Each year gamers are inundated with tower defense games. Be it a flash enabled browser, mobile device or PC desktop there has never a shortage of them coming down the pipeline. The last year has seen some of these defense games transcend normal expectations to turn the genre on its head. Others have decided to stick with the status quo or merely refine what has been done before. There is another that is now out for PC, Xbox, and iPad that has skirted around the outside of the tower defense realm. Due to its stylized approach, Defenders of Ardania has managed to avoid being lumped in with the bunch.
Paradox Interactive and Most Wanted Entertainment have managed to place the player in yet another seat of power. You play a King who must defend his medieval kingdom from insurgent forces wishing to bring the empire to an end. You rally back, defending your castle with towers along the warpath. As arrows and rocks fly, enemies march towards your door with the intent of doing harm to those within. This may sound like a familiar concept for those that have played this style of game before. Build your towers and make your way through the waves. Defenders actually avoids this common construct to give you something a tad different.
Instead, you get the pleasure of taking your enemies fortresses down brick by brick as you march your owns forces towards them. The thing is this is much more than a brainless action of sending mobs into the trenches. Ground troops are sent in waves while the chaos flying from your towers goes on from above. With multiple types of units to send, from tower attacking wizards, fast moving rogues, and even on bashing dwarves, another layer of strategy is added to the game. All of these units have different specialties, hit points, damage and speed. You no longer need to wait it out. If you want to win, you have to raze their castle to stop the attacks. Layering it even more is the addition of resource management to entice the player from just endlessly throwing your people at stone walls. Sprinkle on a dusting of upgrades for resources and units, unit wave launching cues, and elite units to reward your choices.
Setting itself apart even further, Defenders actually attempts to tell you a story while all of this is going on. It isn’t a knock off attempting to save you from yet antithetical alien race, bug infestation or nameless amorphous blobs. No instead you and your aide, named The Advisor take on a quest across land, sea and air to uncover the truth behind your attackers. Granted the voice acting across the board really isn’t stellar, it does add a bit of humor to the entire thing (with the exception of the iPad version which is missing the voices). Is the trouble brewed by a guild of rotten cave trolls? Is there a band of stuck up elves that wish to sacrifice you to the whims of the wild? Who knows, it could just be a bored group of old mages looking to teach those youngins’ a lesson. You’ll have to play to find out. The credits alone make it worth beating it.
While the story is interesting, even with the terrible Scottish voice acting, the game has its missteps. The graphics are great, but not across all platforms. I was actually disappointed that I couldn’t zoom in as well to see the details on the iPad version. The textures and lighting really shine in this game as you see particle effects smash into the ground and the strike down the marching armies. The environments look rich and colorful. It really adds a bit of depth to the overall game.
The controls are rather easy as well. Between playing the Xbox, PC and iPad versions, I actually found the Xbox the best to play. This is a bit of a different thing for me since traditionally I prefer the keyboard and mouse over a controller. The PC seemed to change a little bit from the initial copy I played compared to the release. Hotkeys became much more of a mandatory use. The iPad actually was the worst of the bunch. Partially because of the fact that it was simplified down so far, but mostly because you can’t change the camera perspective. This is a feature that should not have been stripped out.
Besides the difference from most tower defense games with the waves of your own armies, there are a few other things that change the overall game play. Probably the biggest to deal with is the difference in towers. Each map puts a different cap on how many can be built. Also, the game has build in provisions that stop you from making pure blockades or endless mazes. Defenders forces you to keep at least one clear path to your own castle. You can’t just place them anywhere on the map at the start either. You much grow the placement range with each tower you place further out. Towers can actually be placed pretty close to the enemy base. There are restricted ranges that cannot be built on in order to prevent camping on their castle. There are special tiles that you can place towers on as well that grant additional resource regeneration or tower range. The resource regeneration is important since you are always relying on funds coming back over time. Secondary additions include heroic level fighters as a reward for leveling up unit types, upgrades to make things cheaper, and use rally points and target assignments. Magic is also at work in the world with spells to heal, shield and cast lightning on mobs and towers. Depending on the game platform, you’ll see differences in some of these.
When I first played the Defenders, there were quite a few problems with it. Alt-tabbing from the game would result in it crashing. If sticky keys were enabled from hitting shift too much, the game would crash. Initially it only wanted to launch on what it considered my primary monitor, instead of the one that I assigned to be primary in Windows. I had to force one monitor by disabling my other to get it in the right place. It makes me happy to let you know that all of these problems have been fixed as of the latest patch. Problems with aspects of the game still persist though. It can be sort of grinding in nature. By that I mean it can take some time of sending endless waves to try and overwhelm. It does require constant re-evaluation of tower placement as you go on as well.
Defenders of Ardania obviously isn’t another Orcs Must Die that is going to toss the genre on its head. However, that doesn’t mean one needs to dismiss it. It brings a new take on a type of game that is getting staler with each and every release that comes down the line. I did e-mail Paradox to see if there was a possibility of downloadable content in the future. It is a possibility, but nothing is confirmed at this time. At prices a cost of 1200 MS points, $14.99 on Steam or $4.99 on iTunes, Defenders of Ardania is a pretty good value. Personally, I’d wait for the iPad version to pop up on sale as it is my least favorite as the group. The magic price point for the XBLA and PC versions for me is more like $10.00. When you look at the game as a whole, Defenders of Ardania takes an ambitious change at a very tiresome part of gaming. The change is very welcome, but it simply doesn’t put enough behind it to influence everyone else.
Xbox and PC copies provided by publisher. iOS purchased by reviewer.