Defenders of Ardania Mixes RTS Sensibilities with Tower Defense (PREVIEW)

After first-person shooters, the genre most inundated with entries that people can’t seem to get enough of may well be tower defense. Cruising Steam, it seems as though the fields of tower defense titles might never end, and they’re all cheap. And they’re all fun, to be honest: it’s almost difficult to make a tower defense game that’s not fun.

But with so much competition in the genre, there are also some very cool games out there that take the basic skeleton of tower defense and flesh it out with interesting innovations. Anomaly: Warzone Earth makes you the attacking force fighting off enemy towers. Sanctum mixes tower defense with FPS. And Defenders of Ardania, a new TD game from Paradox Interactive, delivers a honed real-time strategy experience overlaid on a TD framework.

Broken down to its absolute simplest, Defenders of Ardania is a tower defense game. You’ll earn money over time, spend it on towers, and use them to keep attacking groups of enemies from destroying your base. Levels are set up on a grid, and you’ll create defensive mazes to slow down enemy advances. It’s all pretty standard, except for one thing: You’re attacking the other guy too.

In a twist, the enemy is also setting up towers to defend a base, and you’ll spend resources to dispatch various kinds of units to run the gauntlet and attack your opponent’s stronghold. Some just run for the opposite end of the maze, while others attack enemy units or towers along the way. The more units you send, the more experience they gain, making them more powerful, and before long, you’ll have access to “hero” units who are supercharged.

What results is a game that feels like it cribbed some awesome ideas from WarCraft III and other RTS games to add a surprising degree of depth to a tower defense game. Defenders of Ardania quickly becomes a battle of attrition, once you max out the towers you can build. Strategy is a result of constantly spamming units of various types, reinvesting your wealth, and adding and removing towers to open new paths or overtake an enemy’s portion of the maze. But you’re always limited by certain caps, like number of towers or number of units, meaning many battles become tough fights of willpower.

Ardania packs a campaign mode with a whole bunch of missions aligned to its story, plus a multiplayer mode in which up to four players can duke it out and can even take on AI enemies. It has both a tendency to be interesting, and to be a frantic mess. But in general, Ardania is a mix of quick thinking and slow, methodical gameplay, and it certainly seems as though it’ll offer tower defense fans a little something new in a genre full of similarities.

Defenders of Ardania is due on Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, the Playstation Network on Dec. 8, and Paradox is also releasing an iPad version. The downloadable title will run $14.99 on Steam and PSN, $4.99 on iTunes, and 1,200 MS Points on Xbox 360.

Follow Hornshaw on Twitter: @philhornshaw.

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