Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Defenders of Ardania

** Originally posted on **

Defenders of Ardania is a beautiful tower defence game set in the world of the Majesty series. Paradox Interactive (Magicka, Crusader Kings II,) bring us a TD game with a twist. You play as one of three factions: Human, Nature, and Underworld to defend your sanctum against incoming would-be marauders. The difference here is that you also send forth waves of enemies to crush your opponents, lending some light RTS elements into a saturated and stagnating genre.

This game is presented very well. Colourful, vivid scenery comprises each level. There are three distinct level styles, one for each faction: Humans have their city streets and farmland, Nature has the lush greenery of the jungle, and the Underworld have their dark citadels and dead landscapes to oogle, ensuring you will never get tired of looking at these beautifully rendered environments.
The music is something else, too. An epic soundtrack heightens the feeling of heroicism, especially int he campaign mode, since mid-level battle tends to be a little dry and straight-forward against the AI. The sound effects do their job well, and blend into the music.
Ah, but the voice acting is terrible. I HAVE heard worse acting, but only in Japanese bullet-hell shooters that have been localized for North America on a near-nil budget.
That being said, the dwarves end up being ridiculously funny, giving you quests to secure beer instead of actually helping you investigate the main plot. Their awful, awful Scottish accents only lend to their drunken, uniquely dwarven charm.
The level selection screen is a nicely painted map that is a pleasure to scroll through. There is none of the interactiveness that you find in other Paradox games, (Crusader Kings, Sengoku,) but then the game doesn’t take place on the overworld map. It’s not even a flaw.
Defenders of Ardania is played very much like other tower defence games. Units walk along the shortest route to your citadel along divergent paths, which you can change by putting shooting towers in the way. But there is a slight difference: You are also sending out units to annihilate the opposing sanctums. This kind of game has been done before, but not quite in this upgradable, heroic, RPG-style manner. I say upgradable because there are successively tiered unit levels as in other TD games there are different tower tiers. Sending out ten units of any particular type will upgrade the unit type, making them tougher, hit harder, and cost more resources than their predecessors. This can be done three times, at which point a heroic unit becomes available. All of the heroic units have special capabilities, are much tougher to kill, are incredibly strong, and cost vast amounts of resources to call forth.
The heroic units are not quite as expensive and rare as the spells. Spells which heal and hinder can cost most-to-all of your resources to cast and on top of that have a cooldown time. This ensures that you can’t spam a healing spell if you are being pummelled. I feel Paradox has done this to add balance to the factions and also creates a more thoughtful, strategic game.
The two complaints I have about the gameplay is so niggling, I wondered if I should include them… But of course I will! Basically, you can only upgrade your towers once. Also, you are only allowed to have very limited towers on the map at once. This creates a flat, ceilinged tower strategy in dual-player matches. Once your towers are placed and upgraded, there is no need to change them up unless there is a gaping hole in your defence that needs to be patched. This leaves you with nothing to do but to spend all your time on the unit menu upgrading and spamming soldiers and dwarves onto the map. Though during four-player matches, I am grateful for this limitation. The chaos of having four people all building towers on the same small board and sending out wave after wave of units is more than my poor brain can handle.
The game modes aren’t all that varied, but they tend to be fun anyway. All modes are played on the campaign maps that have been presented in the main story-line with no extra challenge or multiplayer exclusive levels. Trying to find multiplayer matches is difficult, since the servers are devoid of open lobbies looking for players. Make sure you make a date with a friend to experience four-player chaos, it is well worth it.
The single player game modes include:
  • Campaign, which is straightforward Defenders of Ardania against an AI enemy.
  • Limited Resources, which increases starting resources but eliminates any way to gain more over the course of the game. This leaves you with some tough choices to make.
  • Survival, which is pure tower defence. Sending units is disabled and the enemy comes in ever-toughening waves which never end.
The multiplayer game modes include:
  • Full Frontal Assault, which is an every-player-for-themselves, deathmatch style game
  • 2 vs. 2, team deathmatch.
  • Team Survival, as single player but you co-operate with a friend in order to survive tougher and tougher waves.
  • Sudden Death, which can be added on to any of the other multiplayer modes. This function reduces all sanctum’s HP to critically low levels, creating a sense of immediacy and real urgency during the first few seconds of the game.
As tower defence games go, this isn’t the best one on the market, but it makes up for that by being slightly left of centre within a recently saturated genre. I can only givew credit to Paradox Interactive for participating in the evolution of the TD game, when they could have just built on the already perfected defence genre. If you’re a fan of the genre, I’d keep an eye out for this game.
Defenders of Ardania is available for PC and iPad, with PSN and XBLA versions coming soon. The PC version was used for review.

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