Petroglyph Games are on a real tear right now. After partnering with SOEDESCO to release 8-bit Armies on consoles, the studio announced that they would be involved with the remaster of Command and Conquer with EA and that their other title, 8-Bit Invaders, would also be heading to consoles, again with SOEDESCO. They’re on fire right now and are continuing that trend with 8-Bit Hordes, stomping its way onto consoles in early February.
If you’ve played 8-Bit Armies, you’ll know what to expect here. Much of Hordes is exactly the same. A voxel art, real time strategy base builder, 8-Bit Hordes is a Warcraft-esque game that simplifies and refines that formula in a fantasy setting. The integral difference here is that instead of soldiers, you’re playing as either the dark Deathsworn or the noble forces of the Lightbringers. While the visuals of both factions differ, the Deathsworm having goblins and orcs while the Lightbringers have Ents and explosive throwing dwarves, the abilities of each side are equally matched when it comes down to it.
To simplify the control system of an RTS for consoles, 8-Bit Hordes follows the example of its predecessor and allows you to only spawn troops into 3 groups, each mapped to a button on the controller. When on the troop creation menu, troops are allocated to the group for which button you press. This does make managing large groups of monsters/Knights a doddle but it does mean that you’re limited to the number of troop groups you can have roaming around. There are ways to select one or small groups of soldiers, however they’re really fiddly to use.
Both factions in the game have an 11 mission long campaign, each with their own objectives. Missions begin with simple aims such as “Destroy X number of opposition farms” or “Build X War Councils” but by the end, result in all-out war. The tactics for each are similar however. There’s mines dotted around the map which provide gold which can be spent on new buildings or troops. Unlike 8-Bit Armies however, there’s no refinery here for the resource. It’s brought directly into your castle/base and can be spent immediately. Building certain buildings enables the creation of new troop types or other buildings. Upgrading your base enables that too. The main campaign guides you through this tech tree gently so you get time to acclimatise yourself to each new building or troop.
Each of the 22 campaign levels have 2 bonus objectives too. These often mean going out of your way not to complete the main objective – like protecting a structure type instead of going on the offensive – but are worth doing because the more bonus objectives you unlock, the more troops and buildings you’re granted at the start of each subsequent mission. There’s 3 difficulty levels too, the easiest of which is a walk in the medieval park, allowing you to leave your base entirely undefended at times, while the most difficult is a real juggling act of defence and offence.
When 8-Bit Hordes was released on PC, there was a criticism levelled at it that it was just a reskin of 8-Bit Armies. While there are a lot of striking similarities between the two – the UI, the menu, the game’s structure and the pathing – I’d argue that 8-Bit Hordes is a far more charismatic title. The voice acting in particular stands this title out from its predecessor because it’s plainly more fun. Selecting an Ent, for example, triggers a vocal line poking fun at Tolkien’s fantasy epic. The same can be said about selecting a Lightbringer grunt who proclaims “I wish I had a horse” when you instruct them to walk somewhere. The sound track from composer Frank Klepacki is also excellent, really leaning into that fantasy setting with big sweeping scores and brimming with pomp.
Multiplayer and customisable skirmishes also make a return for 8-Bit Hordes, which allow you to play against a friend or the AI in a battle to the death. In an impressive addition, all of the maps and factions from 8-Bit Armies are included here for use too, which means you can have the Renegades vs the Deathsworn if that takes your fancy. I’ve only managed to play 1 game of online multiplayer while reviewing the game but it worked seamlessly.
Many of the same concerns I had about 8-Bit Armies remain for 8-Bit Hordes though. The story is represented by nothing but a passage of text on the level select screen and commanding your army is still stiff and unwieldy, despite the 8-Bit series making the most of the restrictions of a controller. Troops sometimes take insane paths to their instructed destinations and seem unable to judge what to attack first when they come under fire when left alone for a moment too.
What could have been a decent sized expansion to 8-Bit Armies has shaped into its own fully fledged release, for which it probably deserves. More charming and fun than a simple reskin though, 8-Bit Hordes is an accessible Warcraft-meets-Command & Conquer RTS that’s as deep as you want it to be but comes with many of the same issues as its predecessor.
8-Bit Hordes is set for release on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 (review version) on February 1, 2018. The game is currently available on PC.
Developer: Petroglyph Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a code for the game. Please see our review policy for more information.