Defenders of Ardania Review
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On 04/10/2012 at 08:17 PM by Travis Hawks
Venture into a fantastical world that will bore you beyond anything you’ve ever imagined!
Everyone should avoid this game.
The visuals in Defenders of Ardania are pretty OK. And thus ends the discussion of the good things about Defenders of Ardania. Everything else about the game is frustrating, boring, and annoying. You’d be excused for being drawn in by the concept, though. Defenders of Ardania tries to grab some attention in the jam-packed tower defense genre by adding a few elements normally seen only in real time strategy games, but the implementation of these additions make the game a slog.
The tower defense portions work as you’d expect – you are provided with a limited array of towers to set up across a map, each tower having its own strength. There is a flurry of cursor moving and tower selection at the start of each round. Then the opposing forces start their march towards your castle and you try to keep your towers upgraded and repaired to defend yourself. The unique ideas in the game’s design are the ability to upgrade your “economy,” cast a handful of spells, and most importantly send out your own troops on the offensive.
Upgrading your economy allows you to buy cheaper towers, spells, and other things. You simply have to choose which upgrade to buy (and when) with your accumulating wealth. There is no mining or farming to keep track of, your resources just accrue with small boosts if you build on special squares. Once all of the economical upgrades are available to you at a certain point in the game, the ideal order in which to buy them becomes obvious. You end up just upgrading everything in the best possible order and repeat the process every round. Add this rote step to the tower building and you’re starting to see that the game is on a path to a lot of mindless button pressing.
You also have spells available, each one limited by a ticking timer to keep you from cheesing through with spells alone. A good limitation, but now you’re stuck watching a timer as you wait to blast enemy towers with lightning, heal your castle, or shield your troops with spells over and over. Stopping by the spell menu to check in on the timers is another item on your to-do list along with upgrading your towers and economy.
Then there’s the biggest chore of the game: sending out troops. What looks like the best new idea on the spec sheet for Defenders of Ardania is its biggest disappointment. You get to send your soliders across the map to weaken opposing marchers and damage the enemy castles. There are several unit types available (such as wizards and rogues), each with their own specialty. The rogues move quickly, the clerics can heal, and so on. Each class can be leveled up the more you use them.
Unfortunately, the troop type doesn’t seem to make a big difference and you end up just spamming the bad guy with wave after wave of whatever you feel like until you eventually win. You can send wizards if you want to destroy your opponents’ towers, but this can be ignored without significant impact. The game suggests sending out a variety of soldiers in each wave, so I did that some, and other times just sent masses of one type. Either way, I just kept cycling through the menus, hitting a sequence of buttons, and waiting for the conclusion.
With all of this button pressing and menu management, you would hope that the controls would be spot-on. They are definitely not. I had little trouble with the thumb sticks or buttons, but the D-pad work is atrocious. The Xbox 360 has a terrible D-pad -- this we all know -- but, I have never seen it respond so poorly as in Defenders of Ardania. The D-pad is used to choose from the menu an action like sending out troops, or purchasing upgrades. Each direction has a particular menu assigned, but most times whichever way I pressed seemed to select a random menu. Luckily, if you continuously press up or down, the menus will cycle until you eventually get to the one you want.
Each mission starts with an introduction to the task at hand, using some voice acting that wouldn’t make the cut at a junior high drama competition. The story involves a gruff dwarf hungry for battle, an eccentric wizard who makes a few bumbling moves, wise elves with knowledge of the ancients, and … well, I stopped paying attention because I’ve seen this play out fourteen thousand times already.
The campaign pits you against one or three opponents, and there is a pretty big difficulty difference between these two scenarios. The one-on-one maps are definitely easier, normally allowing you to pretty mindlessly place towers and send out troops. The one vs. three maps require a bit more planning and tower management, but will eventually reach the point where you’re just keeping your troop count at maximum until you are victorious. A few maps force you to figure out the specific tower placement required to protect your castle, but after a couple of tries it always becomes obvious.
The biggest drag of the more challenging maps is that restarting a level requires you to listen to the story bits again. You cannot skip these horrible interludes, which is a well-known and widely reviled game development sin. Adding to the pain, each map has a ridiculously long loading sequence. For a game stored on your hard drive, this seems wholly unnecessary. Once it’s finally loaded up, you would think it would run smoothly and have no hiccups, but it really struggles to keep up consistently. Once you are on a four player map and the screen is filled with marching troops and shooting towers, it takes many seconds for button presses to register, and the action freezes constantly.
As you approach the end of the campaign, the difficulty really seems to drop off – perhaps because you’ll have everything figured out at that point and there are no new challenges thrown in. That is until close to the very end where a map kicks you square in the Gimli and provides you with the most arduous chore yet to get a victory (which I won’t spoil). I actually gave up after a few times once I realized what was necessary. I had wasted plenty of time getting that far, was having less fun (if possible) with every battle, and felt I should check out the other game modes.
Scoping out the rest of the game sure doesn’t take much time. You can repeat the story missions with limited resources for added difficulty, or try and survive endless waves of enemies in the survival mode, and then there’s the multiplayer. Not a single time did I run into another soul looking to play a multiplayer map, and the evidence as to why is right there in the leaderboards. A few weeks after release, it looks like less than two hundred people have completed the single player campaign, and less than a hundred have played in any multiplayer games. In the 2 vs. 2 game type, it looked as though about four games had ever been played at last check. So, unless you have a friend who is also buying this game and you’re going to schedule a get-together, forget about the multiplayer. It looks like the majority of the world has made a wise decision and not purchased Defenders of Ardania.
It’s too bad that nothing worked out for Defenders of Ardania. Both tower defense and real time strategy games involve a lot of micromanaging, clicks, button presses, scrolling, repetition, and so on. It seems like the two genres would meld perfectly together, and I think they can. The problem is, both of those genres can cross the line from being a frantic, fun time to being a bunch of repetitive chores. Defenders of Ardania makes every moment feel like boring work that is screaming for a union-rules break in the middle of it. Add to the yawn factor the carbon copy story, the awful voice acting, the long load times, the broken menus, and the amazingly pricey fifteen dollar price tag and Defenders of Ardania should be avoided by everyone. Oh, but the graphics are sort of alright.