Defenders of Ardania – Review
When a game turns up on Microsoft’s Xbox Live service that sits in a particularly crowded genre and costs 1200M$P, it really needs to stand out from the crowd or else it’ll be roundly ignored until it apologetically drops in price during a Deal of the Week promotion. So when Paradox Interactive, veteran purveyors of PC strategy and RPG games, announced Defenders of Ardania, they had a job on their hands if they didn’t want their game to become lost in the glut of similar titles.
Their solution was to create a tower defence title that combines RTS elements with a fantasy setting but where, for the first time that I’ve come across at least, has two teams attacking each other over the same battle grid. It’s an interesting idea and any new take on the usually-addictive tower defence genre is generally welcomed but only if the innovations work, and in the case of Defenders of Ardania that’s not really the case.
Set in the world of Majesty, the plot speaks of the usual nonsense of kings, castles, armies, magic and evil. Straight from the off though the game irritates with lengthy story sections that are simple paragraphs of tiny, barely readable text read out by a chap doing the worst Sean Connery impression ever. After suffering that, the game then introduces you to the core gameplay concepts by way of an extended tutorial. Now here’s the thing, wasting over half of your single-player experience by slowly drip-feeding the player each of their abilities and new tower units is ridiculous. Surely having a strong tutorial and then a sequence of good levels that require the full set of abilities is better than this piss-poor way of doing things, but that wouldn’t matter if Defenders of Ardania was good but, as you may have guessed from my tone so far, it isn’t.
The problems start right away. Each level is quite short and laid out in a grid pattern. When a level starts, you begin placing your towers and, in Command and Conquer style, you can only place them near your base or other towers so you have to kind of expand your territory. Tower units, the usual mix of single shots, explosive attacks and slowdown towers, also block areas on the grid, allowing you to modify the route attacking units can take on their way across the map.
The big twist is that you and your opponent will both be building towers and sending out waves of troops off into battle with the hope that they’ll make it all the way to the opposing castle. Get enough troops all the way across and eventually you’ll win. The problem with this concept is that it simply doesn’t work. The maps are too small and often entirely linear, so while you can waypoint your troops (although you can only drop one waypoint flag at a time which is a fuckwitted decision), it rarely makes a difference. This means that, 99% of the time, your opponent’s troops will be walking the exact route yours will so ultimately the placement of towers really doesn’t matter too much. Also, each map is very stingy with the number of towers you can build, so you really won’t be winning any tactical battles with your tower placement. Which, unfortunately, is the WHOLE POINT of games like this.
Instead, battles are won by creating as many troop units (again these are quite harshly capped at twenty alive at any time) and sending them out. Most matches come down to sending out the Rogue units (these are the fastest ones) and hoping they make it. The enemy will usually send tank units of one sort or another and sometimes even a full array of your towers won’t stop them but you can repair your castle periodically so it doesn’t really matter.
Against the AI this usually means winning a slow war of attrition thanks to a thousand tiny cuts making the battles almost surreal in their dullness. Of course, troops (and towers) cost resources, but most of the time you’ll have more than you can spend so it all seems a bit pointless even pretending that there is any scope for planning, strategy and guile. Victory often just comes down to effectively a tank rush.
Of course, the implication here is that the entire singleplayer game is really just a big, glorified tutorial for the multiplayer component and this is a fair assumption given that, in multiplayer, you have access to all maps, towers, troops and other abilities. Sociable gamer types have access to 1v1 and 2v2 battles as well as survival modes. The problem here is that with both players being able to repair towers and their bases, battles go on forever and there is never that turning point in the battle, or at least not one you can identify, because at all times the screen is full of towers and troops that all blend into a big mess of unidentifiable pixels. On the plus side, Survival Mode is a bit more fun as it takes away the ability to build troops and becomes a straight-up tower defence game, albeit a very limited one.
Presentation is a huge problem throughout the game. Right from the off the game comes at you with tiny, unreadable text and when you get into the gameplay, the miniscule troops are nearly impossible to identify and differentiating between your towers and enemy ones is like beating yourself about the eyes with a 3DS. During the heat of battle, making any kind of tactical decision is impossible because you just can’t really see what is going on but, of course, it doesn’t matter because you’ll just be resorting to sending out Rogue units, like I said before.
Add to that a heap of slowdown in singleplayer and crippling lag in multiplayer and you’re left with a game that should never have been released, let alone getting a 1200M$P price point. Even achievement whores will want to avoid it as the game has a problem with achievements not unlocking. It’s a real shame as Xbox Live Arcade has had several excellent tower defence games including the Dungeon Defenders which, like this, is fully-geared towards multiplayer but is an incredibly fun and dynamic experience and so other twists on the genre are still welcome but not when they are as ugly and unplayable as this bullshit.
Quite how anyone thought this was good enough to release is a mystery. You can tell that its roots are on the PC where the tiny text and fiddly controls would be less of an issue but as a Xbox Live release it fails on nearly every count and is surpassed by countless better, and cheaper, games. One to avoid.Pros
- Survival Mode, at least on a basic level, works
- A couple of the singleplayer levels are a little bit of a challenge
- The core gameplay concept of a versus tower defence game simply doesn't work
- Awful graphics that actively hinder gameplay
- Fiddly controls that are further marred by input lag
- Tedious Sean Connery soundalike
- Multiplayer battles are actually harrowing to get through
- Stupid, unskippable chunks of story before each level
- Waypointing system is rendered useless by small, linear maps
- Underwhelming tower and troop units make the battles incredibly unexciting
Defenders of Ardania is so utterly flawed that it is literally a game without merit. Fans of the genre probably have tower defence games on their phones that offer better playability and graphics so putting out this kind of abortion at the 1200M$P price point ultimately seems like a desperate attempt to claw back some revenue from idiots who don't download trial versions because anyone who does will have this shit deleted off their hard drive within ten minutes.
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