Real time strategy games have traditionally had a hard time finding an audience on consoles. Let’s face it, a keyboard and mouse are usually going to be best for the fast paced map management that the genre requires. But after starting up Defenders of Ardania, I felt that those who’s Windows 95 PC’s couldn’t run any recent titles, this Xbox 360 version might be what can get a new audience’s foot in the door. Or at least it could have been, but it never does much to hold your attention for long.
Blending elements of RTS games with traditional tower defense, Defenders of Ardania makes you into a king who must manage territory, troops and resources to continuously build defenses against the evil threatening to destroy your castle. Focusing on both defense and offense, the key to victory is to strategically place towers that can attack incoming enemies while blocking their path towards your castle. At the same time, you’ll try to send in your various units ranging from standard infantry, defensive damage sponges and warriors that can attack enemies that they cross paths. Both sides gain resources by selling towers and destroying enemies, so the more pain you bring to your foes, the more you have to work with. Whoever destroys the opponent’s castle first wins, except for certain chapters in the extensive campaign where additional objectives will be added on… assuming you know what they are. There was more than one occaision where I destroyed the enemy castle, only for a last second objective to be tacked on with little explaination, (aside from a blink and you’ll miss it box of text.) Two minutes later, I somehow lost and had to redo the whole 30 minute stage over again. There’s nothing more exciting than having to redo a whole stage for reasons you don’t understand!
The single player campaign does a good job of getting you acquainted with the game’s fundamentals, but it moves way too slow for my tastes. After about four missions in, (about two hours later,) the laughably bad narrator, (sounding like a really awful Sean Connery impersonator,) loosens up the leesh and leaves you to your own devices for the most part. But even as new abilities such as magic become unlocked, more offensive techniques open up and more units are introduced, the game pretty much boils down to whoever spams out the most units with the best tower placement wins. The majority of the maps are so small, there’s really not a lot of improvisation that can be brought in anyway, so it’s not like you have much choice. And by the way, it doesn’t help that the console controls are needlessly confusing, (why do I have to build towers with A, but I send out units with X?) Playing online adds more strategy since you’ll have real people who can either help or hinder your progress in its Vs. and Survival modes, but it still doesn’t alieviate the fundimental flaw with the game… that it’s just not that fun to play.
So is Defenders of Ardania a lost cause? Not completely, since I do feel that it’s early stages are a great introduction for those new to strategy games as far as the basics and its visuals are pretty damn good. But long before the story is finished, newbies will get bored and want something more in depth while RTS vets are likely to scoff at how limited this game is compared to some of the greats. And at 1200 Microsoft Points, ($15 for those outside of Xbox land,) it’s a pretty steep price for a game with only a handful of functions. My advice? Try the demo and get the hang of the mechanics, because the full game doesn’t change much, then move on to a deeper console experience like Halo Wars. I hear it’s pretty cheap right now. But as far as this game goes, it’s far to limited to justify a purchase, and there’s not much anyone can do to defend it.
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade, (Also on PC, PSN)
Price: 1200 MSP, ($15)