What’s that? A tower defense game where you get to attack and defend? Blended with the Majesty universe you say? Defenders of Ardania is it? Well sign me up. Awesome idea, this looks pretty good. Nice, they even got the same Sean Connery impersonator to do the voice of your advisor. Hmm seems a bit overly complicated, what’s the key for the grid again? Why is the grid even optional? Ah right I see, it’s just not very good is it? Why does it take so long? Why are some troops ignoring each other? Why are my tower spots so limited? Turn it off, I’ve had enough.
That’s my condensed thoughts as I played Defenders of Ardania for the first time and they haven’t really changed much with replays. The twist on the classic and well represented tower defense genre that’s on offer here is the ability to send out waves of attacking troops, in addition to the standard tower building to defend your castle. There is also a multiplayer option so you can take on real people instead of a predictable AI.
Things start out quite interesting. The presentation is in keeping with the Majesty series and the voiceover from your advisor is welcome. Sadly the problems start to emerge pretty quickly. The interface is a little awkward and the introductions to each level blend seamlessly into the gameplay starting up, so you always feel a little rushed and it’s easy to miss important advice or even which key it was you were supposed to press to display the grid.
It is fairly attractive but the animations were a bit stuttery for me and it has an overall buggy feel. Sometimes it doesn’t respond to your commands immediately and there are delays and stutters throughout.
Looking past the glossy, if flawed, exterior the gameplay is interesting. Any tower defense veteran will find it easy to get to grips with the tower building side of the game. Block key points in the map and you can make the enemy walk further and increase your chances of slaying them before they reach your precious castle. The trouble is the towers are too limited. You have a grid but you can only ever build a fixed number of towers and it feels very limiting. There are some interesting ideas like great vantage spots (marked by an eyeball) that allow towers a greater firing range or resource spots that boost your income. You can also destroy and rebuild towers to try and gain an advantage, but it rarely seems worth doing. If you pick the right spots from the start then there’s no need to make changes.
The first few levels are very straightforward and the offensive side of the game seems very limited too. You can select waves of various unit types to send off against your opponent’s castle. The first castle down is the loser. It feels odd that the troops ignore each other as they march past on the battlefield. Thankfully things do get more complicated. As you unlock tougher units you’ll find you can target enemy troops and towers. You’ll also get the ability to repair your castle. It is worth playing on to unlock the more interesting units and spells because they introduce many more strategic options.
As a single player game it gets boring quite quickly. The campaign does a good job of gradually ramping up the gameplay and introducing the new units and abilities but it doesn’t feel exciting or especially satisfying. The castle destruction aim with troops you don’t control directly mirrors the Majesty games in a basic sense but the process here feels laborious. There’s a tipping point but it’s not followed by a sudden collapse. In effect you reach a point where you know you will win but it takes another half hour to actually get there.
In multiplayer the problem is exacerbated. Since both of you can repair your castle it takes forever to actually gain a victory. There are some different tactical approaches you can take, but the hard limit on towers and even the number of units you can have in the field prevents anyone from running away with it. It would be interesting to see how it played without the hard limits. At least it would be a bit faster, maybe get the blood pumping a bit. As it is the multiplayer is too slow and it feels like a stalemate a lot of the time.
There are some good ideas in Defenders of Ardania and newcomers to the tower defense genre will probably get hooked, but the truth is there are better tower defense games out there. In fact that’s the problem at the end of the day – if you want to play an RTS game you’d be better served playing Majesty 2, if you want some tower defense action then Defense Grid: The Awakening is the way to go.
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