Wot I Think: Defenders of Ardania

By Alec Meer on March 21st, 2012 at 8:00 pm.

Good enough? Only bearly.

Most Wanted Games’ Paradox-published Majesty 2 spin-off Defenders of Ardania marched into digitally-distributed battle last week. I’ve been cautiously poking its remixed tower defence setup with my Stick Of Judgment for the last couple of days, and I have spewed out the following words in reaction to it.

The single most interesting aspect of the Majesty games was the indirect unit control system, with entailed attempting to herd particularly unwilling cats. A legion of assorted fantasy monster-botherers at your disposal, but not a one of them would lift a finger to help unless you offered them enough gold to trudge across the map and start stabbing things. In a genre so defined by willing slaves, it stood out and seemed rich with possibilities for a more living world, and one where strategy comes as much from meeting your soldiers’ needs as it does commanding and conquering. Since then, the series has resolutely failed to further investigate any of this, and instead opted for rote expansion packs and, now, a tower defence spin-off. A moment of silence for what might have been, then. Now, on with the more conventionally strategic show.

Defenders of Ardania isn’t straightforward tower defence to its credit, instead putting you in the shoes of the aggressor as well as those of the protector. With a strict (and somewhat arbitrary-feeling) limit on how many towers you can build, success against your similarly betowered enemy and their e’er-advancing forces requires the near-constant generation of tiny marching men of your own.

Most of your towers will go up in the earlier moments of a level or match, then once you’ve got your basic structure in place you need to churn out forces tailored as dependent to biff enemies, take down opposing towers or get to your rival’s base ASAP. On top of that are spells, tower upgrades and repairs and a teeny level up system for unit types, plus a race to grab special tiles on the map that bestow resource or strategic bonuses. You’re going to be busy, basically.

There are plenty of smart twists upon what is rightly often accused of being a stagnant formula in there, and they’re enough that I pressed on despite finding the package as a whole to be an awkward one. It tries its hardest to disguise how fixed its rules are, each level initially presenting you with a large, colourful fantasy vista that you’d swear blind you could stomp across in any direction you fancied, but a quick tap on F1 reveals the rather more didactic truth.

Each map happens on a fixed grid, with pre-determined impassable squares, and both you and your enemies use that grid to direct the flow of traffic. F1 shows this imperative grid, and it’s near-impossible to play without it. That’s fine, that’s tower defence – I’m just amused that the game seems to be trying to pretend it’s something else. Oh, you’ll also want to tap F2 twice to show both your and the enemy’s health, so expect the maps’ slightly bland colourfulness to end up swamped by UI.

Tying Ardania to the Majesty games is the sleepily satirical fantasy setting, though here it devolves somewhat into straight-faced tropes, a narrator/advisor doing a passable but ludicrous Sean Connery impersonation and the concept of setting bounties on particular enemies. This latter doesn’t involve any of Majesty’s bartering (e.g. if your archers won’t shift their arses for 500 gold, try 1000, or 1500 and so forth), just a straight-up marking of priority targets.

Many units don’t entirely respond to it, often electing to simply march straight past and on to the enemy base, but if you want your Wizards and Dwarf Flying Machines, which are capable of taking out towers as well as infantry, to focus fire on a turret that’s giving your standard troops a particularly hard time, that’s the way to go. The enemy AI is reliably deft at rebuilding whatever you trash, however, so there’s an additional layer of strategy in selling up one of your existing towers so you can build a replacement on top of the rubble of a newly-destroyed opposing structure.

That’s pretty much it, at least in singleplayer. It dawdles along gradually offering up new unit types, spells and towers as the campaign wears on, as well as offering different races of enemy to clobber, but never manages to feel terribly dynamic about it. The harsh limits on tower building and expansion means it always winds up being a slow and repetitive war of attrition rather than a rollercoaster run up to thrilling victory, and in turn I struggle to raise much enthusiasm for tackling another level of similar. There’s no bombast, just busy-work.

That said, it is reliable in terms of mixing up the settings – minotaurs and massive lighthouses one level, bear-filled jungles the next. It opens itself up more in multiplayer, where you get a choice of races and maps and none of this drip-feed of turret-types, but the effort that’s gone into the Conneryisms and dwarf VOs and whatnot puts the lie to the idea that the singleplayer is a mere sideshow. In either case, it just feels too small. It’s fleshed out tower defence admirably, transforming the genre’s traditional auto-marching into something actively controlled and contained, but seems to have stopped short of turning its offence-is-the-best-defence concept into anything especially dramatic. Ardania is the right idea, but a uninspiring execution. If you’re looking for a remix of tower defence, Anomaly: Warzone Earth is a far cheerier bet, if admittedly a slight one.

Meanwhile, here I sit, continuing to hope that the latter-day Majesty series one day elects to further investigate what truly made Majesty Majesty. As opposed to repeatedly hiring a bloke who sounds like Sean Connery and hoping that’ll do the trick.

