Hold the fort…for about 5 hours…

The Good: The fundamentals of a fresh idea are here somewhere and may be appreciated by those with patience, Certainly has a sense of humour about it, Bright localesThe Bad: So unbelievably slow, Online play is even slower, Rather annoying voiceovers and repetitive music, Endless tutorials that can’t be fully skipped take control over action
Gameplay: Gameplay - 3 out of 10 3
Graphics:   Graphics - 4 out of 10 4
Sound:      Sound - 4 out of 10 4
Overall:     Overall - 3 out of 10 3

Bah, I love tower defence games and all, but I’m quite a bitter bastard. No matter how well you annihilate the opposition in such titles, I’ve always wanted to bring the battle to my enemy’s castle in a twisted act of revenge so I can burn down their bedrooms, kick their cats and urinate on their rugs just to see how they like it. Defenders of Ardania attempts to address this psychopathic need…with mixed results.

Defenders of Ardania balances both familiar tower defence elements with a shot at real time strategy to level the score with foes. Whilst building defences with ballistas and sniping towers, you’re also encouraged to spend resources on individual units to invade the foes castle integral to winning matches. On paper, these bullet point worthy gameplay concepts seem good. In practice, the collection of such ideas are fraught with design issues.

Each element integral to defeating your enemy has a set number you cannot exceed, and whilst it can be argued that the inability to build infinite fortresses is a deliberate rule to ensure things don’t get too easy for you, it also means that you’ll be forced to simply spectate on the same landscape for eons as the need for rearranging your attack never really arrives. There’s no real tactic in accumulating funds, they just regenerate endlessly ensuring you can easily afford anything in your inventory. Once you’ve set up the maximum amount of towers, the next step is usually to send in fleets of units to invade the enemy base. I never found myself truly sweating it out, however. Usually this two step process did me fine for every fight I took part in, with only a few exceptions where I had to replace a tower and carry on massacring the competition, and this is where the game ultimately slips up. It’s easy to dominate opponents thanks to the simple tower defence set-up, but the attempted addition at strategy based concepts unnecessarily attempt to over-complicate it and fascinatingly dumb it down in the process. Yes I could have put resources into upgrading my towers, but I didn’t need to. Yes, I could’ve put some effort into understanding the games levelling up system, but I didn’t need to. Everywhere you turn in Defenders of Ardania, you see concepts conflicting, the accessibility of tower defence attempting to merge with the brains of real-strategy falling flat on its face constantly. Just because enemies are easy to defeat, doesn’t mean to say you’ll be slaying them quickly though.

Because of this, battles never really felt like tense strategical assaults, as around two minutes in, all parties usually end up stalemating each other. Even on double speed, gameplay is exceptionally dull as you’re left to watch armies plod along pre-determined paths to either their inevitable doom or knock a few bricks off the enemy base. Matches have often felt longer than they’ve needed to be thanks to the lack of anything happening on the map, often forcing each player to simply watch the others HP and hope the opponent’s falls quicker. Simple battles have often felt like wars, not thanks to the action but the sheer length of some games.

There are good ideas here, but every single element of the game seems to defiantly refuse to go hand in hand with another.With each level that passes, more and more elements are added to the mix. New units, towers and multiple enemies are introduced to invigorate the game, but all it serves is to complicate an already bewildering format. Sheer encyclopedias of tutorials are dropped on your head halting you even whilst battles play out and often leaving you in an absolute shambles. Because they play over action, it’s difficult to focus on just one thing and so the rules become an overcomplicated mess to work with, often leading me into thinking I was cheating victory by simply laying down the same troops over and over and still winning.

To add to the frustration, the kingdom of Majesty holds many sights and sounds that aim to confuse. You’re guided throughout your quest by a mage who sounds like he’s lifting the soul from a dishevelled Sean Connery, and although it is fairly amusing at first, the novelty soon wears when you’re given your 5th tutorial out of infinity. Lands are beautifully coloured and some are wonderfully well detailed, but the bigger the mess you make in terms of defences on the battlefield, the harder the map is to read. Clumps of buildings often block action no matter which way you look, and moving the camera around too quickly can sometimes have a startling effect on environmental objects, blurring them into obscurity. Never have I seen a field of corn look like a bunch of Crimewatch regulars before now.

Additional modes don’t help with the mundaneness of duels. Survival revokes the concept that made the game unique in the first place, stripping away the offensive element and leaving just the insultingly simple tower defence mechanics to combat endless waves of enemies. I’m actually writing this paragraph as the mode plays by itself with my defences at the ready, and have reached wave 10 without taking a single scratch. At least the single player campaign forced me to pay attention and send out soldiers every once in a while. Online battles don’t alter the rules in any way, but gives the opponent a chance to repair their castle, extending that plodding pace to even further extremes. The ‘Limited Resources’ mode, however, is an interesting concept, giving you a limited amount of cash to spend on defence and offence, but the dreary rules and constant teachings hinder it.

Defenders of Ardania’s attempts to merge tower defence with strategy to create a much more dynamic strategy title. Unfortunately, it restricts and drains so much from both genres that it ends up being a far more mismatched combo than it should be. There are good ideas here, but every single element of the game seems to defiantly refuse to go hand in hand with another. The ridiculously unbalanced gameplay makes each match feel like a swim through drying tar, and unskippable tutorials that enforce themselves on you before each match are enough to make you call it a day before the fight has begun. It’s very hard to make a impact on a genre when some of its brightest moments have shone through in free to play Flash games. Defenders of Ardaniadiverts off the heavily beaten path in an attempt to do something new, unfortunately finding itself lost in limbo in the process.