Defenders of Ardania Review
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Defenders of Ardania attempts to take the classic tower defense game to the next generation. Employing an array of role-playing and strategy elements, the focus is not so much on building towers and watching them obliterate your opponents, but in actively attacking the enemy’s strongholds at the same time.
On top of attempting to innovate the fairly standard tower defense genre, DoA also tries to motivate you through a story, as well. Because DoA is set in the already established fantasy world of Ardania – the same world where the Majesty series is set – there’s plenty of lore to explore, but unfortunately this is the first place where DoA struggles.
The storytelling comes primarily from a series of extremely long-winded narrations at the beginning of each new map, read by a voice actor who’s trying really hard to sound like Sean Connery. It’s understandable in the first few levels, when the narration has the dual purpose of giving the story rundown and serving as a tutorial. However, when there is a five-minute long explanation of where each enemy fortress is and how to get there, as well as introducing more unnecessary characters and attempting to ground the inherently silly gameplay in an equally silly story, it just becomes an annoyance.
A second stumble is that in trying to spin the classic tower defense into tower offense, it loses a lot of what makes tower defense games addictive. There’s not much variation in tower types, and the few levels of improvement you can employ don’t really give the impression of increasing strength. Top that off with very small maps and arbitrary limits on how many towers you can build, it makes it seem like you’re only slapping a few towers down on the map so you can concentrate on your attacks. The defense portion of the game, even in the later stages of the campaign, seems extremely passive in a way that most other tower defense games aren’t.
Most of that is perhaps because they were trying to add in an offensive element to the game. You’ve got a few soldier types you can spawn, starting with basic pikemen, soldiers and healers, and eventually getting to much more esoteric units that can attack towers or enemy soldiers. You also have the options of directing your troops to certain checkpoints, which allow you to prioritize targets when you have to destroy more than just one enemy stronghold.
Ardania is on to something with the mix of attack and defense, but unfortunately, a clunky interface gets in the way. Your attacks are limited to waves, which can only be made up of a limited number of troops. In order to send an attack, you have to bring up an attack menu. From there, you select the troops you want to send in that wave, then click another button to send that attack. You have to do this every single time. With no way to create a basic wave configuration, or set an automatic deployment, you spend an inordinate amount of time clicking around to arrange your waves. There simply isn’t much in the way of strategy, as far as the attacking goes.
It’s especially disappointing considering how much the developers intended for the game to be extremely strategic. Soldiers can cut down pikemen on the way to strongholds, healer classes heal troops in a bubble around them, scouts move so quickly they generally don’t take much damage, and each has different strengths and weakness to tower types. You’d think this would add up to a lot of serious consideration to your wave configurations, to a layered approach to your deployments and attack patterns. It doesn’t. You can pretty much just spam wave after wave of pikemen and eventually win, so long as you’ve placed your towers correctly.
The limit on the number of towers, while seemingly arbitrary at first, has two distinct effects: one, it allows you to focus more on your attacks (which you wouldn’t have to spend much time on in the first place if the interface was smoother); and two, it makes tower placement extremely important. While it does add a bit of strategy that’s a little lacking elsewhere in the game, it’s not entirely a good thing. Especially in later levels, when there are three or four strongholds to take down, a shift in the attack pattern from your enemies means that all of your towers will need to be sold and rebuilt from the ground up. Your own stronghold can lose hundreds of hit-points before you’ve addressed the shift, and you’ll probably continue to lose points until you get your towers leveled back up to the point they were before you moved them.
You won’t have to worry overmuch about your stronghold, though. With the option of repairing a few hundred hitpoints for a ludicrously small sum, the only way you can lose is if you build no towers at all. Defenders of Ardania is just way too easy, especially for players who are used to other tower defense games. This all changes a bit in the multiplayer mode, when you can play head-to-head against other human players who employ more than just predictable attack patterns and can shift their attacks to hit from directions you can’t cover with only ten towers.
It must be said that the experience is completely different in multiplayer, provided you’re playing on a sufficiently large map. Without the irritating pseudo-Sean Connery narration and the over-explanation of every tiny feature, the game flows much more quickly and against a thinking opponent, it’s much more challenging.
There is one huge strength that DoA has that most other tower defense games don’t; the gameplay involves far more than simple pattern-solving. Typically, the only fun in this genre consists of rise to meet the challenges of flying creatures or units that only get damaged by piercing attacks; however, once you figure out the pattern of your enemy units and compensate, most games become pointless. DoA does not suffer that weakness, especially in the multiplayer.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t save the game. With the simplistic story, over-emphatic voice-acting, small selection of tower types, and limits on how many towers to employ and how many troops to send in a wave, it seems like Defenders of Ardania is a game primarily aimed at children. The fact that it’s billed as an innovative, next-gen experience, however, means that it’s supposed to be taken seriously. And I just can’t bring myself to do it.
Defenders of Ardania earns a lukewarm 3.75 out of 5.
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