Defenders of Ardania is out now, on services including Steam and GamersGate.

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19 Comments »

  1. trjp says:

    2 things amazed me about this

    1 – the way their Sean Connery impersonator gradually crept more and more into Russian – I was just PRAYING he’d saying something like “Give me a ping Vassily” or “Some things in here don’t respond too well to bullets” ;)

    2 – the first time I sent out my attackers and they met the enemy ones and TOTALLY IGNORED THEM – I was like “WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!”

    After that I went back to looking at videos of GTB – trying to stir myself into spending the £13ish required to get it…

    • Archonsod says:

      Only certain units will attack enemies they pass. Dwarves for example will stop to take a swing when they pass.

  2. Moraven says:

    My gripe in my first hour of play was horrendous interface in sending units/waves. And the fact it was taking up 50% of my screen right in the middle and to eventually win you had to look at it 80% of your time.

    War3 maps did Tower Wars better. With the War3 interface. Part of the problem might be the tablet/controller design the game came from.

  3. andyhavens says:

    I love TD games and interesting variants (Unstoppable Gorg, Oil Wars, etc.). I really wanted to like this game. But I really don’t.

    It’s not really a TD game. It’s a game with towers that have very little to do with beating the level. What I’ve found is that if you just build a few near your base and then crank out lots of wee men, you win.

    The specific trick that makes beating every level waaaay too easy is also so easy that it seems more like a bug than a strategy. Different units have different speeds. You’re trying to get them into the enemy stronghold to knock down its hitpoints to zero. Enemy towers can only fire fairly slowly, and only at one unit at a time. So you launch a bunch of slower, heavy HP units first (about 1/3 of your total allowed units). Wait until they’re about half way through. Then launch the standard fighters, who are a bit quicker. Wait until they catch up to the tail end of the heavies, and then launch scouts (fast and vulnerable) for the remainder of your units. If you time it right, all of your units basically show up on the enemy’s doorstep at roughly the same time, totally overwhelming his ability to deal with them. I’m 2/3 of the way through the game, and this has worked every time.

    The towers are also really lame. The ice tower doesn’t appreciably slow down your units, and the upgrades you get are barely visible.

    This could have been a really neat idea, if there had been much more of a strategy/building element — that is, a much larger grid with more options for path development. Since your units need to find their way to the enemy tower, pathing becomes a dual-edged sword… a nice long maze for the enemy ends up slowing your own units. As it stands, though, it’s just a bad 2-way TD game.

    • Moraven says:

      There has been great Tower War games since Starcraft I. That is the general way to defeat your opponent, who should also be doing the same thing while building different towers and sending different attack units in to disrupt that.

    • Archonsod says:

      To be fair that’s more an AI issue. There’s several towers which offer a chain style attack, and having all your troops arrive near one at once will result in massive casualties since one blast is usually enough to wipe out the rogues, and a second will usually do for anything without “tank” under it’s name.

  4. rottenspiel says:

    I very deeply regret spending 10 quid on this. But it will serve as a lesson to ‘try first’, buy later.

  5. Dreforian says:

    I started tower defensing with WC3 custom games and loved the format ever since. Unfortunately this means that if a TD doesn’t have mazing then it drops a peg or two on my list. Defense Grid and Orcs Must Die are cherished members of my Steam Library. I’m less fond of tower war type games but one I played (on the PSN although it’s available cross platform) was Comet Crash. It let you maze AND you could put one-way blocks in to give your units shortcuts while the enemy took the long road.

    Looks like Defenders of Ardania is a definite ‘no’ for me.

  6. marcusfell says:

    Even some SC2 mods are better then this… ;/

  7. wodin says:

    TD game desest I do. Hate em I do! Swamped with them we are. Yoda Ive become!

  8. Cinnamon says:

    I like the non existent popular sub genre of RTS for people who only like to be offensive all the time. Defending towers is not my thing.

    • pkdawson says:

      Dawn of War II?

      Personally, though, I’m all about the turtling.

  9. SirDimos says:

    I know this is relatively off-topic, but can a competent development studio please, please, PLEASE pick up the Majesty rights and make a game that isn’t buggy to hell and actually feels like a finished & polished product?

    It’s sad that I can still play Majesty 2 and enjoy it solely because of the unique gameplay (fantasy RPG/RTS w/o direct unit control) despite being the most poorly implementation of an idea that I’ve seen in recent gaming. I mean, the game has had a ton of DLC and a few patches and still has a load of easily fixed errors (like tool-tip typos and whatnot).

  10. The Army of None says:

    “I’ve been cautiously poking its remixed tower defence setup with my Stick Of Judgment ”

    Alec, this is a family friendly website :/

  11. Milos says:

    Such grisly puns in captions should not be tolerated.

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    MrPants says:

    My wife won’t let me call it the Stick of Judgement any more :(