Man, I really don’t like tower defense games. Well, maybe that’s not true. I’m just bored of em. I don’t like staring at a map for ten to fifteen minutes at a time waiting for units to slowly march towards my door, meticulously placing my towers and praying I didn’t screw up because if I did, I had another fifteen minute session ahead of me doing the exact same thing I just got done doing. They were fun at first but after a while, tower defense games just seemed to me to be more of a chore than anything. Still, if a game has an interesting twist, there are times it can transcend it’s genre and feel like something entirely new. While I can say that Most Wanted Entertainment’s Defenders of Ardania tries really hard to do just that, its poorly executed mechanics and some other mild annoyances were enough to keep it from being anything more than notable.
At it’s core, all the basics of tower defense are there. You start with a castle that you must defend as the enemy sends units to your door. Obviously you have to build towers to defend yourself but rather than have a set path that units automatically follow, you’re given a more open map. Where you build your towers helps to guide the units as they will always take the shortest path to their objective. The thing is, tower defense is kind of a misnomer because you’re also responsible for sending out your own units to destroy your opponents castle who is also building towers. It’s not really tower defense but it’s not really tower offense either. It’s just….. tower. The concept is sound, but the problems lie in the execution.
Every map is a grid pattern and only certain spaces can support towers. Scattered throughout the map are spaces that give special bonuses for building a tower on them, such as a space that increases the amount of money you generate or the distance that particular tower can fire. At the beginning of a match, you can only build a tower within four spaces of your castle but once you build a tower, it increases the distance you can build to four spaces from that tower. The problem is that in every match I played, you start with enough money to build three or four towers and by the time you’ve done that, you’ve got enough money to build more. The obvious thing to do is just to build a tower as far out as you can, then build another one four spaces from that, and another one four spaces from that, grabbing all the bonus spaces you can as soon as possible. This gives whoever can press buttons the fastest a clear advantage because, as far as I could tell, towers cannot be destroyed.
I should clarify: towers have hit points and there is an ability that can be used to repair them, which would imply that they can be destroyed. From my experience, however, both my units and my towers refused to attack them. The help section loosely describes the bounty system, in which pressing the X button over an enemy tower or unit can designate it as a target for your units and towers but I was never able to get this system to work. My towers ignored it and my units simply walked past, blindly following their original path. At one point you get a spell that destroys a tower instantly, but it takes so long to recharge that they’ll likely just build a new tower in its place the instant it’s destroyed. On the flip side, my towers never got destroyed, so maybe the computer couldn’t figure it out either.
So once you’ve cheesed the board and taken over every advantageous space you can, it’s time to start sending your units to attack. This is the part that I was really excited about. You send out units in waves of five, though that number can be increased to ten later. You can pick the composition of those waves but the problem I found is that because different units move at different speeds, it was better to just send out certain types of units in groups of five and then time it so that they arrived at the same time. Usually this involved spawning three waves of clerics, who while moving slowly, have a large health pool and can heal themselves. Once they had the attention of the enemies towers, I would slip my faster but weaker units past them. I found I could win most rounds this way.
The units themselves can level up and you can even unlock hero versions of those units after a certain amount of time but I found it didn’t make much of a difference. Each match ended up playing out pretty much the same way: rush to the bonus spots, build as many towers as that particular map will allow, and then command your units to throw their bodies at the enemy till you win. That particular strategy leaves a lot of downtime to simply look at the game.
Visually, the game looks fine, but there’s one major complaint. Why is everything so small? The units are so small that you can’t tell which unit is what and the text is just as bad. Damage to units is portrayed in the form of floating text but again, it’s so tiny you cant tell if your unit just took two damage or eighty-two. It’s possible that this isn’t a problem on the pc version at different resolutions but on the Xbox, playing on a 32-inch LCD playing at 720p, I should be able to read the text on the screen.
Theoretically, this game should be great. It seems like Most Wanted Entertainment had a lot of really great ideas to spice up the tower defense genre, but the execution fell flat. I will be honest: I did not finish Defenders of Ardania. I put about four hours into the game, but I think that’s fair. DoA is yet another game in a genre that’s growing ever more crowded on a daily basis. It should be able to get its point across in less than four hours. That said, I would be interested in seeing a sequel. There are a lot of really good ideas here that could make for an excellent game if fleshed out a little further.