Xbox Live Arcade title
Thanks to JohnnyAtom for providing a copy of this game for review.
The tower defense genre seems intent on taking over the world one game at a time, its simple gameplay concept of building towers and then waiting for victory appealing to masses of gamers all over the globe. It seems that every day there’s yet another developer yet another tower defence game, intent on staking their claim in this expanding money-making market, but that leads to the very same problem that FPS titles face: over-saturation. Sure, new tower defense games are released almost every day, but they’re almost all exactly the same as the last one and the one before that was well. But now there’s a new contender on the block, and to differentiate itself from the rest of the crowd it’s asking a simple question: what if you could go on the offensive as well? The result is a tower defense game that thinks it’s an RTS.
Amidst the general carnage of wizards hurling fireballs and towers being constructed lies Ardania’s almost entirely forgettable storyline which focuses on you, a ruling monarch. As the game starts your beloved castle is attacked by your neighbour, leading to full-scale war, because clearly that sort of stuff just isn’t on. Once your opponent is soundly defeated you embark on a journey across the generic fantasy land in search of the cause of this sudden attack, accompanied by your loyal assistant who, for some obscure reason, has a Sean Connery accent that is so terrible that I spend the vast majority of the game trying to work out whether it was deliberately terrible so as to be funny, or just plain terrible. Along the way you’ll also pick up a grumpy dwarf, a bookish wizard and an elf, all of whom also feature truly horrible voice acting. It is, as I said, an almost instantaneously forgettable tale that simply exists to serve its purpose of giving you a reason to wander across the realm and battle a series of opponents, because other wise you’d just be a vindictive bastard who liked to attack other people’s homes.
To trounce your way across the land you’ll need to master the games concept of combining basic tower defense with launching waves of troops to defeat the enemy and achieve victory. Each of the games three factions have eight towers each that they can use in the defense of their castle, although you will quickly learn that there are no real differences in factions apart from their asthetics: troops and towers might look rather different, but they all do essentially the same job, which is rather disappointing. As you would expect some towers are more effective than others at dealing with certain enemy types, making it vital that you learn how to counter each unit type effectively and build solid defenses that can deal with most threats. Other towers still offer passive effects such as boosting the rate at which you garner resources, which are in turn used to purchase more towers, upgrades and troops, although you can also gain extra resources by killing enemy troops matching toward your base. Towers themselves can only be placed on certain tile locations on the battlefield and there’s a limit to just how many you can place, and so learning to study the land and use it to maximise the effectiveness of your towers is the key to success in Ardania: maps general offer multiple routes of attack for both you and the enemy, and while troops generally take the shortest route to the enemy base it’s possible to adjust their path to avoid defense. And so skilled players can learn to block certain routes, forcing troops to take longer and more dangerous. Truly skilled players can use this to craft elaborate traps where one tower can get multiple opportunities to fire at a target, essentially doubling or even tripling its damage output. Building towers also expands your zone of influence, in turn allowing you to construct towers on even more tiles, opening up more options for creating your defensive network of death, or even giving you access to some of the special tiles around the map that offer unique benefits, such as increased range. Finally, towers can be upgraded at great cost to make them more effective, though the game never actually tells you what stats the upgrades will increase, leaving you to simply learn by trial and error. Towers can also be sold so that you can quickly change-up your defensive style should your opponent look to exploit a weakness within your defenses.
By all accounts the defensive aspects of Ardania are nothing new to the genre, but the mixture of towers on offer and maps with multiple routes give defending your base a pleasing amount of scope for tactical play. But it’s when you start mixing defense with offense that things get interesting, and at first it’s a tough balance to attain: starting resources are often fairly small and resources fill back up slowly, and so carefully managing both buildings defenses and launching attacks will likely leave some players flailing in the mud, screaming for mercy, but once you master this and beginning to understand the concepts at works the game really opens up. With a quick tap of the up button the D-pad you can access the troop menu which allows you to construct and launch “waves” of troops toward the enemy base in an attempt to destroy it and win the game. Like towers, troops come in several different forms from fast swarming units with little attack skills to slow-moving beasts that can do serious damage to your enemy bases health bar. Other units can fly, some can attack enemy units they encounter and some can even strike towers themselves. And so defeating your enemies requires you to carefully choose your troops. The old military tactic of simply hurling troops at the enemy can gain you victory at times against the AI, but more often than not, and especially online, you need to carefully combine troops and study enemy defenses to locate a weak point to exploit. Perhaps a massive wizard assault, who can attack towers, may breach defenses before you throw in your champions. And should your troops gain enough experience you’ll also unlock the corresponding hero for that class – powerful units that can take massive punishment and deal huge damage.
This combined with the defensive aspects of the game and the map designs lend Defenders of Ardania a surprising amount of tactical depth, keeping me hooked for hours on end It can, at times, prove to be a problem, though, as battles in Ardania are often drawn out affairs by tower defense standards, with players locked together, struggling back and forth with no seeming way to achieve victory for either side. It’s by careful study of defenses and intelligent use of troops and tactics that victory can be gained, which certainly sets it apart from other tower defense titles on the market, but these drawn out battles can begin to grow tiresome. It’s here that the AI can make or break the singleplayer portion of the game, and sadly Ardania’s AI isn’t quite up to the job, offering a level of difficulty that bounces around the place like a kangaroo in the mating season. At times it’s a pushover, easily beaten by a low-level rush early on in the game, while at other times it suddenly becomes a pain in the ass to defeat leading to a long drawn-out battle where you just spam the heavy units to win because the AI has trouble mastering a tactic that real players will pick up early on: selling towers to quickly free space so you can change your defense layout.. The AI is also prone to some daft mistakes, such as buildings towers along completely blocked off routes on the map.
