Ardania is the parody fantasy setting for the Majesty series of Real Time Strategy games. Defenders of Ardania returns gamers to this world for more of the familiar RTS, but plays mostly as a Tower Defense game. Self-aware of the clichés of fantasy settings, Defenders does well in terms of humor, but the blend of RTS and Tower Defense doesn’t work very well in this case.
The fun starts with a narrator who has the thickest Scottish accent you’ve heard since Sean Connery sat down with Sheena Easton for a plate of shortbread and haggis! He is so strongly inspired by Connery’s Highlander accent that when explaining the number of rally points that players can use, he dramatically proclaims “There can be only one”!
There are plenty gags about standard fantasy races of humans, dwarves and elves, but the comedy just can’t make up for the flaws in gameplay. The Player has a base and must build a series of towers that launch projectiles at swarms of incoming invaders. But at the same time, the enemy has a base that the Player must attack with their own swarm of minions. While this seems like an innovative twist on Tower Defense, it is actually a recipe for long, slow matches with lots of stalemates.
In these drawn-out battles, the two evenly matched forces slowly nip away at each other until the balance slightly tips, leading to a slow march to an inevitable victory for one side. Often this is no more difficult than sending waves of different types of units at the enemy until you determine which one does best. After that, victory will boil down to just mass-producing the right kind of unit until they’ve nibbled away the enemy base’s health bar. Alas, each side has spells, including one that repairs the base, so damage must be dealt at a faster pace that it can be healed.
Victory occasionally does require more than that, such as sending in a wave of slow moving units, then launching a wave of fast troops at the right moment so that both groups hit a tough area at the same time. There’s also the tactic of dropping your defenses so that your troops can charge forward quickly, then raising a wall to force the enemy to wander through a heavily-defended maze. But, in general, you’ll just need to capture a strategically-significant spot, then send in waves of one or two types of troop.
There’s a rock/paper/scissors mechanic in that certain kinds of towers are more effective against certain units. Often troops or towers are over-specialized in this capacity, and are mostly useless. The troops or towers that are powerful and versatile cost more resources, of course.
An annoying feature is that, unlike in a RTS game, the units will run past each other without fighting. Only certain units will fight enemy units that they meet along their path, and only some have the power to attack towers. This is likely to be very off-putting for gamers more accustomed to the Real Time Strategy genre, than with Dower Defense.
The RTS tech tree and upgrade system are present, as is a system of resource gathering. Certain spots on the map will give extra resources to whatever player builds a tower on them. These resources are used to build and upgrades towers and units, plus they let players cast Spells which will buff their own units, or de-buff the enemy.
This is all planned out well by the game’s designers, but it is executed poorly. The tutorials are inefficient, often failing to communicate essential information (Such as “Spam the hell out of whatever new unit you got this level, or you’ll never win”). This makes the single-player campaign rather frustrating, but it does have the option to double the speed of gameplay so that once you’ve found the winning tactic, you’ll only have to wait half as long for the inevitable victory, and are rewarded with more funny voice overs from Groundskeeper Willie.
Where Defenders of Ardania shows more promise is in the online multiplayer. Again this is a slow-paced trip to lengthy stalemates, but it does involve two human minds trying to outwit each other in terms of offence, defense, resource management and sneaky tricks. There are options for “Free for all” matches, plus two-on-two, or even just you taking on a single opponent to determine who is the more cunning armchair general.
Alas, the game is rather complex, with 24 towers and a like number of units, plus spells and upgrades. Therefore it is practically a necessity to slog through the single-player game in order to be qualified to compete in the online mode. Luckily, the single-player isn’t particularly long, so people looking to learn the ropes before heading into multi-player won’t have to devote too much time to it.
Defenders of Ardania is probably a better deal for Tower Defense fans than RTS gamers, but the multiplayer mode does offer an unusual diversion for strategy fans looking for something a little different. It available now for Xbox Live Arcade, and on PC.