A Long-Winded Defense
Thanks to Plants Vs. Zombies, the tower defense genre is enjoying quite a bit of popularity right now. Paradox Interactive, best known for its Majesty series of real-time strategy games, has created its own spin on tower defense in Defenders of Ardania. In fact, Majesty fans will feel immediately at home in the world of Ardania, complete with the same old windbag of a royal counselor who enjoys delivering overly lengthy scenario introductions.
That old windbag helps make Defenders of Ardania a bit difficult to get into. During the single-player campaign, the game’s characters insist on delivering a ponderously voice acted and sadly unskippable introduction to every scenario. Sure, it’s mildly amusing the first time through, but heaven forbid the player fail a scenario, restart, and have to sit through five minutes of wizards and cranky dwarves insulting each other all over again.
Once the player is finally given control over the action, the tower defense portion of Defenders of Ardania should look familiar. Players get an overhead view of the colorful fantasy battlefield, though for some reason they will need to press a button at the beginning of every game in order to see the necessary tower placement grid lines. The main difference between tower types is that each tower has strengths against specific kinds of enemies, meaning that the player will want to have a diverse grouping of towers in order to properly dispatch waves of foes. There’s a strict limit to the number of towers that can be assembled on any map, usually 8-10 towers.
Most maps have special strategic squares that give a tower a longer range or provide a boost to resource production. Thus, the beginning of any Defenders of Ardania match tends to involve stringing towers along the map until the player claims enough territory to build on strategic squares, then destroying and selling back several towers in order to create the best defensive set-up. There’s no set-up mode, so tower building happens as the enemy begins building its own towers and spewing out troops.
The difference between Defenders of Ardania and other tower defense games is that the player has the same ability as the enemy to produce waves of troops, and the goal of most scenarios involves destroying the enemy’s base. In fact, most of the player’s time and energy is spent in troop creation and management rather than in setting up and maintaining defensive towers. There are various kinds of troops available to each of the game’s three factions (human, undead, and nature), largely divided into standard/tank, swarming, running, and flying troops. Troops are sent out in waves of 5-10, which could theoretically involve a mix of different types of troops, but practically that doesn’t work out, as different troops move at different speeds. The player will inevitably select a single kind of troop and press the auto-fill button in order to make the entire wave composed of that kind of troop. Honestly, the game could have done without the ability to create mixed waves, saving everyone some button presses. There’s a limit to the number of troops that can be active at a given time, meaning that the game’s main strategic choice is which different troop waves to send out against the enemy at any given time.
Attacking the enemy will appear odd at first, as the two armies merrily march past each other with the sole purpose of sacking the opposite castle. Some troops actually do attack the opposing army, but they’re more expensive than standard troops and thus need to be used sparingly. It’s best to leave the towers to do defense work and concentrate troops on taking out the opponent’s castle. Unfortunately, the regular work of sending out troops involves the gigantic troop interface, which takes up the entire middle of the screen. It’s difficult to see what’s going on while sending out troops, and the troop interface auto-closes after each wave is sent out. This means that the player spends a great deal of time pressing the troop interface button, then selecting and sending out troops as quickly as possible in order to also be able to watch towers and see what’s going on. It feels clunky, especially in the more difficult battles, and the game could have used the ability to let players choose some customized full wave sets in order to minimize the frantic button-pressing.
While the basics of Defenders of Ardania are fairly fun, the single-player campaign tends to boil down to using the same troop tactic on every map. Send out a wave of slow soldiers, then time swarmers, fliers, and runners so that the entire gang gets to the enemy’s castle at the same time. Once that gang is dead, rinse and repeat. This minimizes casualties from enemy towers and allows the player to do maximum damage to the enemy castle. Later maps in the single-player campaign involve a certain amount of strategic tower placement, offensive and defensive spell-casting, and enemy tower removal, but the basic strategic approach still stands, making the whole thing rather samey.
Unlike the single-player mode, multiplayer games give players access to all towers and troops from the outset. In this mode, the game plays like an extremely limited real-time strategy game match. Victory is determined by speed and efficiency in setting up towers, deploying troops, and managing upgrades. The problem here is that it would be more interesting and strategically deep to play an actual RTS rather than this tower attack/defense hybrid. With the limited size of the battlefield, small number of towers allowed, and oversized interface that gets in the way of seeing what’s going on, Defenders of Ardania doesn’t seem to hold long-term multiplayer appeal.
Ultimately, Defenders of Ardania is a reasonably fun little time-waster, but it lacks staying power. There’s not enough strategic depth involved to keep players interested in the long term, and the interface issues become more frustrating over time. In putting this particular twist on the tower defense formula, Paradox has created a hybrid that lacks some of the important aspects of tower defense (especially the ability to study the map and set up a defense before the enemy waves come out) without providing deep enough offensive gameplay for RTS fans. It’s an interesting experiment, but in the end I think we’d rather see a new Majesty game.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.3 Graphics
The battlefields and troops look fine, but the oversized interface gets in the way of the action. 3.4 Control
While the controls work as advertised, there are too many button presses and not enough shortcuts available. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music and sound are generally unremarkable, but the long-winded voiceovers seem designed to annoy. 3.0 Play Value
There’s not enough variety or strategic depth here to keep players interested for very long. 3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|