Defenders of Ardania Review
Well, here I am once again finding myself reviewing yet another tower defense game for you, my faithful readers on teh internets. This time up it's Defenders of Ardania, which at least tries to bring something different to the table. I say "tries", but I suppose it really does do something a bit differently than other tower defense games that stick to the formula. The real question is whether or not this something different makes for a good game, or at least one worth your time and Microsoft Points.
If you're not a PC gamer, or at least one who dabbles in the black art of PC strategy games, then you won't be familiar with the game's setting and inspiration. Defenders of Ardania is pulled from the world of the Majesty game series, a series most noted for not giving you any control over your units (you had to resort to setting bribes and bounties to motivate your minions to act in your best interest). This is a rather important connection as far as Defenders is concerned because 1) it adds elements to the tower defense formula usually reserved for real-time strategy games, and 2) it won't let you have much control over your units. This may or may not sound like a good idea to you, but as far as practical execution goes the needle definitely pulls towards the "not" side of the meter.
Since Defenders falls under the tower defense category, let's start by looking at that aspect of the game. A tap of the right bumper will show you where you can build a tower on the map by overlaying it with a grid and color-coding the squares as green (you can build there), red (you can't), and white (maybe, but not yet). Squares turn green as you build your towers out from the castle which serves as your base and in this way the game forces you to expand outwards from your base rather than letting you plop a tower down anywhere on the map from the get go. Squares will turn red if they are too close to an enemy castle or if placing a tower there would cut-off the last open path across the map. Certain squares on the grid will also provide bonuses to the player who builds a tower on them such as increased attack range or bonus resources. Because there's a land grab aspect to the tower placement, you'll begin each match by placing as many towers as you can as quickly as possible. After that tower rush that's pretty much it for the towers because each level puts a really low cap on the total number of towers that you can build. There's a minor amount of tower management and strategy throughout a battle in that it's possible to occasionally destroy a tower or you may want to move a tower to control the path of the units crossing the map, but there's very little tower building here for a tower defense game.
To take out the enemy castle, you'll need to keep building a steady stream of units to send on the attack. Units types are each rated in terms of armor, speed, health, and attack power, and some units have bonus abilities such as the ability to attack enemy units or towers. You won't be able to command your units to use these abilities and they seem to choose to use their powers only on occasion - it's frustrating to watch your unit take one halfhearted swipe at one enemy and then just resume running. Like the Majesty games you can flag an enemy or tower as a high priority target, but you can only mark one such target at a time and it can take your units a little time to get around to following your order.
Games of Defenders are long drawn-out battles of attrition, even if you play the game with the game speed permanently set to 2x (which I recommend that you do). The inexplicably low caps on towers and unit population make it difficult to build an advantage - ironically, although resources are capped they generate so quickly that you'll always have plenty in the bank when you can finally build something again. Adding to the problem of the never-ending slapfests that are battles in this game is the inclusion of a castle repair spell which continually pushes the endgame farther into the future. There are long stretches in which you'll feel like the game is essentially playing itself and going nowhere.
After spending time with Defenders of Ardania I have to wonder if combining the "no control" RTS gameplay conceit of the Majesty games with the tower defense genre was a good idea in the first place. At a minimum, the game could have used a lot more tweaking and balancing so that battles play a lot faster and victory is more a factor of superior tactics than pure stamina. There's some potential to the idea of a real-time strategy/tower defense hybrid, but Defenders isn't the game to make it work.
Final Rating: 55%. Tower defense meets real-time strategy, with the winner to be determined a few hours from now.