Developer: Most Wanted Entertainment
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Tower defence hybrids are all the rage at the moment, with developers queueing up to give their own spin on the classic 'build towers, wait for victory' formula. However, Defenders Of Ardania piqued our interest last year due to its unique selling point: the ability to deploy your own troops to assault the enemy as well as consolidating your position. After releasing a slightly streamlined iPad version at the tail end of 2011, Most Wanted Entertainment has brought their wares to PC and Xbox Live Arcade where leagues of grizzled strategy veterans wait to deliver their final judgement. With so many tower defence hybrids on the market, can Defenders Of Ardania make a big enough splash to be worth a purchase?
Defenders Of Ardania takes place in the Majesty universe, which provides a comfortably generic fantasy backdrop to the action. With three races at your disposal, you'll deploy towers onto isometric levels in the time-honoured way; choosing from a selection of 24 fortifications (eight per faction) that all boast different ranges, attack speeds and damage outputs. Most maps provide multiple different routes from which waves of enemy troops can reach your base, meaning that you'll need to scurry to block off potential avenues of attack while pushing forward to secure high ground and some limited extra resources. It's functional, familiar stuff; barely indistinguishable from the pack when you realise that all three factions provide very much the same gameplay experience.
Luckily, defence is only half of the story.
You'll need to demolish your opponent's castle and/or auxiliary fortifications to win, and to do so, you're able to launch your own assaults. Units can be grouped into discrete waves deployed with a single click, and as you'd expect, picking the right forces for the job is absolutely paramount. Cheap and cheerful runners can be used to scope out and swarm towers with weight of numbers, providing cannon fodder to shield heavier, lumbering powerhouses who deal ruinous damage if they reach their destination. Some units can even target enemy towers or incoming enemy forces if their paths cross, providing yet another layer of strategy. Players can designate priority targets and different routes for their waves to take, and constantly balancing your replenishing resources between towers and offensive waves adds a keen tactical edge to the otherwise samey genre.
Once everything clicks, it's an exciting and hectic break from the norm.
Unfortunately, this edge only comes with practice, and you'll need a lot of it. Defenders Of Ardania is incredibly challenging, and even when you've got a fair bit of expeience under your belt, most of the tougher levels descend into overlong wars of attrition; aggravating stalemates as you continually pump out unit after unit after unit after unit after unit after unit after unit after... lots more units... until either you or your enemy finally manages to overwhelm one another's defences through sheer numbers. Advanced players will be able to work out specific unit groups that work well for particular targets and routes, but even then, you'll still run into standoffs more often than not. Coupled with the fact that all three races offer practically identical units and towers in terms of combat roles, it's not quite the fresh new renaissance we were hoping for.
Multiplayer does go some way towards mitigating this issue by providing 2v2 battlegrounds, allowing players to team up and take down rival duos on larger maps with pincer attacks and complimentary strategies. It's fantastic fun, and deserves to attract a thriving player base. Once again, however, the learning curve means that more experienced commanders will likely decimate newer players with aggressive rush tactics, and eventually end up in yet another stalemate if one of their opponents has also put in the time.
Controls have been vastly improved since the last time we tried it out, and work well on both the PC and Xbox 360. Naturally the PC version benefits from using a mouse and a bevy of keyboard shortcuts, but controller inputs are responsive and undeniably fit for task. Poor controls can completely break a strategy game and it's clear that Most Wanted put a lot of time and effort into making sure that players won't have to fight the mechanics alongside their ferocious foes.
As far as presentation is concerned, Defenders Of Ardania is best described as pretty, busy and inconsistent. Crisp and colourful level design is slightly let down by some terrible unit animations and weak particle effects, some of which can obscure the action when things start to heat up. The cluttered battlefields, which teem with both friendly and hostile units, can be incredibly confusing and difficult to visually understand at a single glance - potentially disastrous when tight control is paramount. And though the story is fully voice acted, the overbearing plot will likely start to grate after a few minutes.
- Functional, solid tower defence action
- Deploying units adds a neat and compelling tactical edge that rewards persistence
- Slick and colourful visuals
- Prevalence of unavoidable stalemate standoffs
- The three factions don't offer enough tower/unit variety
- Learning curve and grind will deter the majority of players
The Short Version: Defenders Of Ardania isn't the Tower Defence revolution we so fervently desired, but it is a nuanced and hectic take on the genre that rewards players willing to learn the necessary vagaries. Just be aware that it's a war of attrition, not instant gratification.