Petroglyph Games is a name you might not know by heart, but you will know their games, they have crafted some of the best RTS games including some Star Wars games and recently Forged Battalion, but they have been working away on their own little series, 8-bit Armies as well and have now brought 8-Bit Hordes across to PlayStation 4, but how does it go.
The game offers up three modes for you to enjoy, Campaign, Skirmish and Multiplayer, each has something a little different to offer, but Campaign is likely where you will spend your time. Once you select it, the game will ask which one you want, as it offers up two, one where you are immersed in the world of Orcs and skeletons and the other where you are humans and dwarves. If this sounds like some familiar territory, then you are on the right track as the game sticks to the well-known fantasy characters. The problem is, each campaign is broken up into a dozen or so mission, each with their own objectives to complete, but there is nothing tying one mission to the next, you just move on. This also has the downside of not providing any incentive to care about the characters, there is no single commander that goes from battle to battle, you just move from one to the next.
Actually, playing the game though, has some challenges that hurt it, but overall the gameplay is fun and open, meaning you don’t need to invest dozens of hours, just to get the basics down. Each time you start a mission, you will have a stronghold and maybe a few soldiers available to you, the rest is up to you to build. Some missions will task you with building a few extra locations, barracks and farms are the order of the day, and those are really straight forward and can be beaten with ease, the ones that require you to defeat someone, or take down a number of enemy encampments will be a real challenge. At the start of any mission, there are three things you will need to do, first is whack down some barracks, as the more you have the faster you can crank out soldiers, second are farms, if you want more people in your army, you need to place farms as that is the only way you can increase the population cap.
Once you have those down, it is time to start building up your forces, this is where things can get a little weird, when you create a soldier, you can use one of three face buttons to create him, which assigns him to that group, so as I played on the PlayStation 4 version, that meant that Square, Triangle or Circle were my options. This is very important, because once they are assigned to that group, they are there for good and you can’t select only a few members of any group, if you want to move one, you have to move them all. My process, after the first few missions, was to create a nice collection of soldiers in two groups, each that I could move around, the third one, would remain a much smaller group and they would live at the stronghold, giving it support, whilst my attention was elsewhere.
Finally, the other important part of the game is resources, which thankfully is stripped down to a very basic system, something that I really enjoy. Your stronghold has a few carts at the start and they will run back and forth to some gold refineries, which is your way of building up resources. You can place more carts down, increasing your pick up rate, but also draining that vein of gold much faster, so it requires balance. Once your nearest vein has been drained, the carts will start moving to the next one, on their own, which is very nice, but also a pain, as the nearest one is more often than not, in the middle or at least at the edge the enemy. If they have to pass through the enemies’ sights to reach a vein, you run the risk of having them blow it up, as they are quite defenceless, the way to get around that is to build more strongholds, close to the vein, but that is not as easy as it sounds. In order to build more buildings, they have to be constructed within range of another one, so no plopping down strongholds right next to the gold. The challenge in doing it this way, is that each time you build a barracks, farm, sorcerers tower or something else, you leave them unprotected, arrow towers are a great defence, but they take time to build. While it is possible to beat most missions without worry about extra veins, pretty soon, you will need to pay some attention to them and unless you have been practicing, it will be something quite difficult to manage.
Once you have conquered both campaigns, or if you want something different, you can venture into Skirmish, which gives you a map, an AI enemy and a host of ways to defeat them. While the campaign missions are short, the earlier ones lasting only a few minutes, any skirmish can run well into 30-minute territory, even longer, depending on your play style and they are perfect for those looking for a meaty challenge. Multiplayer is the same, but against a real-world person and not an AI. A lot of people will overlook these modes until later on, which is a shame, as they can be a lot of fun, the Skirmish will give you a chance to flex your muscles, and explore the pros and cons of each building and unit, far more than you can in the campaign and multiplayer, if you are anything like me, which show just how bad you suck at the game.
One of the games draws is that is pulled from the same ‘universe’ as the other 8-bit games, just with a fantasy skin, visually, that is supported by the larger than life blocks, that help make up just about everything. Characters, buildings, trees, ground and everything else you can think of are made from blocks and while it does not really look 8-bit, it does look a lot like Lego, which is more than ok. The maps, even while covered in the ‘fog of war’ are still easy to understand, as there are clear distinctions between the height of the land. Some of the maps stick to the green forest look a lot, but there are some ice based levels and even some that start to blend parts together. Building designs are bold and standout, even with the two distinct looks, there is little hiding what each is supposed to be, if you learn one side, the other side is easy to pick up.
The sound is a mixed bag, the score is great at times, but there is a real push on retro inspired parts, which in and of itself, would have been great, except when they kick in, the game really wants you to know that they exist. When those parts are silent, you get a lovely fantasy soundtrack, that could easily be applied to a middle-earth style RTS game, it is simple and yet kicks in when the action does, helping convey that sense of scale and gravitas. The worst part are the characters themselves, each time you tell a group to move, they have a remark they have to say and they are annoying and shallow, the worst part they only have two or three, which means they repeat, a lot.
8-bit Hordes is a game that is easily recommendable to those who enjoy the RTS genre, or those looking to step into it for the first time. While the game has been out on PC for a while, its console counterpart is something that is a little odd, the controls are simple, but they cut away a lot of the potential for micro-managing units, something which you need to do in any good RTS games. For a launching point, this will give you the basics of the genre, without throwing countless amounts of technical parts at you.