Defenders of Ardania Preview
What originally started as a Starcraft mod, tower defense is a rare but enjoyable genre that focuses on the defensive side of RTS games. In other words, it’s a turtler’s dream. Games under this genre, such as Plants Vs. Zombies and Defense Grid: Awakening, tend to be more on the casual development side; you won’t see full-blown $60/$50 commercial games (yet) that focus heavily on this concept, but they are fun to play.
Whether you’re using lethal innocent-looking flowers to destroy zombies or laser turrets to destroy robots, the premise of the game mode is usually the same. Players have a base that they must prevent from being destroyed by waves of enemies. Unlike RTS games, the path to the player’s base is usually walled off to the point where there is only one route in, forcing oncoming forces to use this single path. The player is able to construct towers or other kinds of defensive structures in order to defeat the oncoming waves. Usually constructing these towers costs in some form, so careful planning of when and where to place towers is a must. Different games have different twists, such as providing multiple paths for the enemies to take, tower placement restrictions, or giving the player upgradeable options, but the overall goal is the same.
Defenders of Ardania applies a medieval fantasy setting to the genre. Towers can be placed anywhere along a grid but only within a certain vicinity of the base. Placing towers increases this range by a small radius but will eventually stop to a certain degree. The player can place a different variety of towers, including spear-throwing towers, a wide range catapults, and even towers that shoot fire.
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The theme is not the only noticeable difference here. In addition to placing towers, players must also assemble their own forces to attack the enemy, who must face the enemy’s towers as well. Forces cost money, and although players gradually gain money over time (as well as from defeating other units), they are limited to the amount of units they can deploy.
The player can assemble different kinds of units, such as guardsmen, clerics, and knights, all ranging in different attributes. Units travel along the same path the enemy does and cannot be controlled directly. Players can set rally points which will direct forces to a certain part of the map, although only one of these points can be used at any given time. Unless directed, forces will take the shortest route to the opponent’s castle. Units essentially disappear once they successfully deal damage to a castle, but it frees one unit slot once they do.
The game starts in a tutorial level, directed by a wizard who guides the player along the way. The tutorial eventually runs into confusing instructional errors, such as verbally telling the player to push the same button to activate two different functions. (Referencing the controls in the options menu quickly remedies this, as well as finding out a more comfortable way of moving the camera around if you’re playing this with a mouse.) Hopefully this will be fixed upon release.
Unfortunately, this preview is short-lived as the second level seems unbalanced in its current state. The player starts out outnumbered and must react accordingly within seconds (by sending forces to the secondary objective immediately, not building towers) -- otherwise the entire attempt seems futile. The computer won’t react as fast as most players probably would, and it takes a while to place its own towers, but both sides have a limit to the amount of towers they can have in a map. Regardless, the map is small, and a common scenario for the second level ends up with both sides having their towers both near to and far from the other opponent’s castle (as well awkwardly being adjacent to opponent’s towers), meaning units sent out from either side’s castle will be attacked immediately upon being deployed. The tower placements are first-come, first-serve; there's no other restriction. The tower grid for this level is also along the same path forces travel in, which means towers are more than likely to block the path, forcing units to deviate. And if you don't block it, the computer will.
For the player, the only type of unit to make the journey are guardsmen, who have enough health and are fast enough to make it through alive, but chances are, only one of them ends up ever seeing it through, causing very minimal damage to the opponent’s castle. Other units are stronger or healthier but will never make it the journey due to their much slower speed. Eventually the level will allow you to choose upgrades, which are simply cheaper production costs but still won’t help with the tower and unit limit. For some reason, the computer has units that can actually attack your units along the road, something that your own units can’t seem to do. But at least the chances of the computer’s units making it through are even worse.
All of the above issues boil down to the second level being a trial of patience. Both side’s units hardly end up surviving constant bombardment, taking ages before either castle actually sustains damage. In theory, the level would take up to at least an hour (with the fast-forward feature on), compared to the mere 10 minutes of the previous stage. Without having advanced units or options given to the player, the level never finishes.
In addition to the campaign, players can also play offline skirmish or multiplayer online. (This was untested with the game in its current phase.) Skirmish has three game modes: normal, survival, and limited resources. Normal mode essentially lets the player replay the campaign mission again. Survival mode allows for play of any level but with the objective of surviving an endless wave of forces. Limited resources is the same as normal but only provides a finite amount of resources, forcing the player to make careful decisions. Unfortunately, all these modes only allowed play for what was unlocked, and due to time constraints, that's all we were able to preview.
In conclusion, Defends of Ardania, at least from the first level, proves to be a very unique and interesting take on the tower defense genre. The additional ability to create your own forces, as well as multiplayer -- both a first for the genre -- is a great stepping stone of what the future holds for this style of game play. But the second stage needs to be completed before more in-depth reviews can be accomplished.