Tower defence is a genre desperate to evolve. Whether you’re looking at the hugely acclaimed Orcs Must Die!, which has you setting up traps and personally fighting against hordes of creatures, or Unstoppable Gorg, which tried to make you think in terms of having to constantly move your towers, it’s obvious that something incredible is happening. It’s a genre that’s trying to find direction after gaining popularity and so it’s a great time to be a fan. Defenders of Ardania is a new tower defence title from Paradox and, like my previous examples, it tries to shake things up a little, offering a game that attempts to separate itself from the norm. Is it successful?
The first thing you’ll notice is that the graphics are a little better than average. The opening menu is brought to life by a backdrop of an gorgeous waterfall. (Oddly enough, on the highest visual setting, this waterfall slowed down my computer more than actual gameplay did and I found the mouse pointer moving slightly slower than expected.) The music is excellently composed as well and lends a regal vibe to the game before you even make it into the first level; that sound design continues to be excellent throughout the game, and only becomes more impressive when you begin to hear voice actors.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d presume that Sean Connery had come out of retirement to star in a PC game. It’s fair to say that that isn’t likely, but the main narrator for the game has obviously taken an influence from Scotland’s most poorly accented man (“I wash bon in Shpayn,” you have to love Highlander) and ran with it as far as he can. It’s competent, with entertaining delivery, and the same can be said for all the voices in the game. You’d best get used to listening to them, too: you’re going to hear story development in every loading screen and at the beginning of every level.As far as the story itself goes, you’re going to need to be quite patient. After the game begins with an attack on your home by a presumed ally, you must fight off the attack and ready yourself for an adventure on which you discover the dark secret behind the betrayal. There are a lot of details in there and some of them are more important than others, but you’ll find yourself forced to listen to almost all of it. This becomes more obvious and all the more annoying if you lose the level and find yourself having to listen through the whole thing again. The gameplay is similarly decent but flawed - entertaining, but frustrating.
Like a regular tower defence game, you must stop the enemy getting into your castle by building offensive towers. Firing arrows or some other projectile, the hope is that your units will have have been positioned in the right places to wipe out all the enemy foot soldiers before they can make it to your castle. Defenders of Ardania takes it one step further by simultaneously having you defending your own castle and send out foot soldiers of your own. You have to build up your defences faster than your opponent, who’s a computer program written for the sole purpose of winning you at tower defence, while sending out soldiers.
That doesn’t mean that it’s an especially hard game, despite having it has its difficult moments. It just means that you’ll find you have to position your towers quite quickly and with as few mistakes as possible, otherwise the computer will beat you to the best positions. With only a set amount of towers available to you and only so many perfect locations to choose from, you need to be faster than the computer if you want to win. This leads to a fairly terrible imbalance of a very quick start and a very slow latter half, as what you mainly do is accumulate points, fix things, and deploy soldiers. Things start too fast and end too slow.Despite that imbalance, it’s still rather fun (so long as you use the speed-up option frequently). The unit classes you can send out are varied and experimenting with them is fun, while the amount of towers at your disposal means, with proper planning and a quick finger, you’re never going to be outgunned. And, while the basic premise stays the same, variation in different levels is something that this genre generally lacks and is something that Defenders of Ardania has managed to fix to a certain extent. If you enjoy the genre, there’s an awful lot for you to do here and you’ll find yourself engrossed for more than a few hours.
I’ve had some minor issues with the game – units not selecting, shortcuts not working – which may or may not have been patched by now, I’m not sure. When something that should happen doesn’t, like not being able to target a powerful enemy, and then the next time it does, it’s difficult to know for certain what the problem is. With that said, I believe there have been some pretty sizeable fixes over the last few weeks which sort out many minor issues that regular players might have had, and it’d be nice to think that the developers are going to continue working things out in an attempt to make this game perfect. I don’t think that’s too much of an impossibility.
Defenders of Ardania is one of those games about which you’ll have very little negative to say, but that won’t ever stick in your memory. It’s an enjoyable title that lacks the polish and character to say that it’s anything more than a fun game, but that’s not a bad thing, and I’ve immensely enjoyed my time playing. If you’re a tower defence fan, your interest should have been piqued around paragraph one – this is a game that you should buy. Its originality will make it a must-buy for you. More casual players of the genre should be a little more wary because, despite this being an excellent game, the slow pace and flaws may overwhelm somebody just looking for a constant good time.