Difficulty Curve

I have reached the point in Dungeon Defenders where I need a ranged DPS character to do more. I’m working out how to bootstrap that process, since the tasks for most really good ranged DPS weapons require either a decent DPS weapon or being assisted by someone who has one. I am solid on towers, but the red ogres absorb a lot of damage.

Medium difficulty is easy. Once you get past the low-level blahs and have all your towers, you’re good to go. I didn’t even try Easy; I presume you can sleep through it. Hard is mostly fair, requiring some thought and planning, and it requires you to use your towers well (or perhaps you can overgear and just shoot most of it down, but some of those maps are large). Insane is an entire other thing, and they keep increasing its difficulty because Insane is the endgame.

Like the WoW switch to raiding, Insane is a switch to demanding a DPS hero. Yes, the towers are extremely helpful once the enemy count gets to 4 digits (and keeps climbing in Survival), but the red ogres’ hit points have 6 digits. I have yet to see them hit 7 digits, but I have seen it very close in a 4-player game. Someone with great tower-building gear can still shoot that down, but the ogre tends to have dozens of friends with him and more coming from other lanes, so you may not be able to devote too many DU to the ogre. OTOH, I have seen screenshots of DPS-specialized characters above 200,000 DPS, so the ogres need not be overwhelming threats. That bootstrapping comes back: to get the items you’ll want for massive DPS, you’ll need to be able to take out the ogres that demand the massive DPS, unless you got them before they dialed up the late-game ogres. And I do mean to pluralize “ogres,” in that they spawn in pairs on some maps, to say nothing of the challenge where you get only ogres (from five entrances). My Squire is hybrid and only puts out about 20,000 DPS without Blood Rage, but he can take down the biggest ogre given a bit of time and maneuvering. The other enemies and ogres are there to minimize your time and maneuvering. And then there’s the end boss, which likes to spends its time airborne.

Maybe I’ll just get a bit more gear for my Squire and work on Insane Assault for the Huntress weapon.

: Zubon

The early maps are still pretty easy on Insane, especially the ones without ogres.

Re-Re-Balance

A big difficulty of playing Dungeon Defenders around launch has been the post-release re-balancing. There has been a lot of it. Daily patches have not been unusual, and those have contained both bug fixes and balance changes. I don’t know if strategies that worked last week still work. I do know that some things from two weeks ago don’t work any more.

This is not a good post-release state. It will presumably pass, but to paraphrase SynCaine, WTF kind of developer releases something that needs a 50% nerf? That particular one got walked back a bit, but the numbers you see in patch notes are not small. Scroll through patch notes and count how many times something has changed by 20% or more. 20+% is not a tweak.

This is interesting in the sense that there is always something new to re-learn, but one does not make plans on that basis. It is hard to feel invested in a character or a world when this much is in flux.

: Zubon

Boom

The great joy in having an Apprentice has been the deadly striker tower. It is slow and single-target, but it has range and power. It gives you life-affirmingly huge numbers. After being annoyed by wyverns as a Squire, it is lovely to watch them drop from the sky.

But the range, the range is what makes this toy shine, along with its ability to shoot through walls. You hear it charge up, fire, and somewhere a pinata has exploded. I had heard my friend on his Apprentice laughing about it before, because they are nice on the ogre gate in The Summit, but playing Endless Spires was the first time I made heavy use of my own Apprentice. I set up deadly striker towers near the central crystals then watched them pick off enemies on the walkways around the spires. I hadn’t even been aiming for those. I cackled like a madman who had struck comedy gold. It’s a beautiful map for showing off what the towers can do: long, winding paths with wide open spaces. You get to watch the bolt of doom arc over the depths, striking some slow-moving orc in the face, and he collapses in a colorful cloud of mana.

: Zubon

Reach out and touch someone.

