed, brings up a wheel that has more options. This does greatly limit your view, however, when this menu is used most is the build phase in which no enemies are present and you are hardly in this menu for more than a few seconds. The controls are hardly an issue once you give the game some time and really get into it. It is taking up a huge portion of my gaming, right next to Aralon. Reviews can sometimes carry a biased to depending on the reviewer. Nothing against the reviewer but some just have stronger preferences for games.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CRFKB2LX7RTVABC6ICU4MCJFNQ jd

    I'd say 90% of the reviews on this site are overly positive and even find ways to overlook issues on many games. Usually they say a game has potential if it has any flaws. But this review is the opposite - it seems aggressively pessimistic. It doesn't take that long to get used to the controls, and while they are far from perfect, they aren't bad. There are many buttons on the screen, but the ones you need during the fray are easy to use and find.

    Maybe you wanted to like it so much you were overly disappointed? Or maybe you kept losing? Either way, this review is overly critical of a game that aims so high. Don't punish them for being ambitious.

  • 3faced

    concerns and criticisms about the GUI are definitely valid.

    it feels like a title that has been designed ground-up for non-handheld platforms has been shoehorned into an iOS format perhaps a little haphazardly without leveraging the pitfalls/benefits of the medium in its design. this makes for a steeper than necessary learning curve for new players (with a horrendous tutorial featuring fatal screen obscuring pop-up messages) and awkward camera/camera controls.

    having said that, i am currently absolutely addicted to Dungeon Defenders. disregarding the interface, the presentation is lovely as one should expect from the unreal engine. 4 player co-op gameplay is compelling and the leveling/looting/leveling loot system has me hooked trying to find that uber weapon to show off in multiplayer matches.

    finally, the constant presence of the developers on the TA forums also gives me hope that they care about our concerns and hopefully forthcoming updates will address some of the issues in the review as well as adding suggestions by other players.

    btw:
    1) being 'harsh' is neither an indicator of honesty nor dishonesty.
    2) i find the game much less cumbersome to play on the iPad.

  • http://www.theageofknights.com NoThru22

    Reviews are just opinions, of course, but your opinion is wrong and hateful. :D (I am joking, but I still think you're wrong.)

  • http://twitter.com/javahawk Joshua Javaheri

    Check out our latest video, playing Dun Def on iOS, Android, and PC in the same game =)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktthBQpJS4s

    • Anonymous

      Freaking awesome. Great job, guys.

    • Anonymous

      Wow, you completely missed all of the criticisms here!

      • http://twitter.com/javahawk Joshua Javaheri

        No I didn't. Any comment on my part would just be biased. ;-)

      • http://twitter.com/javahawk Joshua Javaheri

        No I didn't. Any comment on my part would just be biased. ;-)

  • BoneFish

    Considering that many iPhone gamers don't have 1 hour just to familiarize themselves with the controls of a new game, I'd say the review is pretty spot on. If I have to "suffer through" 30 minutes to an hour of just getting used to a game's interface and figuring out how to play, thats a pretty big strike right off the bat -- especially considering the platform that its on.

    Now don't get me wrong, the game has depth and a lot of cool and very interesting elements, but that depth imo is at the expense of having too high of a learning curve for the typical player, a clunky UI, and a few other awkward, more confusing then they should be elements.

    My point is that yes, of course anyone can eventually learn how to play, but as a gamer I shouldn't have to literally do research and spend upwards of an hour just to figure out some of the basic elements of the game.

    Also, the game often chugs at ~20fps on my iphone 4 in single player... and I find it extremely annoying how it will often auto target enemies across the map, or stay locked on to enemies which I have run away from despite hordes of other enemies attacking me at point blank range. The camera is pretty horrendous as well... its hard to orient yourself when the camera is constantly, automatically rotating.

  • Stefan

    Well if the controls are only as "bad" as Lara croft, I guess we can assume this game will control and play great?

  • Backtothis

    Wow this is probably the most controversial review in a while, but this is just brad's opinion..and that's all a review ever is. I think it's a great game that has pretty decent controls. I never encountered any difficulties whatsoever in the tutorials or encountered any confusion in learning the game..so not sure where all those complaints are coming from in the main thread. It's a blast to play online.

