There is certainly no shortage of tower defense games these days, particularly on platforms such as XBLA or iOS. In fact, Defenders of Ardania was born on the latter, and though the genre staples of tower defense -- such as resource management and multiple defense units -- are present, it strives to differentiate itself by offering a new twist on the genre - tower offense.
Most Wanted Entertainment’s DoA is set in the fantasy world of Majesty (a familiar place to fans of Paradox Interactive’s previous RTS games), in which you command an army of humans to fight the undead, gaining dwarf and elven allies along the way. Each level involves creating an effective defense using various types of towers while simultaneously attacking the enemy base with ground and air units. Pre and post-battle dialog is fully voiced by what are only technically “actors,” but it definitely beats silent text, and does add a bit of flavor to the world.
Although the beautiful backdrops and art style offer multiple colorful settings for battle, DoA visually smothers its own gameplay. It doesn’t take long for the aesthetics to interfere with your ability to tell what’s happening on the field. Not only do friendly and enemy towers and units appear virtually identical if you’re playing the same race as your opponent, but everything from the trees to the cobblestone seems to be working against you. Eventually, you’ll learn to better perceive the action, but it takes time and practice - not to mention perseverance.
Above: Can’t tell what’s happening? Neither could we
Beginners won’t appreciate the steep learning curve either. Even with the clear tutorials and paced campaign, it’s easy to struggle in the early goings. Finding the right balance between defending and attacking will lead to a lot of painful trial and error, and cause some to simply give up. Once you catch on to the subtleties, though, things take an odd turn. Exploiting the AI with early swarmer assaults becomes all too easy, allowing advanced campaign levels to be finished in just a couple of minutes. Thankfully, online multiplayer is available.
Fortunately, online multiplayer is DoA's biggest asset. Up to four players can compete in free for all or 2v2 over Xbox Live in any of the campaign mode’s 18 levels. Playing against real humans definitely ramps up the intensity and reduces the cheap exploitation found in the campaign. A good battle can last anywhere from ten minutes to beyond an hour - provided you find opponents of similar skill. If you can’t, then a fantastic 2 player vs 2 AI survival mode is available.
Having moved to XBLA from the touch-centric iOS version, we were happy to find navigation of DoA’s UI to be as good and as fluid as it gets with a controller. There were times when responses to button presses were delayed by a second or two, but the cursor moves quickly and the control scheme is smartly organized. We never felt handicapped not having a mouse or touch screen.
Above: The eagle king is just one of the game’s 24 units
As tower defense titles go, Defenders of Ardania a long-haul game. If you want quick and casual gratification, you won’t find it here and will be better suited looking elsewhere. But if you're deeply invested in these games and have some friends of the same cloth looking for a twist on the genre, then DoA's multiplayer is certainly worth investigating. The learning curve is steep, but the Xbox Live action is satisfying. Defenders of Ardania isn't the prettiest game, but there's some elements in place to keep you interested.