Stable-Filling

Witness the evolution of AFK power-leveling, even in the face of nerfed towers! I was amused to get level 20 in three Deeper Well Insane runs, which is trivially easy (Squire: harpoon and bowling ball at the top of each stair, slice & dice and harpoon at the upper doors, harpoon somewhere else for the “used all DU” bonus). I was messing around with the bonus level on Hard, but that has become inconvenient with recent updates. The Ramparts Hard is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 million xp and 2 million mana (currency) per hour, which means taking a character from 0 to the level cap in about 3.5 hours while reading A Feast for Crows. I didn’t really grind that out, but fiddling and testing got me a respectable Apprentice and Monk, so I have some toys to try creating the perfect builds for Insane difficulty. It seems entirely feasible to take a character from 0 to 70 in an hour or two of play, although by the time you can do that, you will have pretty much everything at level 70 already.

When they introduce new classes, there will be legitimate characters at the level cap within an hour of the update. If I can actually get the “time to cap” down to an hour, it might be worth proliferating characters while farming a bit of mana. I imagine some people already have three level-capped characters of each class (pure towers, pure hero, hybrid). It’s silly, but it seems practically free if you are going to be farming mana for upgrading items. Of course, then you should farm more mana to equip those characters, and farming that mana can get you even more characters…

: Zubon

Defining “Nerf”

I had asked whether some scale of ability/character reduction was required before you called something a “nerf.” I think this qualifies:

Balancing Changes:

  • Nerfed Spooktacular “Van Wolfstein” weapon about 40%, and Huntress Ability ‘Piercing Shot’ about 30%
  • Nerfed Bowling Ball & Harpoon Turrets a bit more: bowling ball & harpoon damages reduced by about 33%, attack rate reduced by about 25%, bowling ball projectiles now limited to 6 hits before breaking, harpoon projectiles now limited to 12 hits before breaking.

Crap, and my level 70 is a Squire who focuses on Bowling Ball Turrets. Let’s see 2/3*3/4=1/2, so Squires just took a 50% hit to ranged damage, plus a reduction in the number of targets (meaningless at low difficulties and on early waves, huge in the endgame). Ouch.

: Zubon

Update: there is a partial rollback planned/in-progress. I’m still feeling a palpable lack of trust and “why bother logging on?” After someone trips you, even if you had it coming, you hesitate when he offers to help you up.

Skipping the Low Levels

Dungeon Defenders has many account-wide features rather than character-specific ones. Your characters share a single bank for money and items, and you can pass upgraded items to the next generation. Your tavern o’ achievements is the same for all characters, rather than suggesting that you repeat all the achievements on every character. You unlock levels for your account rather than your characters, so beat the game once to make everything available for all future characters. You probably cannot beat the end boss with your level 1, but the map is there.

One unusual feature is that you can swap characters during the Build Phase of each wave. The tip screen encourages you to combine towers from different heroes, which is a nice synergy bonus for having multiple characters. You can also have a tower-focused character build then a combat-focused character fight through the round. It’s a bit of micro-management, but what are optimizers if not micro-managers? (There are limits here. You cannot have unlimited build time on the highest difficulty, so you are limited by how quickly you can swap characters, run around the map, build, repeat.)

This lets you skip the low levels at which map difficulty scales poorly. My Squire is 40-ish and can clear the first level on Insane difficulty with a half-dozen towers. Start the map, clear the first wave (6 enemies), you now have enough mana to build the first round of defenses. Swap to your new, level 0 character. Watch the defenses clear a couple of waves, bring back the Squire to build the upper-level defenses. Swap back, watch the rest of the round happen. Congratulations, your new character is now level 13 with 40,000 experience points. It feels like an exploit, and the character has no useful equipment, but it does have all its basic tools to play for real rather than fumbling about with minimal mana and one tower.

: Zubon

Dungeon Derriere

Dungeon Defenders Huntress In our occasional series on blatant objectification of women in gaming, we have the Dungeon Defenders contribution. The Apprentice and Monk are covered in cloth, the Knight has no visible skin except for his knees, and the Huntress is wearing this. The halter top is common enough female “armor” to escape comment, but note the line showing where the whale tail would be if she were not obviously commando under her skirt that droops around her hips.

Note also her pose. At the character select screen, the Apprentice spins his staff, the Squire brandishes his sword, the Monk floats meditatively, and the Huntress shakes her tush. The male gaze comes before the tutorial.