  • Alex

    I am starting to get annoyed with this site. I DO come here for the reviews and have never had an issue before the Lara Croft review (99% of all the forum readers agree that review was overtly harsh and something was wrong with it), but this jab at all your readers with your Lara Croft comment has completely put me off. With any new game, there is a learning curve to using it's controls. I find your articles comment insulting and I am sure many others will also.

    I would also like to point out that my comments left on the Lara Croft review aren't showing any longer. Strange considering how polite I was despite the editors review.

    I understand all reviews are subjective, but Brad's is in severe question.

  • TheFrost

    Well review doesnt do justice to this outstanding game. As people says, you get used to the UI and they are trying really hard to fix the problem staying in touch with customers in this forum. A really good and innovative game that will suck in your free time

  • Anonymous

    This app annoyed me. I have an iPad and it's ridiculous how much screen is covered with buttons. It makes it virtually unplayable. I deleted it after an hour or so.

  • Jay

    "A lazy bit of shorthand to describe Dungeon Defenders is "Diablo meets Tower Defense.""
    From the looks of it,"iTorchlight" would have been the laziest way. :)
    As someone who hasn't played it but has played Torchlight, how does it compare?

  • tsharpfilm

    "Dungeon Defenders iOS is a deep, sometimes entertaining game… but the controls are a core, critical, nasty flaw that I don't think can be "fixed" or addressed in any meaningful way."

    If the developers tried hard enough, they probably could come up with a creative way to make the controls more intuitive. Deeming the controls as unfixable seems a bit over the top.

  • Ponagathos

    I played it for about an hour on the PC. Controls and the camera view changing kept getting on my nerves. I kept wishing it top-down because had constant trouble figuring out where I was in relation to everything else.

  • Jcmeyer

    I disagree. Been playing this game for a couple days now, and it is one of the easier games to control that I have played. I do think the performance needs to be tweaked, however I find the game very entertaining and a hell of a bargain for $3. My son and daughter also like it, and we will have plenty of multi-play when they get their iPads this Saturday.

  • Noah

    I can't even purchase it because it requires iOS 4.2 for some reason. *shrug*

  • JWOW

    The reviewer Brad Nicholson, has only been writing reviews for a year. Take a look at his LinkedIn profile and some other concerns about him

    http://www.giantbomb.com/forums/general-discussion/30/brad-nicholson-is-unprofessional/430166/

    http://gamejournos.tumblr.com/post/654886620/brad-nicholsons-terrible-writing-is-dragging-the-once

  • http://twitter.com/thepandav2 Bryan

    I only want to know how far has the reviewer played, or did he get frustrated and rage post, because that's all I see. The controls are bad, but you cannot deny the game is fun. Hard to reccomend, I agree but the patch should address these very soon. I do hope toucharcade chooses to re-review once the game is patched.

  • Quorlan

    Gotta say I agree with the review, there is LOTS to love about this game, but I can't even make it through the tutorial due to a waaaay too busy interface and tutorial text coming up and then staying on screen and in the way. Everything about the game seems like something to love until you actually try to control the thing on an iPhone and it becomes an exercise in sheer frustration. The camera controls are the absolute WORST I HAVE EVER SEEN on this platform and the movement controls are only slightly better than that. All of that said, I really, REALLY want to love this game, but just can't get past the horrendous controls and camera that would be better off not existing at all. Just absolute rubbish. I'm so disappointed in this game there aren't even any good words for it. I wanted to throw my phone out the window after the first 15 minutes and I haven't been able to bring myself to launch the game again since.

    Devs, FIX the controls, FIX the camera and you'll have a real hit on your hands. Don't fix those things and you'll quickly see sales evaporate and this wonderful title drop to languishing in the iTunes heap of things that could have been great but couldn't deliver in the end.

  • Johne Laroche

    A game that gets this many comments is a good game.

  • Max

    "The kind of guy.."? Really? This repeated stereotyping and generalising is offensive.

Dungeon Defenders: Second Wave Reviewed by Brad Nicholson on . Rating: 2