We've seen plenty of tower defense games crop up in the last few years, perfectly and a few were superb. We've also seen developers try to throw more action into the subgenre, and most of those unique spins have worked out well. Sanctum gave players a first-person shooter slant on tower defense. South Park: Let's Go Tower Defense Play gave you characters that acted as their own mobile turrets while Anomaly: Warzone Earth put you in the role of the attackers instead of the defenders. Not wanting to be left out of the action, Paradox Interactive gave Most Wanted Entertainment access to the world of Majesty and asked it to put a creative spin on tower defense. The answer to this was Defenders of Ardania, a game that may look and sound pretty but has gameplay that's far behind the competition.
At first glance, Defenders of Ardania seems like any other tower defense title. Enemy soldiers march mindlessly toward your castle, and you lose some of the health of your base if any soldiers reach it. To combat the threat, you build towers to defend your territory and try to defeat the soldiers before they reach your castle. The towers vary in both ordnance and range, so you must figure out the right combination to ensure that the enemy forces never reach your castle and tear it down.
Before going into the game's big twists, one can already see differences in how it executes the subgenre's basic mechanics. For one, your gold supply is theoretically limitless, as it regenerates rather quickly over time, negating the need to harvest funds to build more structures. The towers can only be built in certain spots on the map, but occupying those spots gives you access to more territory for expansion. You have a limit on how many towers are allowed on the map at any one time, forcing you to employ some strategy in tower placement and selection as opposed to simply flooding the area with your towers and beating the enemy via brute force.
One of the title's big differences comes from offense. Enemy forces come in from their base instead of a nebulous space, so you can send your own troops to take down the enemy. Like the towers, your selection of troops goes from the simple band of soldiers with some resilience but no real offensive capabilities to slow moving troops. Though there is a limit to how many of troops you can send out at a time and how many you can have on the field, the fact that they'll die often means you're only limited by your funds.
The other difference comes from the use of magic. In addition to relying on your troops for offense and towers for defense, you can apply magic directly onto the field to change the flow of the battle. Whether it's a fire spell aimed at enemy towers or shields for your own towers, you have some direct influence over the battle you're observing.
There are multiple mechanical and playability problems plaguing gameplay. From a mechanical perspective, the tutorial system seems to get a few commands wrong. For example, there's a request to do camera rotation before the game proceeds. The game uses iconography to tell you that the middle mouse button executes this, but the icons are so generic that you have no idea what you're supposed to hit until you accidentally hit the middle button. Even then, the middle button for some mice doesn't register this command, and since there's no way to configure the controls, a number of players have simply plugged in controllers to get past this hurdle.
Tutorials seem to go out of order or fail to mention important requirements for the current item to work, leaving you confused as to why certain things aren't functioning as expected. The early tutorials also seem to favor enemy movement over yours. More than a few times, you'll see the enemy building towers and moving in on your unguarded territory while your adviser prattles on about a new mechanic; this is made more infuriating by the fact that you can't skip this dialogue. Then there are the few crashes experienced during the game review. Not only did the game freeze, but the Windows 7 PC also encountered a blue screen of death, forcing a complete reboot of the system. With the game already out for several months on a platform that encourages constant bug fixing via patches, severe bugs like this are disheartening.
Should you somehow tolerate the slow tutorial system or be lucky enough to not encounter a crash, you'll still be unable to escape the various gameplay issues. The unlimited currency system, while nice, creates a problem where you'll never have to worry about insufficient funds to create a new tower or hire new troops. The tower limit on each map might prevent you from spending all of your gold on defense, but it means that you can provide a nearly unlimited stream of soldiers despite the personnel limit. With even meager defenses able to withstand all but the most powerful of troops, battles can go on forever because you'll often run into stalemates with no one gaining the upper hand for hours.
Interestingly, only the towers seem useful for defeating troops, as soldiers never attack other soldiers if their paths cross. As is the case with towers, only a few of the troops can engage other troops in combat, so seeing a parade of people marching to their doom without putting up much of a fight is disheartening, especially for something billed as a hybrid tower defense/RTS title.
Magic could have been the determining factor in ending fights quickly, but with its abysmally slow regeneration time, it isn't enough to permanently shift the tide of battle. Capping this is the inability for the AI to put up a fight and take advantage of your negligence. Leave the game alone for a bit after setting up some defenses, and you'll see that the enemy barely had the opportunity to dent you. With no real challenge, there's little motivation to finish the campaign, let alone play against the AI in skirmish mode.
Multiplayer carries with it the same problems as the single-player campaign and skirmish modes, including long battles where nothing seems to happen. It is made worse by the fact that the heal ability is available to all parties, so matches go on much longer than expected or until someone decides to give up. On the bright side, the mode supports four players for both competitive and cooperative play, and it is a lag-free experience. Don't expect too many online matches to be had unless you arrange them with friends first, since it's a bit difficult to find random strangers for a match.
From a presentation standpoint, the game is rather good. The landscapes even look nice on low-end machines, and both the character models and towers look fine, though the different characters aren't very distinct. Everything seen is presented with a rich color palette, eschewing the simpler color schemes of other games in this genre. The sound effects are fine and the music, while not memorable, fits nicely with the theme. The voice work rides a fine line between acceptable and bad. Your adviser's Sean Connery-esque voice is slightly annoying, and a few characters sound like they're all done by one actor, but the performances are otherwise fine. The title's look and sound saves it from being completely bad.
In the end, only certain elements of Defenders of Ardania work well. The presentation is nicely done, and the idea of limiting the amount of towers on the field is a good one since it injects more strategy into the subgenre. Beyond that, however, everything else falls apart. Buggy, unstable code houses a game where the amount of time sunk into each battle feels unproductive, and the prospect of facing off in lots more of those battles, whether it's against AI or human opponents, makes what could have been an enjoyable title feel like work. Even if you adore the lore behind the Majesty series, there is no reason to pick up this title over other, better tower defense games on the market.
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