: Zubon

Dungeon Defenders Second Impressions

  • Recent patches have improved the interface reliability. The Ranked server is still less reliable than, oh, what you might expect from a MMO in its first week.
  • The solo difficulty curve levels out several hours into the game. You can reasonably solo medium difficulty once you have enough levels to access most of your tools and a decent weapon.
  • A good weapon makes all the difference in the world. You might start out swinging for 10s, then you find the weapon that gets a bonus 50 elemental damage that increases by 10 (and increasing) every time you invest mana. When your damage triples, the impossible becomes the trivial.
  • Hey, neat, a boss fight!
  • The looting mechanics are anti-social. SynCaine comments on the anti-social xp mechanic. This is exacerbated by the mana mechanic: grab as much mana as you can to build/upgrade as much as you can to get as much xp as you can, however little that makes sense in the context of your team. Mana is both the in-level economy and the between-game economy, so you have an extra incentive to undermine your current game/team for minor personal profit. The loot mechanic is at least as bad, with items going to whoever hits E at them first. Sold trash items seem to be the primary source of mana for long-term upgrades and buying pets, so everyone has an incentive to grab everything. This games needs some version of “everyone gets everything picked up” to avoid competitions and races for acquiring personal benefits. The Nash equilibrium is not at a good point here. Of course, then you get into the leecher problem…
  • I like the loot mechanic of only dropping items for the classes that are there. No Huntress? No Huntress items drop.
  • You get several layers of customization. You have 10 spots to put your points when you level, half for you and half for your towers. You can pick from the variety of loot that drops or shop the few in the store. You can invest mana in your equipment and choose which aspect to upgrade, although you can only upgrade extant aspects rather than building from scratch. Pets are treated like items.
  • I’m really liking the Squire. I have melee towers that knock things back and ranged towers to shoot from behind them. If I repair the Bouncing Barrier up front during this, I am tank, DPS, and healer all in one. Better than repairing, I can just run around slashing at things with my sword that cuts a hole in the world while the towers deal with other directions.
  • You really do feel more powerful as you level up. There must be a treadmill effect going on here, but I am not feeling it. My numbers are big and growing faster than the enemies’ numbers, although the quantity of enemies may be growing to offset that. All the better.

: Zubon

Dungeon Defenders First Impressions

  • Absorbing. 3 hours went by without much notice, although there were two times where I was frustrated enough to stop until my buddy invited me back.
  • More action, less tower defense. You do have some towers, but this is not a stately strategy game where you place your defenses and watch over them like a demigod. In the early waves/levels, you are there in the front shooting, and later, you are repairing them while the attacks are coming in.
  • Still buggy. I think the gameplay works, but the game environment is problematic. I’m told it is more of a PC issue, and you immediately get the sense of how much the PC matters to the developers when it opens with “press start.” My “push to talk” turned off every time I zoned. The keybindings reset with one of yesterday’s patches and became uneditable at the options screen. My friend playing ranked remarked that the game/server/whatever crashed 3 times while he was still in character creation. The Steam achievements were not working for me.
  • There’s not really a point to high score screens in open. It displays while you are there, but those are obviously modded/cheat games, with scores in the millions versus the thousands. But it still displays on your forge while you’re on the map. Ranked gets you away from this, but did I mention “crashed 3 times at character creation”?
  • It’s absorbing and frantic but not great (so far?). Weak tower defense plus decent action is not synergizing strongly.
  • Classes differ strongly. I had lots of Squire envy, as their tanking+knockback towers were the heart of our defense. My Apprentice was the DPS behind them, and then I was the healer keeping the tank tower repaired. My buddy the Huntress had mostly last-ditch traps rather than attacking towers, so that class presumably is meant to be on the attack more. I did not see the Monk in action, but I get the sense it is similar.
  • There is a level grind. The difficulty and experience point curves assume that you will repeat levels to be prepared for the next, although I presume that great planning and execution can overcome a lot of that. There is also an equipment grind, and finding a staff that tripled my attack damage changed things.
  • Update, missed one: bring a group or go home. Maybe this is fun single-player, or doing older maps once you are high level, but only the first map is really solo-able (when you reach it). The maps do scale with group size, but they your combined power scales up faster than the enemies do, so perhaps it is better to say that they are 4-player maps that do not scale down well.

This is through about 4 maps, so who knows how things differ much later.