Game: “Defenders of Ardania”
Age of Empires. It’s a PC and a Nintendo DS game, that’s been around for years now. Many years. So many in fact that it had a spinoff series called Age of Mythology, which was equally as brilliant as the first two games and subsequent expansion packs. The third, well, that’s for the jury to decide. Either way, Microsoft managed to define an entire genre of gaming with this series. So it’s hardly surprising to hear that a game has played “homage” to it, yet Defenders of Ardania, an Xbox Live game takes a very different angle at the word “homage”.
Defenders of Ardania is primarily a tower defence game. Tower defense games have only recently started to appear on console games and the majority of the time comes as downloadable games, rather than physical releases. So it’s forgivable if the term doesn’t just flow off of the tongue. The tower defence genre is a sub-genre of the real-time strategy (RTS) genre and very simply, puts the emphasis of attack and defence on Towers, rather than armies, zombies, militia or “units”.
Defenders of Ardania takes the genre up a little and adds in elements of the traditional RTS world, by sending waves of different types of unit to attack the enemy, on command and also adds in a board game element. The board game element is essentially a grid system, which divides the level up into zones, it allows you to easily see where you can build a tower and how you can try and make life more difficult for your opponent.
It’d be great if it were that simple, unfortunately there’s a steep learning curve on how to build towers and generally understand the world of Ardania. This learning curve becomes apparent in the tutorial, whilst the first two or three levels are pretty basic there’s suddenly a massive spike and most vitally, a huge lack of information. You’ve been told how to create units, towers, what the special zones and even how to assign towers or units to attack a single enemy. Yet, no-one’s advised that only certain types of units can attack enemies so whilst you’re bashing away the X button trying to deploy a myriad of dwarves, militia, heroes and who knows what else, none of them are attacking.
This is something that’s a huge flaw in the tutorial and unfortunately this sort of random distribution of information continues throughout. Not quite to this level of irritation, but enough to notice it. Not only that, but due to the nature of the way units are deployed the game will hit a dull stalemate very early on. This much becomes clear from the tutorials, where after creating all of your ten Towers to defend and attack, all you do is start deploying units to attack the enemy castle. Luckily it’s not a turn based game, otherwise to complete a single level would be half a day, but even without a turn system sending units off to battle is a tiring and dull thing to do.
This is made even more labourious by the advent of magically being able to rebuild your castle part way through the game. Of course, being able to repair is great, but it leads to increased game time and unfortunately this mechanic just helps to increase the overall frustration of wanting to complete a level but not being able to. Especially when playing against other players.
Set in a medieval, Lord of the Rings sort of time, the game looks great. There’s clearly been love and attention lavished on not only the character art, but the script and the textures of the game. Although, naturally, some of the look is a little generic as the entire setting of the game is a little generic. The music isn’t much to shout home about, but one thing of note is the voice acting for the narrator. Whilst it’s clearly meant to be an accent, it’s not a distinguishable one and he sounds a little like a drunken Sean Connery. Off putting and irritating, especially when combined with the various other bad points of the game and the inevitable nature of having to repeat a level.
Defenders of Ardania is easy enough to get your head around; the controls are pretty simple and work well the majority of the time. Even understanding how the game is divided into separate grids and how the units will always take the fastest possible route to the opponent’s castle – even if it is through a Tower infested hell, makes sense. However, the lack of fun and sheer frustration everything combined together creates doesn’t make any sense at all.