Tower defence games are something I rarely associate with. It’s not that I don’t like them it’s just that predominantly they appear on the PC and more recently iOS platforms whereas I have always been more of a console gamer. There have been attempts in the past to bring tower defence to consoles with differing results. Defenders of Ardania makes the transition relatively smoothly. Also it has a few tricks up its sleeve that differentiates it from other titles in this saturated genre.
What makes this game stand out from most other titles in this genre is that it has just as much focus on tower offence as defence. As well as building towers to defend your castle you also produce units to send at your enemy’s castle. Finding the right balance between the two is the key to success.
If like me you are relatively new to tower defence games then you may find Defenders of Ardania to be a little overwhelming initially. The first few levels act as a tutorial and they do their job admirably, leading you through every aspect and discussing basic strategy. The trouble is that there is an awful lot to take in all at once and the sheer depths of strategy and tactics available simply can’t be fully explored. As such there’s an element of trial and error in the initial stages and I strongly recommend replaying these levels a couple of times just so you can grasp the basics.
Defenders of Ardania makes another split from tower defence convention and weaves a narrative. The story is presented to you through a combination of narration and on screen text. For the most part the narration is fine although I can’t help but feel the main speaker is trying to pull off his best impression of Sean Connery from First Knight – and failing miserably. Despite this though I can’t help but feel that it fits perfectly with the tone the game is trying to create. It is all based in the very generic fantasy world of the PC series games, Majesty, but it seems incredibly self-aware and has just enough humour to keep it from getting bland.
Right, on to the game mechanics, and as I mentioned before, there is an awful lot to take in. The game takes place on maps of varying shapes and sizes. You can have up to four groups fighting over one map either in free for all or team two vs. two. The maps for the most part are symmetrical to make the game as balanced as possible. Later in the campaign the layouts tend to favour your opponent but that adds to the challenge. The aim of the game is to defend your castle and to destroy your opponents. You defend by erecting towers which have various properties. Towers such as spear towers are best for dealing with small ground enemies whilst others are designed to dispatch flying enemies, running enemies and tank enemies. There’re even some that buff your towers and de-buff enemy units, such as one that slows enemy movement when they are in its vicinity.
Each team can build up to twelve towers. These can all be upgraded to make them more effective and can also be sold if you would prefer a different tower or if you simply want to reposition it. You can’t just place towers anywhere. With a simple pres of the RT/R1 button you bring up a grid view on the map which highlights where your towers can be placed in green. The areas that appear in white are where your troops and enemy troops will be moving. I highly recommend that you play with this grid visible at all times, as it does make planning your attack significantly easier.
From an attacking point of view – depending on the size of the map – you can be allowed from 20-40 troops on the battlefield at once. Each of the three races have units from several different classes, such as soldiers, tanks, flying, swarm, runners, and so on. It’s a matter of producing the right units to counter the current defence strength, staggering production of your weaker units whilst your tanks take the brunt of the fire and using your flying units to bomb enemy towers. Some units are locked from at the beginning of a match and can be unlocked with resources or become available as the narrative progresses in singleplayer.
Additionally as you use troops that class gains experience points and levels up. They become a little bit more expensive but they also become more effective. Also if you level up any of your classes enough then you can unlock a champion, who is essentially an overpowered version of this troop. These troops are nearly unstoppable. This is balanced however; as you are only allowed one of each class’ Champions on the map at any one time and they are also very expensive.
You also have to juggle all this with a limited resource pool that gradually fills up over time, with the option to build resource towers to increase the rate the pool recharges. You can also use magic. These spells vary from repairing some damage to your castle – this you should use very sparingly as it has an incredibly long cool down till you can use it again -to offensive and defensive spells such as lightning bolts that can be used to destroy an enemy’s tower in a single hit – this is especially useful if there is a particular tower that is causing you problems. Another spell allows you to give your troops a massive defence boost which gives them a better chance of getting through enemy towers unscathed.
There are also economy upgrades to think about which are all incredibly useful and can make s huge difference the longer the battle goes on. These also come out of your resource pool. Upgrades include, cheaper troops, cheaper towers, raised max on your resource pool, boost to the speed your resource pool fills up, troops you can dispatch immediately, the list goes on, but these upgrades are essential to your success.
Sounds like an awful lot of things to do without the aid of a keyboard packed with quick keys but Defenders of Ardania does a reasonable job of making it all as accessible as possible with a controller. Troops, economy upgrades, attack point and spells are all assigned to the D-Pad. You will have a few problems remembering which direction does what to start with but sooner or later it will click and it does feel intuitive. This, for me, was a crucial aspect to my enjoyment. If it didn’t work then the game would be practically unplayable. I can see how it would be easier using a keyboard but the system works very well on a controller and avoids that clunky feeling such complex titles can suffer with when ported to console.
There is also a multiplayer component to Defenders of Ardania. It is here where the game truly comes alive. A four player free for all is absolutely insane. You can select from any of the maps that appeared in the campaign. The smaller maps allow only for two players and the larger maps up to four. This may not sound like many but trust me, three other armies descending on your castle is a nightmare. And it’s glorious.
There is also a survival mode which you can either do by yourself or with a friend. This mode just keeps going until you die. I believe there are a total of 60 waves but upon writing this I am still yet to get that far, as it gets intense very fast.
The multiplayer is my favourite part of this game. It is also where I learnt how to play most of the game. Practice was crucial to overcoming the complexity and scope of strategy. It takes a little commitment but its well worth the investment.
There are some things that I think could have been improved on – the aforementioned learning curve for one. There is just so much stuff to take in and while the tutorial does its best to teach you how to play, I found the best way to learn this game is through trial and error. Another problem I have is the difficulty. There are no difficulty settings; instead each map just has a difficulty rating. This does not affect how aggressive the AI plays it just means that they will have limited resources compared to enemies later in the game. Another problem I have is with the aesthetic. Whilst the presentation is to a high standard and the bright, colourful design is more than eye pleasing, it can be very hard to tell the difference between yours and your enemy’s towers, especially if they are playing the same race.
Overall though I feel that Defenders of Ardania is a very good game that certainly deserves attention. Yes there are a lot of Tower Defence games out there but I feel this one does enough differently to stand out from the pack. Battles can be very intense at times and can go on for 30 minutes or more – which doesn’t sound long but it feels like it when you have to be on the ball the entire time. There is a little bit of slow down when there is a lot happening on-screen but these occurrences are seldom. If you’re looking for a new tower defence game or even just a palette cleanser then I think that Defenders of Ardania will surprise you in all the right ways.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Platform: Xbox 360/ PS3/ PC Release Date: 13/03/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Defenders of Ardania for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.