Defenders of Ardania Provides the Visual Bling But AI Misses the Mark

Posted: December 17, 2011 in Strategy, Tower Defense

The tower defense genre is among the most crowded on the iTunes platform which makes it doubly difficult both for developers to come up with something new and exciting and gamers to find the diamonds in the rough. A new entrant in the genre is Defenders of Ardania by Paradox Interactive, an iPad exclusive game of strategy set in the fantasy world of, you guessed it, Ardania. Depending on your skill level and familiarity with the genre, DoA will grab you by the sword and stab you with gusto, or it will throw a cape over your head and club you with boredom. A big selling point touted for DoA is the ability to control both offensive and defensive weapons that range from troops and towers to magic and spells. But, while DoA is a visual smorgasbord fit for a king, this kingdom’s downfall may come from an AI that in some instances could have been better.

Something that will grab you by the sword is the deep visuals of the backdrops. As you do battle across Ardania, you’ll do so in the shadows of towering castles and monuments across vast lands each with their own physical and geographic barriers. It’s obvious that the devs invested significant effort to create just the right feel and spared no expense on the eye candy. During gameplay, the animations are equally engaging without being overwhelming.

Playing as one of three races—Human, Undead, and Nature each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, DoA provides three game modes: Campaign, Skirmish and Defend as well Multiplayer. Campaign takes you through the15-level story; Skirmish pits you against the computer; and Defend forces you to protect your base from enemy forces. Unfortunately, the game does not offer difficulty settings because this omission comes back to haunt DoA like a scorned witch but more on that later. The tutorial is pretty bare bones presented as a series of static screens that highlights the array of weapons and spells. Also, additional tutorial tips are provided as a crawler along the bottom of the screen during gameplay.

As with any TD, the objective in DoA is to defeat opposing forces while defending your own chivalrous hide. As mentioned, the big differentiator with DoA is that it goes beyond simply defending—it also allows for a strong offense where you have the ability to send troops into battle whether it’s fighting with foe thugs or conquering the opposing castle before your enemy does. The real-time strategy (RTS) element adds a bit of depth to DoA which I really like in concept. Similar to other TD games, you can place additional towers, upgrade existing ones or deploy additional troops. The magic spells are an additional element which I like primarily because of the on-screen fireworks associated with things getting blown up. And, as you defeat enemies, you earn experience which can be used to boost your defenses.

Of course, resource management is a key part of DoA since you’ll need to manage your money and resources to win the battle. Because the game only offers a basic tutorial, new gamers either to the genre or to DoA are left to figure out the nuances of the game on their own. The gameplay in DoA is similar to other tower defense games where you select towers and place them accordingly on appropriate spots on the screen. In DoA, these are represented by green and red squares (green = available; red = not available).

Unlike other TDs, no tutorial level is provided in DoA, and instead is supplemented by a tutorial crawler that provides useful tips during gameplay. The problem, however, is that I found myself not having the time nor the ability to focus on them because my attention is drawn to the battlefield. The crawler is a good idea, but just not executed very well. On that note, watching your strategy act itself out on the field of play is an exciting aspect of TD games, and you certainly do get that with DoA. On the flip side, however, the lack of a fast forward button means the game progresses slowly. Again not a deal breaker by any extent, but plan to spend some time in Ardania purgatory.

Aside from a few minor dings here and there, one issue that may have significant impact with TD aficionados is the AI, and I chalk this down to personal experience with the genre. While the AI should be challenging enough for novices, medium to advanced level players may likely find the AI seriously lacking. This goes back to the omission of difficulty settings which unfortunately makes the game a bit on the easy side. What often happens is that opposing forces didn’t respond to my tactics at least quickly enough so I found myself winning maps on my first attempt. It’s a letdown since DoA is a beautifully designed TD with plenty to offer. Don’t get me wrong, developing a well-balanced AI is no easy challenge in itself, but it has a serious effect—both positive and negative—on the player experience.

Overall, DoA is a solid TD offering with a bit of innovative thinking when it comes to allowing gamers to play both sides of strategy. The visuals set the game apart and takes advantage of real estate on the iPad. However, the AI is the chink in the DoA armor that will likely find an audience with those new to the genre, but less so with the more experienced TD gamer. At least, there’s a lite version so you can find out for yourself.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (game brings something new to the genre with some great visuals; the environment provides a good feel and delivers a strong level of engagement; minor issues abound; weak/decent AI appropriate for TD novices, not so much for advanced players)

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