Review: Defenders of Ardania

It’s often said that the key to a good defense is a strong offense. Paradox Interactive takes that expression to heart in their latest Tower-Defense game, Defenders of Ardania (DoA). DoA is set in the Majesty world, but unlike its predecessors Majesty and Majesty 2 which were Real Time Strategy games, DoA is a Tower-Defense style game…with a twist. While the majority of the game is Tower-Defense, it incorporates elements of an RTS game making you play both defensively and offensively at the same time. While it’s an interesting concept, the idea doesn’t feel fully developed in the game making it feel the unique addition subtracts instead of adds to the overall experience.

The Story

Over the river and through the woods, to the enemy’s house we go!

As mentioned, the game takes place in the Majesty universe. The story is rather simple in that you are King and you find yourself under attack from an undead enemy. You join forces with various characters/groups throughout the game and march across the land trying to figure out the source of the undead problem and how to rid your world of it. Through the single player, you are guided by an aid that sounds a bit like Saturday Night Live’s parody of Jeopardy Sean Connery, giving a light and comical feel to the game. The game’s visual design matches this tone nicely. Soft warm colors paint the various landscapes. You’ll find yourself marching through city streets, open country sides, labyrinths, beach sides, swamps, and more; each one with its own distinctive art style.

Gameplay

Why, Grandma! What big teeth you have!

The overall goal of each round is to protect your castle while attempting to destroy your opponent’s castle. Gameplay centers around 2 parts running simultaneously.

Part 1: Tower-Defense. You’re able to  construct various towers, each with their own strength and weakness with damage, speed, distance, durability…etc…etc. Positioning of your towers plays a key role in strategy. Not only can you block various paths the enemy can take, but certain spaces on the map gives various perks. While you build up your base, your opponent is doing the same so you often must act quickly to beat an opponent to certain spaces.

Part 2: RTS-Style Assault. This is the offensive side of the game. Currency, in the form of recharging mana, allows you to build up credits which can be used to launch various units. Once the unit is selected, you unleash a wave of them that set forth toward your enemy’s castle. Like towers, you have your various flavors of units. Fast and light armored, slow and strong, some that can fly, some that can attack other units or enemy towers, etc…

You’ll encounter a wonderful blend of environments and enemies and even take on mother nature herself.

There are times in this game where the combination of these two parts work really well together. It creates events where it feels frantic, but in a good way, as you rush to think on multiple levels. Sadly though, these bright and fun moments are few and far between moments that aren’t so shiny. The single player campaign feels like a large tutorial for the online play. Every mission seems to give you a new tool or element of game play to work with. Most of the time though, the new element isn’t explained well or you’re not given proper time to learn about it. For example, one level introduces a new tower you can build. The game forces you to build this tower and does not allow you to do anything else until you do. However, you’re unable to build the new tower until a long monologue by your guide is completed. As you sit there waiting to go, you realize the game has already started and your enemy is already moving and you can’t do anything about it till the AI shuts up. This happens several more times throughout the main campaign. Even if a few enemies make it to your base because of this, it’s not a major set back due to the length of the matches usually gives you enough time to recover. Yet the length of the matches soon becomes another issue.

More often than not, matches in both single player and online go on for far too long. Combined with the fact that the key to victory is mostly through a “rinse and repeat” action through sending wave, after wave, after wave, after…(you get the point), creates games that drag on past being fun and become a large repetitive wheel crawling slowly forward. Perhaps the saving grace of the single player is the fact that the enemy AI is not given a “Repair Base” power so enemies cannot extend the length of a match any more than it has to. Multiplayer is another story. All players are given the repair function causing matches to last up into hours. One game in particular I had to forfeit even though I was winning, but winning at such a slow pace that I could tell after 45 minutes of game play, I would have needed an additional 30-60 minutes to win. The matches did improve when able to play with a friend and it was agreed to not use the repair power.

I don’t know why, but I just can’t shake this feeling that I’m being watched.

And speaking of the online community, it needs to be noted that the number of players available online currently is slim at best. Most of the time, the servers are empty for both PC and 360 and the only way to get a game started is to schedule one with a friend in advance.

There is a lot of potential for this game and it has some great concepts. It is definitely worth checking out if you are an avid Tower-Defense player and are looking for a new twist to the genre, but I highly recommend checking out the demo first and trying it before buying it. Defenders of Ardania is available for PC and Xbox 360 Live for $14.99 (1200 Microsoft Points). There is also an iPad version available for $4.99 (iPad version not included in this review).

 

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