Your tutorial in Defenders of Ardania is given by someone doing their best Sean Connery impersonation, mildly amusing at first, grating and irresponsible design at the worst. Tiresome suits it too, Ardania’s cheap, dime novel fantasy realm fitted with constantly evolving mechanics. That’s fine.
Not so fine is sitting through the unnecessarily extended dialogue exchanges as said mechanics are explained. Since they’re directly tied to the gameplay, you can’t skip them. Ardania is relatively unapologetic late in the campaign, and it’s wonderful for an Arcade tower defense title to require the tighter elements of strategy. That said, it is a tower defense title on XBLA, and much like twin stick shooters, there’s a plethora to choose from.
The Defenders element of the title isn’t entirely truthful, although you are battering enemy hordes with ballistas and other weaponry to prevent access to your castle. The kicker here is the ability to send offensive forces the other direction, turning the castle into something more than a monument to your instantaneous greatness. Troops vary their skill sets, leveling up to produce uber troopers, and march on, most likely to their death. Oddly, you feel even less emotion for you own squadrons than you do for the enemies. Mostly it’s frustration from the indecisive AI.
You can’t entirely blame the decision making. Ardania’s battles are not always duels, rising complexity bringing with it four-way scuffles. With the map clustered, barely finding the means to contain the rising towers, it can be difficult to sort through it all. Even finding personal building projects amidst the mess deep into wartime scuffles can be complex, let alone path finding.
Ardania’s building limits, say a maximum of 10 towers per side on average, tends to create stalemates. Opposing forces send familiar waves with little variation, turning trained soldiers into speared cattle herds. Eventually, the cycle is broken, the player’s army marches en masse, and it’s over for the weakling opposition. Getting to that point, setting up frantically, leveling, and dropping magic on their surely ugly faces is where Ardania finds its groove.
Clearly, Ardania is meant for multiplayer beat downs, with three separate modes bringing a mixture of co-op and versus. While friendly armies are no smarter, at least matches feel less phoned in than the patterned campaign. So long AI and Sean Connery sound-a-like. We hardly knew ye.
Defenders of Ardania is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Alcohol References, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language.