|System: Xbox 360*, PC|
|Dev: Paradox Interactive|
|Pub: Paradox Interactive|
|Release: March 14, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language|
by Becky Cunningham
Thanks to Plants Vs. Zombies, the tower defense genre is enjoying quite a bit of popularity right now. Paradox Interactive, best known for its Majesty series of real-time strategy games, has created its own spin on tower defense in Defenders of Ardania. In fact, Majesty fans will feel immediately at home in the world of Ardania, complete with the same old windbag of a royal counselor who enjoys delivering overly lengthy scenario introductions.
That old windbag helps make Defenders of Ardania a bit difficult to get into. During the single-player campaign, the game's characters insist on delivering a ponderously voice acted and sadly unskippable introduction to every scenario. Sure, it's mildly amusing the first time through, but heaven forbid the player fail a scenario, restart, and have to sit through five minutes of wizards and cranky dwarves insulting each other all over again.
Once the player is finally given control over the action, the tower defense portion of Defenders of Ardania should look familiar. Players get an overhead view of the colorful fantasy battlefield, though for some reason they will need to press a button at the beginning of every game in order to see the necessary tower placement grid lines. The main difference between tower types is that each tower has strengths against specific kinds of enemies, meaning that the player will want to have a diverse grouping of towers in order to properly dispatch waves of foes. There's a strict limit to the number of towers that can be assembled on any map, usually 8-10 towers.
Most maps have special strategic squares that give a tower a longer range or provide a boost to resource production. Thus, the beginning of any Defenders of Ardania match tends to involve stringing towers along the map until the player claims enough territory to build on strategic squares, then destroying and selling back several towers in order to create the best defensive set-up. There's no set-up mode, so tower building happens as the enemy begins building its own towers and spewing out troops.
The difference between Defenders of Ardania and other tower defense games is that the player has the same ability as the enemy to produce waves of troops, and the goal of most scenarios involves destroying the enemy's base. In fact, most of the player's time and energy is spent in troop creation and management rather than in setting up and maintaining defensive towers. There are various kinds of troops available to each of the game's three factions (human, undead, and nature), largely divided into standard/tank, swarming, running, and flying troops. Troops are sent out in waves of 5-10, which could theoretically involve a mix of different types of troops, but practically that doesn't work out, as different troops move at different speeds. The player will inevitably select a single kind of troop and press the auto-fill button in order to make the entire wave composed of that kind of troop. Honestly, the game could have done without the ability to create mixed waves, saving everyone some button presses. There's a limit to the number of troops that can be active at a given time, meaning that the game's main strategic choice is which different troop waves to send out against the enemy at any given time.
Attacking the enemy will appear odd at first, as the two armies merrily march past each other with the sole purpose of sacking the opposite castle. Some troops actually do attack the opposing army, but they're more expensive than standard troops and thus need to be used sparingly. It's best to leave the towers to do defense work and concentrate troops on taking out the opponent's castle. Unfortunately, the regular work of sending out troops involves the gigantic troop interface, which takes up the entire middle of the screen. It's difficult to see what's going on while sending out troops, and the troop interface auto-closes after each wave is sent out. This means that the player spends a great deal of time pressing the troop interface button, then selecting and sending out troops as quickly as possible in order to also be able to watch towers and see what's going on. It feels clunky, especially in the more difficult battles, and the game could have used the ability to let players choose some customized full wave sets in order to minimize the frantic button-pressing.