Upon installing the beta of Defenders of Ardania, I was greeted by the sounds of a mid-sized orchestra and an animated menu screen. The music was supplemented by sweet undertones of a mountainous landscape with birds, a waterfall, and the breeze blowing through trees. I started my new campaign completely relaxed only to be greeted with, “Your Majesty!” by a loud, poor man’s Sean Connery. I couldn’t help but laugh.
Welcome to Defenders of Ardania (DoA), a tower defense that allows an offensive approach. The game takes place in the fantasy world of Majesty where you must defend your land, but then you go on to other lands and seas to defend (and defeat). This is not your average tower defense as it mixes magic with light RTS elements. The story is thin and sometimes a bit random. Along your journey you will encounter crazed animals, zombie-like creatures, and a talking bear. But really, these extra character elements are only a small device to move the game into new terrain and offer new obstacles and opponents.
There are three races in the game: humans, natural beings and energies, and otherworldly beings. There’s variety from animals to vampires within the last two races. On the defense you will have 24 different upgradeable towers and on the offense you will have 24 different units to lead the charge.
Since each level offers new enemies and towers you will have to keep changing your strategy, which is great because repetition is common in most tower defense games. Set three ground-attack towers, two slow-towers, one of the big guns in the back in case any stragglers get through and then put it on fast forward until every enemy is dead. This is not the case with DoA.
The lack of repetition is refreshing and offers a great deal more replay value to the game, but the variety can be a bit much, especially on a four-player map. In the first four-player map I encountered, one of the AI players offered a temporary alliance. But when he broke the alliance and sent his troops to attack me I didn’t even notice, because with the animations of towers attacking troops everywhere and waves of attackers all over the map, it was easy to lose track of things.
It’s also easy to get caught up and lose focus because you are simply amazed by the presentation of the game. Each level really shows off the craftsmanship of the game. Each enemy tower is different, as well as the enemies. Character designs come with their own audible trait, from a man’s battle cry or an animal’s roar, to the odd noises the undead make. Each of the towers have its own distinct sound, the most notable being the one that can electrocute you.
Most Wanted Entertainment makes it clear that the focus of DoA is the multiplayer aspect. Because it’s only so cool to defend, but why not play with your friends? Multiplayer matches includes all levels from the single player; modes offered are skirmish and co-op against the robots or real humans. There is also survival mode, which is classic tower defense and you only have to defend. During my time with DoA I was unable to find a server to play a match against live people, mostly due to bug-related issues that Most Wanted is aware of and working to correct before release.
After playing DoA, I forgot how much I just missed the defensive. On the offensive, before upgrades, I found the trick to beating my opponent was to send as many units as possible. It didn’t matter how, just as long as I sent many and many forces over. I would sit on the menu screen and pick and choose between levels because I knew I wouldn’t be able to spam enough units. The units are key in this game as you are limited in the amount of towers you can build. Sometimes I really needed an extra three, maybe four towers. It would have also been nice to have tower upgrades off the bat.
Towers may have been on the shortlist but key functions are not. The tutorial and faux-Sean Connery are very thorough in explaining which key contains which function, but after a few hours I still found myself pausing the game to see which key did what. Other than a test of your memorization skills, controlling your destiny is no harder than the click of a mouse… and some heavy petting of your keyboard.
Once the major fixes are in place and once the game launches, Most Wanted plans to keep bringing new content to the game. Defenders of Ardania releases December 6th, 2011 on PC, XBL, PSN and the iPad. Until then, you shall not pass.