Defenders of Ardania Review (Xbox360)

Hot on the heels of its recent release on the iPad, Paradox Interactive's Defenders of Ardania takes up residence on PC, Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network.

The tower defence genre started as a minimalistic spin-off from the strategy genre, removing any offensive play and instead focusing on making the player hold out against waves of oncoming opponents. Unlike the majority of its forebears, this isn't the case in Defenders as offensive play is a core component of the experience. Though you still have to set up defensive towers in order to prevent enemy forces from breaching your base (or castle in this case) victory is achieved by getting enough of your own troops past your enemy's fortifications and into their castle.

A lot can be occurring at any given time especially in a match with four teams

But that's not all Defenders adds to the standard formula. Not only can towers and units be levelled up but other team-wide upgrades can be purchased. Various powers can also be initiated for a price such as the ability to repair your castle or cast a destructive spell on a particular area of the map. A rudimentary resource system is also in place as is a limit to how many towers and units you can have on the field. This forces you to maximise the efficiency of your resources, structures and troops in any given situation.

Its safe to say that Defenders doesn't lack complexity. Heck, if the maps were more open and your units directly controllable it would pretty much be a fully fledged real-time strategy game.

Sometimes this can be to its disadvantage though. Given how you have to manage your defences whilst checking on your units' progress it's hard to keep an eye on the whole battle. The polygonal graphics often contributes to this, making the action appear too busy to get a clear sense of what's going on. If you're playing as the same faction as your opponent it's basically impossible to differentiate between his structures and yours at a glance. You do have a mini-map for a simpler (though even more zoomed out) view of the action but I can't help but feel something more could have been done to address this.

Sadly, the game (at least on Xbox Live) doesn't seem to have garnered an audience for the multiplayer component

Defenders' other notable frustration is the campaign's erratic difficulty curve. Though tutorial information about the game's core mechanics is imparted well over a good amount of time, missions will arise that will completely halt your forward momentum. Most of these moments of frustration could have been avoided if there was a decent hint system in place. Through dialogue from the story's talking heads you are told what your next objective is, but rarely do they tell you how to accomplish it even if you're taking an inordinate amount of time to do it.

The game handles well on a controller despite its many layers. The menu systems is pretty elegant with the upgrade, powers and unit screens mapped to different directions on the d-pad. Placing a tower is as you'd expect, hovering your cursor over an eligible grid square and hitting A to pop open the build menu.

It is somewhat baffling that the map's grid overlay and unit health bars aren't displayed by default though.

Besides the lengthy story campaign Defenders offers a good amount of additional content. You can fire up skirmish mode at any time to replay story missions, remove all offensive play for the classic tower defence experience and play a limited resource endurance mode.

The graphics are nice, if a bit unpolished. Music, sound and voice acting are largely forgettable though

The game is supported by full online play allowing you and up to three others to compete or co-operate across the campaign's maps. Away from the fairly single minded A.I. the Defenders becomes much more open, enabling a wider array of strategies. It's just a shame that it has only been a couple of days since the game's release and the community is already basically non-existent. Don't expect to be playing with strangers any time soon.

Defenders of Ardania is competently made but doesn't really excel in any particular area. I might have rated it higher if it wasn't for the 1200 Microsoft Points asking price (that's £10.28 or €14.40 in real money), but as it stands this feels a little steep for a tower defence game regardless of its level of complexity. If you have an affinity for the strategy sub-genre you'll probably want to check it out. If you're indifferent or dislike it then you won't miss out for skipping this one.

Top game moment: Beating a stage and watching your opponent's castle crumble. Sweet, sweet victory.

Format Played: Xbox 360