STAFF REVIEW of 8-Bit Hordes (Xbox One)

Sunday, February 3, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

8-Bit Hordes Box art I’m terrible at RTS games; always have been. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them, but I won’t be winning any tournaments anytime soon. It’s no secret that RTS games generally don’t work well on console, due to lack of mouse and keyboard precision, though there have been a few exceptions in the past (Halo Wars series). With the recently announced support for mouse and keyboard on Xbox One, maybe we’ll start to see a resurgence of the genre on console. Until then, developers are still trying to figure out the best way to map PC controls onto a controller, with some scattered minor success.

8-Bit Hordes is the latest entry into the genre for consoles, developed by Petroglyph, who house some Command & Conquer veterans, so they do know what they’re doing in the genre. I was hoping that their pedigree would once again prove that RTS games do belong on console, and while it’s completely serviceable as a RTS, it’s also quite bare boned and basic as well.

You begin your campaign by choosing which faction you want to play as, from either the typical ‘good’ or ‘evil’ sides. The Lightbringers are your heroes, while the DeathSworn are your evil orcs. Why these two factions are at war, or their history, will be nowhere to be found. There’s no story included in this ‘campaign’, just a laundry list of skirmish matches to complete. You’re given a cute 8-Bit RTS game with zero narrative and simplistic controls, for better or worse.

The beginning missions will teach you the basics of how to mine resources (gold) and create your units, with each subsequent mission adding difficulty and unlocking new units and buildings as you progress. You’ll need to slog through the campaign though to gain access to the top tier units, a task that will take some time depending on your RTS abilities. While there are difficulty options available, each campaign mission is essentially the same as the last, but with more challenge or unique objectives to complete. For those that want to get the most value, there is quite a lot of content to work towards completing, but don’t expect much variety in the core mission structure.

The first thing you’re going to notice is how fantastic the world of 8-Bit Hordes appears. The retro inspired voxel cubes make up everything in the world, from the environment, units, buildings and more. Your standard isometric view is utilized but don’t expect to be able to rotate or do much else with the camera aside from panning. The visual style works, and seeing little cubes fly in explosions is always a treat.

As a RTS, 8-Bit Hordes is simplistic as it comes, and while that’s needed for a console version to some degree, it’s almost too basic. You can easily select a group of troops you have, but if you want to target a single unit and give them a direction, it’s difficult and tedious to do. There’s also not that many different types of units. Sure, by the end you’ll have a handful, but it’s still very minimal if you’re used to more popular titles in the genre.

Sure, it ticks off all the checkmarks a RTS needs mechanically, such as base building and resource gathering, but even that is very limited. Your minecarts will find the nearest mine to gather from until it’s depleted, but the AI isn’t very bright, as it’ll simply go to the next nearest mine when depleted, even if it’s in enemy territory. Your resources is how you afford to create new buildings and units, and even though it’s simplistic in nature, there’s still a lot of micromanaging to be done.

Barracks are needed to create units, and farms are needed to feed those units and raise your population cap. When you’re choosing a unit, it will be grouped into one of the three buttons you press, allowing you to have a quick hotkey to one of three groups. Press that button twice and you’ll select the whole group of units in that squad. Again, if you want to do more minute movements, like pick half your units, or certain ones, you’re going to see where this is extremely limited. For example, I wanted to split one of my squads up to scout ahead and also guard my base, but there’s no way to select an area of units by dragging a cursor; it’s basically all or nothing. Sure, you could select each individual unit and then tell them where to go, but it’s horribly inefficient. It’s almost as if you’re encouraged to build large hordes (hence the name I suppose) and send them towards the enemy en masse, rather than smaller intricate strategies.

Building also suffers from too much simplicity, as you’re only able to create or upgrade one building at a time. This causes for a lot of wasted time, either waiting until it’s complete, or refocusing on your base to build the next one you want, as you can’t queue them like units. Also, you can only build within a very small radius of your buildings, so you’re confined to a small area unless you build a row of arrow towers or farms, allowing you to build within range of them. Again, since you’ll have to take your focus away from your hordes to do this every single time, it becomes quite a chore.

Even with its drawbacks, I was learning to deal with the shortcomings, but you’ll eventually hit a brick wall of difficulty in the campaign on top of everything else. Enemies become much harder and more aggressive as you progress, which is normally fine, but it really spikes out of nowhere, adding to more frustration on top of the mechanical ones. Eventually I was just queuing up a backlog of units to create as they would suicide into packs of enemies, slowly making progress. It didn’t at all feel tactical or strategic though, but it’s as though you don’t have the tools to do much else, as opposed to what other 'fuller' RTS games offer.

There is an option for multiplayer online, though don’t expect much of a community to be playing unless you already have friends also with the title, as I was unable to find anyone else to play with the whole week I was playing, though that was before the masses were playing it as well, so it's hard to judge. Skirmishes are a fun way to pass the time, but the campaign is really the meat of the whole experience. Interestingly, there's cross-title play between their other games' factions from 8-Bit Armies as well; Armies, Hordes and Invaders factions can all battle one another.

For all of its shortcomings, 8-Bit Hordes still serves as a capable console RTS, even if it’s almost too bare boned. While I like the simpler styles of RTS, the lack of tools given really don’t allow for much strategy aside from amassing large hordes and sending them hurling towards the enemies. I really enjoy the 8-Bit visual style, as it suits the gameplay and setting, it’s just a shame it’s leaps behind the competition when it comes to features and mechanics.

Overall: 6.7 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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