Thrown into the strategic melting pot is the ability to cast spells and purchase basic economical upgrades that can make troops cheaper, increase your resource pool and more. Spells can heal your castle, destroy enemy towers and provide protection for your troops. These spells and upgrades don’t add that much to the overall game, but they do at least open up a few extra tactics. For example a well placed spell can destroy an enemy tower opening up a new route for your troops to exploit, although this tactic is somewhat hampered by the fact that it only takes a few seconds for that tile to become available for building once again, allowing the enemy player to quickly reconstruct what was lost and reblock the route.
You could also be forgiven for playing just a few games and then accusing Defenders of Ardania to be a massively unbalanced game, which, to a degree, is true: some units, mostly the tanks, can absorb a little too much punishment and others still need a little tweaking. Yet the real truth is that Ardania simply has a steep learning curve, doesn’t hold hands and requires players to experiment to win: the starting tutorials don’t really do much to help players understand the different towers, troops and their uses, not to mention that it even gives some advice which you can’t use until later in the game. No, Ardania does need a little tweaking, that’s true, but with experimentation and strategic thinking you’ll find ways to beat every enemy. The fact that you can’t halt the impending enemy heavy rush isn’t because it’s an unbalanced mess, though as I said it does need some tweaking, but rather it’s because you’ve not planned your defensive layout quickly. Losing to these rushes can feel unfair and brutal, but that moment when it finally clicks and you discover the method to take them down is incredibly satisfying.
The singleplayer main campaign will easily last you around 5-6 hours, which while not being a huge amount of still respectable, yet the game drops the ball when it comes to the Skirmish mode, leaving me a little disappointed. Generally speaking you would expect the skirmish mode to allow you to choose from any of the games three factions, set up some AI enemies and do battle on any map you want, allowing you to quickly have a game whenever you want, but strangely Defenders of Ardania’s skirmish mode simply lets you replay any mission from the campaign, but doesn’t let you play as a different faction, so you’re stuck playing the human faction that you used in the singleplayer campaign. Worse is that it doesn’t even let you skip the damn mission narration – narration which is entirely pointless when you’re just playing one bloody quick game out of context of the storyline. The consolation is that skirmish does let you play the games other two modes: survival and limited resources. Survival does exactly what it says on the tin, forcing you to build up your defenses and survive wave after wave of enemy attacks while removing your ability to launch any troops yourself. In other words, survival is your standard tower defense experience. Limited Resources, on the other hand, is a little more unique, challenging you to play through the singleplayer missions yet again but this time with limited resources that don’t regenerate over time, providing a nice challenge for those looking for it.
It’s the online side of things where Ardania’s gameplay real starts to shine: there’s nothing quite like locking horns with a real person across the world in a frantic back and forth game before finding that single tactic that he or she can’t counter and demolishing them! Go online and you’ve got all the standard options you would expect and can quickly search out a game, choosing to play any of the three factions. As a nice added bonus you can also add AI into your online games in case you want to play a four-player map but only have one or two other humans to fill in the spaces. You can even take on the Survival game mode with a friend or random, as well as do battle in the limited resources mode mentioned above. It’s just a shame that currently the online community doesn’t seem to be that large for Ardania, so you might want to gather up some friends to do battle with.
On the presentation front Ardania manages to hold up surprisingly well. Early levels in the singleplayer are bright and cheerful, giving the game a cartoon quality that makes it quite beautiful to watch, especially once the carnage starts to unfold and artillery is raining down on the map, although at times the carnage can become a little too much and it becomes hard to keep track of just what the hell is going on. Later in the game the vibrant maps give away to darker lands as you combat the undead, using some lovely lighting to create some very pretty battlefields indeed! Sadly, the particle effects and troop animations don’t do the rest of the game justice, being, in truth, quite poor. The final error on the graphical front is that if two players are playing as the same faction then there’s no way of telling towers apart without actively having to select them, which can be a real pain in the ass when you’re trying to quickly repair towers or upgrade existing ones to survive the current onslaught. On the audio front the game’s music is nothing special, to the point that I barely even took note of it, and so it merely do its job of providing background ambience. Likewise the sound effects simply did their job and nothing more. As for the voice acting, like I said before it can at times feel deliberately bad to give the game a comedy tone. I’ve still not decided if this is the case.
Like any Arcade game on the market I heartily recommend that you go and download the trial version and make up your own mind about Defenders of Ardania, because despite all my ramblings and thoughts it’s ultimately you who makes the decision. For me Ardania is a worthy tower defense title that tries something a little different, offers a nice challenge and, most importantly, has a surprising level of depth to it, making it a fine choice for any looking for something that requires a little it of intelligent strategy rather just building a bunch of towers and waiting for victory.
+ Finding that all-important troop combination to achieve victory.
+ Considerable depth for a tower defense game!
+ Laughing evilly as my wizards blast apart towers
– Balancing and tweaking is needed.
– Skirmish mode.
– Battles can grind to a halt.
A pretty enough game that’s only let down by some bad animation work, particle effects and the simple fact that it can be a bit too chaotic.
Sound effects and music do the job, but that’s it, and the voice acting is poor. Like, really poor.
Evil people! Undead! Go get them! GO!
Needs a little balancing, but there’s plenty of depth to Defenders of Ardania for strategists to sink their teeth into, though some players may find the learning curve a bit brutal.
Around five or six hours will ses the campaign completed, but the online should keep you busy for a while.
The Verdict: 8.5
Defenders of Ardania offers far more tactical depth than your average tower defense game, encouraging you to experiment, learn and adept to win, and that makes it more than worth your time and money.