Thank goodness for chunky pixelated graphics. Without them I would fear that, despite 8-Bit Hordes developer Petroglyph Games having pedigree from the Command & Conquer series, they would have Blizzard’s lawyers knocking at their office door. Their adoption of Warcraft 1 and 2’s game mechanics is pretty bare-faced, but can 8-Bit Hordes compare to Blizzard’s seminal RTS classic?
The world, armies and characters of 8-Bit Hordes are as generic as they come, its lineage easily traced back through Warcraft, Games Workshop’s Warhammer franchise and ultimately to the main-man himself: J. R. R. Tolkien. It’s the orderly and noble forces of humanity and friends doing battle with the chaotic green-skinned Orcs – or is it Orks? I’m never too sure.
The plot is delivered in poorly translated and clunkily delivered text that makes little to no sense and is best avoided. Though unsurprisingly enough, the missions themselves closely emulate that of Warcraft. For example, the human campaign see’s the blue uniformed armies of homo sapiens having to gather Dwarfish and Elvish allies, see off an evil human rebellion before finally taking it to the invading Orcks. (I figured I should use both ‘c’ and ‘k’, I can’t go wrong that way, right?)
The similarities don’t stop there. Hordes adopts the troop rush tactics that defined Warcraft and C&C in the 90s. In fact, the strategical choices on offer are severely limited by the unstoppable effectiveness of amassing the largest army you can and just charging headlong at an enemy base. Sure, you won’t have the foggiest idea what is going on when the fighting starts, but that doesn’t seem to bother your troops, who will quite happily hack up flesh and building alike on autopilot, resulting in a swift victory. Whilst there are plenty of troops to choose from – all accessed by constructing specific buildings – there’s little need to experiment as a combination of pikeman and bomb tossing Dwarves overcomes almost any obstacle.
It’s to the game’s discredit that it does little during its missions to offer any challenges that require you to develop your tactics. Without this element battles soon become a test of patience and stamina. Do you have the time and inclination to keep on building troops to such an extent that any opposition crumbles before you? Thanks to the gluttony of gold available on each map, you won’t even need to consider the use of your resources. Following the capitalism mantra of ”just keep on spending” is the player’s only option. Each mission has additional objectives for the player to complete in order to encourage replay, but when these amount too little more than ‘kill these troops’ or ‘destroy these buildings’, it’s not much of an incentive.
Fortunately the 8-Bit series on console has done a terrific job of overcoming the obstacle of converting a PC RTS to controller. Here troops can be assigned to one of three face buttons and quickly selected by that same button. It’s an efficient system and armies can be quickly directed to a target or manoeuvred around the map with minimal frustration. The issue is that it lacks nuance and serves to further reduce the player’s tactical options. You can only have three groups of troops, and once assigned units cannot be transferred to another button. Were there just a little extra control provided to the player then this system would be brilliant. As is, it allows for the real time, but much of the strategy.
The charming pixelated characters are a clear highlight of the 8-Bit series; giant tree-men stomp to war, foot soldiers complain about the lack of a horse and assorted mauling monsters delight. Voice acting is fun and occasionally funny – the Orcs get all of the stand-out lines. And, despite those blocky visuals, I never found myself unable to identify a particular troop type or building. The visuals are the best feature of the game and their vibrancy serves to allay a little of the tedium of the core gameplay loop.
The two main campaigns are brief, but there’s a wealth of multiplayer content to be found. Online allows for both co-op and competitive play – there’s even the opportunity to do battle with players from the other titles in the 8-Bit series, Armies and Invaders. But no matter how stable the online code is, nor how much more fun proceedings are made with another human rather than dull AI, it doesn’t resolve the issue caused by a strategy game with little strategy.
8-Bit Hordes has attention grabbing visuals but little else on offer. This is Real Time Strategy by the numbers and entirely forgettable, though other developers would do well to remember and adopt the 8-Bit series control scheme. In that regard at least, Hordes might have some of its own ideas pilfered, rather than liberally borrowing everyone else’s.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 – Also available on Xbox One & PC