Defenders of Ardania is an interesting creation in that it takes two genre concepts that already have some elements in common – in this case, the two happen to be real-time strategy and tower defense – and fusing them together into an interesting whole. There happens to be a surprising amount of options and content packed into the game, and the presentation isn’t half-bad either. The only real problem is that its core gameplay could have used some more variety.
This downloadable release comes with a single-player campaign that doubles as a gradual tutorial for all the game’s different elements. Each level takes place on a grid-based map with a home base for your army and at least one enemy base. The ultimate goal is to send your troop units into the enemy’s base, whittle down its health meter, and destroy it before the enemy’s army does the same to you.
The two main methods you’ll be employing in the game come down to troops and towers. Similar to a typical RTS, you can pull up a menu and select different types of troops to send out five at a time, ranging from standard groups of soldiers to stronger individual units with varying stats in health, attack power, and movement speed. Unlike games such as Starcraft, though, your soldiers and the enemy soldiers will rush by each other instead of fighting, as each group’s sole purpose is whatever base or structure you target for them to destroy.
Players can stop enemy forces from decimating their base by building attack towers on specially-marked green boxes on the grid layout, ranging from standard offensive turrets to static towers that affect the enemy’s stats instead of directly attacking them. As you place each individual tower, you will open up additional spaces to place more of them; however, you will be limited by the amount of gold you have, as resources are needed to create towers and troops. Gold builds up at a steady pace, which can be boosted with one of several spells you unlock as you progress. Other spells include restoring some of your base’s stamina, or direct offensive attacks to use on the battlefield such as lightning strikes.
Even more can be unlocked through a leveling mechanic that is made available for each troop type. Sending out units of a certain variety after a certain point in the game will enable them to earn experience and level-up like an RPG would allow, boosting their stats and ultimately unlocking stronger classes to use. Finally, additional unit types will become available as you progress through the campaign.
If all this seems like a lot to take in, there’s little need to worry, as the game continues to unlock new features with each progressive level. The pace for this is steady and rewarding, since each level’s victory leads to new abilities immediately being available and sufficiently explained to you at the start of the following level. The game starts off deceptively simple in the amount of things you can do, but continues to grow as you put more time into it.
Where Defenders of Ardania stumbles a bit is when it’s boiled down to its core gameplay. You will be doing a lot of unit and tower creation for each level, with tower creation taking a gradual backseat when you reach the level’s limit for how many you can put on the map. You can always tear down ones you don’t want and make new ones elsewhere, however. I found myself spending the majority of my game time quickly choosing which unit types to send in each wave, with everything else requiring me to wait for the required gold to add up. The spells you can unlock do add some flavor to the gameplay, but they fall victim to very long recharging periods after their initial use. While this is likely to keep the game from becoming a cakewalk, it might have been a good idea to make them charge faster. Raising the enemy’s power would have also helped balance things more efficiently.
There is a story to the game, but it’s a bit tricky to initially decipher and sometimes feels like an afterthought. There is no opening cutscene to set things up and your main companion, a hooded fellow with an accent reminiscent of Sean Connery, sets each level’s premise up for you during its loading screen. It was nice of the developer to make the gradually growing cast that converses with your assistant (your role as the leader does not give you a speaking part) fully voice acted, and most of the acting is well done. The only real exception is a warrior dwarf you meet early on, whose voice does not sound particularly tough or convincing. One downside to the dialogue is that each level has a conversation shown at the top of the screen with the text of each character’s lines, a static portrait, and their voice. There can be quite a bit of it before the level starts, and there is no way to fast-forward through the conversation or even individual lines.
Online multiplayer is included, with three individual modes. The default Free-For-All mode supports 2 to 4 players and features a similar set-up to that of the game’s single-player campaign, only with human players replacing the computer-controlled enemy bases that you would normally fight. The 2-on-2 mode is similar, with the exception being that all four players are combined into two teams, tasked with cooperating in order to take down the other pair. Finally, Team Survival Mode pits two players against two A.I. enemies in what is basically an endurance run, with players trying to survive against enemy forces for as long as possible.
Thankfully, all of the game’s levels, units, and abilities are unlocked in multiplayer, with no need for players to be forced into playing the campaign if they do not desire. However, seeing how one of the game’s strongest strengths is its sense of progression and gradual ability unlocking in its campaign, monotony sinks into these modes faster than normal, and they aren’t exciting enough to keep coming back to.
Visually, the game looks polished, with colorful level layouts and hand-drawn character designs for its dialogue boxes. There are some downsides, though. One odd choice is that the frame rate for units is quite low, resulting in distractingly choppy animations for them. This may have been done to prevent slowdown when there are a lot of units on screen, but it’s still a bit off-putting. Also, when you and your rivals have built all your towers, things can get a bit chaotic onscreen, with shots being fired in all directions and you trying to pinpoint where your troops are in relation to everything. Finally, the game’s musical score is quite nice, with some orchestrated tracks playing at various points, but sometimes they sound a bit muted in comparison to the in-game sounds, making them harder to appreciate.
Defenders of Ardania certainly does have a design that can lead to a large amount of repetition, but you will likely want to keep going to see what unlocks you will receive next. While there isn’t a very engaging story to keep players hooked, the constant amount of new things they can continue to earn will provide a genuine feeling of progression and growth. If you’re into either RTS or tower defense games, Defenders of Ardania might be worth a look.
This review is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.