Defenders of Ardania Review
Probably the most complete tower defense game that you'll play, but that's not saying much
In the gaming universe, evolution doesn’t always proceed from simple to complex: sometimes we like to think of the history of gaming as starting with the basic block shapes of Pong and Breakout before slowly progressing to the more complex joys of Super Mario Brothers platforming and finally ending with, say, Everquest. The tower defense genre is a fun violation of this natural progression, as it’s an entire genre of gaming that was spawned simply from a fun bonus level in Warcraft III. Since then, there have been dozens, maybe hundreds of incarnations of this most simple concept: swarms of units with varying attributes are traveling slowly down a twisting road to your base, and your sole defenses are the projectile-flinging towers that line the road (but, of course, may never block it).
The genre has seen something of a climax with Defenders of Ardania, a mid-priced title from Paradox Entertainment. Here the standard tower defense setup has been expanded: not only do you need to defend your base from incoming swarms, but you may also generate units of your own to attack the enemy. Both building towers and producing units costs resources, so every expenditure in defense has an opportunity cost. The best part of this game is undoubtedly the beautiful visuals, which follow the high standard of quality set by other Paradox games. Levels take place over sprawling waterfalls or lush jungles with a variety of interesting configurations and setups to play. At the beginning of each campaign level, it will do the player good to pause the game for a second simply to look over the map and take note of the possibilities open to them. What choke points can you create? Which target is your highest priority? Another strong point of the game is the complex layered nature of gameplay. Whereas most tower defense games include one or two innovations that make them stand out from the crowd, Defenders goes one step further by including six or seven of the best ideas. Flying units, hero units, multiple goals, and the ability to change the course of enemy units by considered tower placement, all play a role in the winning strategy.
Complex gameplay is a hallmark of Paradox-developed titles, but it does have its drawbacks. One small issue is that such a complex game system seems to sometimes allow loopholes to be exploited against the AI. On some levels, I had a difficult time beating the AI when I approached the level in a straightforward do-as-expected gameplay... but when I realized that I could instead ‘cheese’ my opponent by simply spamming my swarming units early in the game, forcing the AI to overcompensate by building only towers effective against that unit type, at which point I could finish them off by suddenly switching to a different unit. A human opponent could immediately realize the trick I was playing (and punish me for my lack of defense), but the AI isn’t well prepared for that kind of unorthodox gameplay. Multiplayer is noticeably better in this respect as playing with random strangers on the internet quickly teaches you how to respond to these shallow tactics.
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