Trying to explain the complexities of a video game with the written word can often be a challenging task. How do you clearly and concisely convey the experience of interactive play? Sometimes though, a video game can be vividly summed up with just a few words, as is the case for Warparty. That’s because Warparty is Warcraft 2 with dinosaurs.
This is as old school as RTS’ get without quite literally going back to the Stone Age. You gather resources, in this case crystals and food, to construct buildings which will generate military units. Those same resources can be used to upgrade your settlement and unlock higher tier buildings and units in the process. Create the bigger army, doing so quicker than your opponents, and victory will soon be yours. It’s a game as old as time and feels, quite frankly, tired.
Warparty has taught me to hate artificial intelligence. That’s not because AI has the potential to change humanity forever, taking over our jobs and ultimately knowing us better than we know ourselves, but rather because it can play Warparty without the severe hindrance of a cumbersome PlayStation controller. As I desperately and clumsily try to gather an army large enough to rush the enemy base, the opposing AI has already mustered an armada that easily washes my puny defences away. I lose. Again.
It is a problem that compounded my time with Warparty. A gamepad is just not a suitable device to play an RTS that hasn’t been designed specifically with it in mind, and the developers offer little innovation to overcome this issue. Selecting units is fiddly and unintuitive and, more importantly, it is slow. Real time strategy games, from Dune 2, to Command and Conquer, Warcraft 2 and onwards, are all about efficiently constructing the largest force possible. For high level play there’s the argument that many different strategies are available, but no matter your plan, if you cannot mine resources and construct units at a rapid pace, then you are doomed.
Co-developers Warcave and Crazy Monkey Studios’ solution to this issue is by pausing the game whenever the player accesses construction or unit selection wheels, the problem with this approach is that it kills the pacing. The construction and unit production phase become even more of a tedious slog than usual because tasks you set running are paused while you try to manage other jobs.
Which is a real shame as there are some things I like about Warparty. The setting is delightfully refreshing, taking an RTS and plonking it way back in the Stone Age is inspired, and the charming and chunky art style brings to life some brilliant units. I mean, what’s not to like about Triceratops-riding cave men? There’s also some terrific dinosaur factoids to be found during loading times; I now know why we’ll never be able to clone dinosaurs as in Jurassic Park. This makes me sad.
Upon starting the game the player can choose from one of three factions to compete in skirmishes or a short campaign. There’s the Wildlanders, the prototypical cave people who ride the aforementioned triceratops, the Necromas, basically the undead, who can send hordes of zombies, elementals and golems to do their bidding, and the Vithara utilise the flora and fauna of the Stone Age, meaning they can get wild dinosaurs to do all the killing for them.
There’s an attempt from the developers to ensure that the factions offer contrasting play styles, even if rushing remains the only sensible strategic choice. Whilst the Wildlanders are fairly standard for an RTS, they are enlivened immeasurably by being able to ride Dinosaurs and Megafauna to battle. The Vithara are a unique faction as their minions, will-o-wisps, must be sacrificed to create buildings, and though their units are dinosaurs and are immensely powerful, they are also costly. Then there’s the Necromas which blend the more conventional building style of the Wildlanders with the novel ability of being able to recruit the recently dead to their cause
Whilst the factions are distinct, there are some definite balancing issues. The Necromas have a massive advantage thanks to the fact that zombies can be spawned automatically with no resources required. In the console version, where selecting building to create units is such a chore, the ability to summon a horde of zombies to replace the fallen with little to no effort is a huge boon.
Map design is of a high calibre throughout, thanks to the liberal use of chokepoints and bottlenecks to encourage conflict between the armies. Each location also has a selection of shrines, these spiritual sites offer the opportunity to earn magical energy to cast powerfull spells. Special offensive attacks and defensive buffs can help change the course of a battle and are on offer for those who have accumulated enough magic power. As you can imagine, these sites are much sought after. There’s little strategic nuance to be found in controlling these shrines however, you just send a massive army to go sit on them.
There’s some bemusing omissions – why you can’t save mid-game in the campaign mode, but can in a skirmish is beyond me – and some technical issues – things really start to get a bit choppy when a lot of units are onscreen – but ultimately Warparty is let down by unwieldy controls and an insistence on following old school RTS traditions.