8-Bit Hordes

A review of the console port of 8-Bit Hordes from Petroglyph Games

There’s a reason few real-time strategy games come to console – it’s impossible to imitate the precision selection of a mouse, and the endless number of keyboard buttons that can be mapped, on a simple controller. Apparently Petroglyph Games missed this memo, as they’ve just ported several of their 8-Bit series onto consoles.

8-Bit Hordes, the second game in the series (after 8-Bit Armies and before 8-Bit Invaders), is a classic RTS in the vein of Commander and Conquer or The Battle For Middle Earth. This installment in the franchise uses a fantasy setting. Petroglyph Games are clearly experts at this genre, having also developed Star Wars: Empire at War and the upcoming Command and Conquer: Remasters, but 8-Bit Hordes is a surprisingly sloppy entry to the franchise.

In 8-Bit Hordes you control an army and must destroy another army on the same map. To do so you must exploit the landscape, create buildings, and use these buildings to create units and defend your base from the enemy – all of these points it has in common with its numerous peers. But each of these elements are so light or empty that it mitigates the necessity for them.

For example, exploring a map is a staple of strategy games – you can find useful locations and bonuses, or tactical locations. Other than the occasional chest of money or an extra unit, the maps of 8-Bit Hordes are bare, and there’s no reason to explore them when you can immediately guess where the opponent is. This mitigates much of the tug-of-war that these games descend into, where a fight for resources is a fight for dominance, and thus the stakes of each micro-action is limited.

Similarly there’s a huge lack of actual content in 8-Bit Hordes. Each faction has only a small handful of troops or building types, and there are no upgrades, hero units, and only one type of resource to harvest. The knock-on effect of the shallow content pool is that there’s no real need for nuanced tactics – the only necessary strategy for victory is to create a huge mob of the three vital types of unit, and swarm the opponent base. Admittedly the game is called 8-Bit Hordes, and so a degree of mindless attrition is to be expected, but the joy of strategy games is in using novel or inventive combinations of skills and units to find victory – there’s no need for that if you can just engulf the opponent in your soldiers.

The lack of content in the game is a little curious given that much of the game seems re-skinned from 8-Bit Armies. In the troop tree menus you can find the entire troop and building trees for the game and 8-Bit Invaders, and one unit type is supposedly good against “vehicles”. Suffice to say 8-Bit Hordes has no vehicles – but 8-Bit Armies does.

The game can be played in two modes – campaign or skirmish – both single or multiplayer. The campaign is a slow introduction to the troops and buildings of the game, whereas the skirmish mode provides relative freedom. The campaign feels odd given that, by limiting troop options, the first few missions are extremely hard compared to later ones. As a result the levels feel rather unfair – and the only option to remedy this is more and more waves of hordes thrown against the penetrable walls of the opponent.

If there is one positive aspect of the game it’s the visuals, which is a surprise given how garish 8-bit aesthetics often are. Each faction has a distinct colour scheme, and the maps are designed well enough that everything is easy to see and distinguish – you’ll never question what a certain group of blocks is, or where your troops are.

The newest release of 8-Bit Hordes is a console port, however the game works well as an example of why real-time strategies don’t work on consoles. There’s no zoom on the maps, and directing troops to move or attack is based on a joystick cursor, but the result of this is that it’s incredibly hard directing troops effectively. Often you’ll try to command archers to attack a unit but since it’s so small you’ll miss and the archers will run towards the enemy, making the vulnerable. Other times you’ll try to amass your troops but accidentally click on one of them, deselecting the rest.

Troop selection is rather simple – when you create them you can map selecting them to one of three buttons, and this is a neat solution to a major problem in console RTSes. However this just compounds the aforementioned problem in simplicity – you can only ever have three different groups of troops, disincentivizing complex strategies and encouraging horde mentality.

8-Bit Hordes isn’t buggy, broken, or offensive in any way. But it’s also just not fun, as the shallow features fail to engage the gameplay loops and exciting gameplay that the game’s influencers’ enjoy. The difficult console controls just hammer the issues home.

Tom Bedford

Updated: Jan 18, 2019

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