Tower Defence is a genre, or a sub-genre, with a range of mechanically different games. There are open field games, maze games and mixtures of the two styles. Terms such as “mazing” and “juggling” epitomise what a complicated and intricately tuned field this is. Further to those multiple mechanical variances, we have Tower Wars games, in which defence is only half the purpose.
Defenders of Ardania is a Tower Wars game. It features all the usual tower defense conceits like upgradable towers, waves of enemies with varying speeds, attack and defense capabilities. The field is partially mazed, meaning that there are usually multiple narrow paths which can be diverted and blocked off to reroute the advancing waves of enemies. You have upgradable (eventually) towers of several different types, which you can place on pre-designated tiles, as well as high powered spells with cool down periods with which to defend your castle. Some tiles also offer boosts to your collected resources or vantage points.
The game certainly isn't lacking in colour, boasting bright, vivid visuals on Xbox 360.
Unfortunately, Defenders of Ardania doesn’t really do much with the mechanics to set it apart from a mountain of other tower defense games available on any other platform, from HD downloadable games, through iOS and even free flash-based browser games. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does result in a game which feels like it is trying to emulate rather than innovate.
The tuning and balance of these games is key to their success and although Defenders of Ardania doesn’t do a particularly good job of teaching players the best way to approach a level, it does introduce mechanics and upgrades slowly enough that you should never feel overwhelmed with information. I found some battles to be pathetically easy whereas others became long-winded wars of attrition in which stalemate seemed like the only outcome. Sometimes these battles could be won by something as simple as repositioning a tower or adding a different unit type to a wave of attackers.
At several times in the campaign mode, the start-of-level tutorial explicitly told me to do something which resulted in me losing ground to my enemy. The information provided was essential, but I had to fortify before I followed those instructions and you’re not able to do your own thing while the various advisors and allies are throwing up text boxes and talking in your ear. It’s frustrating that you will often need to restart a map once or twice just to get a fair start at it but that’s hardly something unheard of in this genre.
Upgrades can be quite useful tactical tools.
Clearly, Deep Silver is banking on Defenders of Ardania’s personality to provide the charm and to a limited degree, it does. Some of the level introductions and in-game speech is occasionally amusing but at other times, it is nothing more than a mild irritation. There isn’t a big problem with the story delivery as a method of moving you along, or with the scripting, but it would definitely benefit from a bit more editing and streamlining.
That’s the overwhelming feeling I got from playing Defenders of Ardania: that it all needed a bit more streamlining before it could really shine. It’s not a bad tower wars game, by any means, but it’s far from a great one. The colourful fantasy setting and obvious sense of humour really could have shone with a little more work. Likewise, the game play and tuning are just not quite perfect and that leads to some frustration.
- Bright, colourful style.
- Fairly large maps with some opportunity for strategy.
- Lighthearted humour.
- Longwinded dialogue misses the mark a few times
- Tutorials that are less helpful than they could be.
- Feels like it all needs a little more polish.
- Maps often descend into attritional frustration without offering understanding.
Defenders of Ardania is a fair attempt at a tower wars game. It falls slightly short of its intentions but that is by no means a reason to disregard it. The maps are fairly large, interesting and offer some moments of genuine strategy if you’re quick. Units and tactical ordering of your upgrades can also make all the difference but more often than not, skirmishes turn into long drawn out wars of attrition in which you might suffer moments of confusion as to why your strategy doesn’t seem to be working or what you could change to fix it. There are much worse tower wars games out there but then, there are also several better.