Defenders of Ardania (PC) Review
Posted by Vince Osorio on 04.06.2012
The real-time-strategy/tower-defense hybrid comes to the PC! Do two great tastes taste great together or is this blend of genres a bust?
Note: Both myself & Crossing the Steams writer Marc Morrison were offered codes for the PC version of Defenders of Ardania. Consider this a dual review. Enjoy!
Title: Defenders Of Ardania
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Most Wanted Entertainment
Genre: Tower Defense/Real-Time-Strategy
Players: 4 (Online)
Rated: Teen for 13+
I don't really know what to say about Defenders of Ardania other than to proclaim that it's a game that fails when coupled with its potentially intriguing premise. If you read Stewart Lange's review of the XBLA version of the game, you probably have an idea where I'm headed with this, but in case your memory is fuzzy, allow me to help. Defenders of Ardania is a fantasy based tower-defense title with very light real-time-strategy elements. You are able to set up, place your towers and upgrade them as you see fit (though this is a grid-based game, meaning you can only place a certain amount of towers in certain areas) while your gold reserve recharges. However, you also have the ability to use your gold to send out troops from your castle to attack the opponent's towers & castle.
Admittedly, that sounds kind of neat, since the tower-defense genre has been stagnant for a while and could have used a few rule changes here and there to spice things up. But Ardania proves that addage about the “jack of all trades” correct, because there's nothing here that's done particularly well. The concept and premise is spread too thin, and therefore it's too shallow, simplistic and repetitive as both an RTS and a tower-defense title, pleasing no one in particular in the long run.
Defenders of Ardania has a pretty long-winded story mode that I didn't have the patience to finish due to design issues (that I'll comment on later in this review). The narrator is goofy but overall the voice acting is well-done and it's nice to see a tower-defense game that actually has a story that you might almost want to care about. While I'm at it, I might as well list off the other stuff that didn't offend me. The music & sound effects are repetitive but not terrible. The game isn't going to wow you visually, but it has a very clean look and more or less runs at a constant framerate throughout. The “dark” levels towards the end of the game have a neat atmosphere to them, and I appreciate that there is more than one basic multiplayer mode (including 2v2 battles and a wave survival mode).
So that's what's good about Defenders of Ardania. Let's move onto this game's issues, specifically, balancing. The elements that make up this game are, for lack of a better term, “half-assed”. The tower-defense stuff is basic, but because of the design of the game, you're only limited to a handful of towers in a map. So the game actually takes out what makes tower-defense games so fun and handicaps you throughout. The RTS elements are super shallow, even in comparison. You can summon troops (a limited amount, mind you, though you can purchase upgrades to add to your resource pool or make units cheaper), but they run on a fixed plane to the other side, and most of the armies you summon are either worthless until upgraded, or won't even fight the enemy troops, even when they meet on the same path. So basically, you're just setting up towers and forcibly sending out troops while your opponent does the same thing. It's a tug-of-war throughout, more of an endurance run than a game, because luck means much more than skill, enemy and tower placement do.
No kidding, I sent my troops with the largest amount of health constantly, as much as I could in seven of the main missions and would win every time. That's it. I just kept respawning them over and over again until a pop up screen would tell me that I won the battle. Broken, much? It's even worse when you can use “spells” that will repair your castle & even destroy enemy towers while your A.I. opponents are helpless.
The online stuff isn't much better. One of the few online games I was able to play with Marc lasted about 20 minutes, 19 of those minutes being a glorified stalemate. Everyone has access to every spell, upgrade & tower in the game, meaning that battles will be long and drawn-out for no reason. A drawn out battle in Starcraft II is a testament to the near-perfect balance and skill involved in that title. A drawn out battle in Defenders of Ardania is the norm.
There are so many excellent tower-defense and RTS games out there that are worthy of your time, and you'll probably find them to be better looking, more charming and significantly more fun to play. This game isn't quite offensively bad, but it's totally inconsequential and boring, which might actually be worse.
Bonus! Mini Review by Marc Morrison!
Oh Paradox Interactive Publishing, you try so, so hard. In my limited experience with Paradox Interactive games there's a good game buried amidst a set of problems. Specifically, Magicka had a great idea with some interesting game mechanics but was marred by technical glitches and a save system designed by the devil. Likewise this game has a few interesting (in theory) ideas that really fall flat on their face. This isn't a full review, so it's a bit more stream-of-conscious so I'm just going to list a few things that I noticed.
1. The combat grinds to a halt rather quickly. The first three missions I was able to breeze through just by selecting the fastest unit I had and rushing the enemy base. The fourth mission I tried rushing but the enemy built towers to kill my soldiers before they came close to the base. My tower layout also prevented them from attacking my base. So we stalemated for about a half hour before I quit the game. Had I not the game likely could have gone for hours if not longer. I eventually restarted the level only to rush even quicker and was able to beat it in about 9 minutes.
2. I didn't mind the narrator voice actor unlike Stewart Lange. Sure the narrator sounds like a 2nd rate Sean Connery knock off but it somehow worked for me. All the rest of the voice cast was terrible though.
3. I only made it to the Minotaur level (which is either the 5th or the 6th) and gave up. Once again I had built up a defense structure that allowed me to stay alive in perpetuity but I couldn't have won the match without waiting for 2 hours for my guys to luck into damaging his base.
4. There's no real reason (I can see) for the soldier grouping system. You can make a grouping of 5 soldiers and send them off. They don't go in a group though, they instead march out like ants to the enemy castle. This isn't exactly a great strategic idea. If you want to combine a soldier and a cleric into one group you can, but what's the point? The minute you send them all out your soldiers move out of range of the cleric (thus negating having the clerics heal them) and end up in the cross hairs of enemy targets. It's a poor system.
5. Multiplayer was fairly busted when Vince and I tried. We were the only two people on trying to play. He tried inviting me into 4 games and each time it said “This Game Session No Longer Exists”. When I tried inviting him it said the same thing three times, but on the fourth it finally let him in. I proceeded to crush him in about 8 minutes using the “Rush and Attack” strategy. We then tried a Team Survival match where we both try and survive for as long as possible while the computer sends waves of enemies at us. I tried inviting him but it timed out. We then tried quick searching to put us both in the same lobby. I tried 3 times (the 3rd time being placed in a separate lobby than him). The 4th time I was able to get in, and we did some survival stuff. It lasted about 21 minutes, 7 of which I was in the bathroom for. That was actually more productive than my time playing this game.
If you need a Tower Defense game go with; Defense Grid: The Awakening, Plants vs Zombies, Unstoppable Gorg, Dungeon Defenders, Monday Night Combat, Orcs Must Die!, Rock of Ages, Sanctum, Sol Survivor, or frankly any other Tower Defense game.
Pleasant enough, with nice lighting effects and little noticeable slowdown.
Mechanically busted, restricting, repetitive and unbalanced. Mouse control is preferred to controller use in the XBLA version.
Music, voice acting and sound effects are repetitive but otherwise inoffensive.
The game is too busted to play for long stretches of time.
More boring than offensively bad, an intriguing idea that is too bogged down by poor design choices.