Tower defence: the cockroach of game genres. Spreads like wildfire, and no matter how much people try to kill it, it keeps on coming back unabated. In fairness, the frantic construction concept has plenty going for it, it’s just that for every game that tries to take it somewhere new there are untold hundreds doing exactly the same thing but with different graphics.
The nuts and bolts of tower defence are in there, in that you build and upgrade turrets to defend your base against auto-marching waves of single-minded enemies, but that’s only part of the show. In fact, the number of towers you can build is strictly limited, which means you’ll have hit the cap fairly early on into a level.
Making hard decisions about which type of tower to place where is all part of the strategy, but it does end up feeling like the game is holding you back from a good time, and the genre’s characteristic slow build into epic destruction.
Attempting to replace this is that you’re on tower offence as well as tower defence. In addition to building towers to fend off the enemy’s army, you generate marching troops of your own and do your best to keep them alive as they wander towards the rival base. In practice, this entails a rather exhausting sustained spamming of the unit build buttons, trying to ensure there’s always a steady supply of troops of all types – attack, heal, flying.
On top of that are assorted unlocks and upgrades, and the occasional requirement to mark specific targets. There are a load of interesting ideas in there, but in practice Defenders of Ardania is a grind, tediously throwing untold numbers of units at the enemy until you very slowly get the upper hand.
Things liven up a little in multiplayer, where you’re free to play as any of the game’s three races and have unfettered access to all 24 tower types – which are dripfed at an aggravatingly slow pace in singleplayer. With so much repetitive ordering and clicking rather than much in the way of thoughtful tactics, the strategy so often devolves into an endurance test, though. Whoever can pay the most attention and/or click the fastest is likely to take the win.
The sad thing is just how close Defenders of Ardania comes to achieving greatness. It has a clear sense of how rote tower defence has become, and it’s bold enough to invert the tropes of the genre by offering you control of the auto-marching troops, but it’s lacking a crucial dynamism that would have elevated it from a grab-bag of ideas to smoothly-flowing whole.
On top of that, it seems to forget that the Majesty games of which it is a spin-off were broad pastiches of fantasy fiction stereotypes, and instead winds up being far too bland and serious.
And that’s Defenders of Ardania all over, really. It’s got the right ideas and even the right setting, but it doesn’t quite have the verve to make it all hang together.