8-Bit Hordes has all the necessary components that make an RTS game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t drive much further beyond that; barring the fairly unique and interesting graphics and catchy music, its various elements of gameplay fall behind other RTS titles.
That being said, I have to emphasise that it does a good job with what it has. Petroglyph Games have managed to develop a graphic style which makes the game more interesting than a generic RTS, despite it being simpler and likely easier to make.
The factions you can choose to play as in 8-Bit Hordes include a generic ‘evil’ faction and a generic ‘good’ faction – the DeathSworn and the Lightbringers. The colour scheme of each faction explains easily enough which belongs to which side of the moral compass, but don’t expect any further development as to why these factions disagree or why they plot wars against one another, other than the simple answer of ‘they are the enemy’.
Barring a small paragraph which gives little background to each campaign mission, there is no story context to be absorbed in this game. It is just simple, destructive RTS fun using the tools that have been provided to you.
The tools being provided sadly don’t compete with any other RTS game I’ve played, even against those more than ten years old. You can’t switch the camera direction. You can’t select a singular unit and give them instructions effectively. You can’t give detailed instructions to your units (or I don’t know how to at least) and you don’t learn the game mechanics very well without reading some pretty tiresome pages of tutorial text.
The menu screen is fairly rough and the same has to be said about the interface. You’ll also find that the campaign missions are standard for the genre of game; start with the basics where you will slowly unlock new units and buildings to use for each mission you unlock. I wanted to play with more advanced units and buildings before the game allowed me to in the campaigns (two for each faction) but fortunately there is a good skirmish mode to practice your strategy skills in; experimenting with the best units in the game including dragons and eagles, ghost scout units and trolls, and superpowers which allow you to bomb your opponent’s base. The music fits alongside the gameplay well but I wanted more of it and more variations of music similar to the soundtrack. It must be said, the audio gets old quick.
The campaigns do not differ too much from one another, other than which faction you play as. Both contain similar types of mission objectives and maps, although thankfully the latter are well-designed with different central focus points and foundational advantages, challenging base-placements and advantageous flanking routes if you can find them.
There are 12 missions in both the Lightbringers campaign and the DeathSworn campaign. They are both fairly lengthy campaigns considering there’s two of them, but most of the missions feel like filler without the inclusion of character-driven heroes and villains which could turn the tide of battle, units with funny voice-dialogue (although the voice dialogue included is good) and building animations which would make you want to expand your base just to see your creations become larger as they unfold.
For me, it is these small additions which make a good RTS game a great RTS game, however 8-Bit Hordes is simply missing these minor but very important details. And yet, it does still function as a fair RTS game for anyone looking to conquer an 8-bit RTS game.
It has a smooth frame rate, units and buildings which can be countered with other more specific ones, unique objectives for every campaign mission, an interesting group control system and more. There are things to be liked and appreciated within this game, but it just doesn’t feel that way because of the drawbacks stopping it from progressing further.
Further to that, both of the campaigns in 8-Bit Hordes on Xbox One see spikes in difficulty as you progress through the levels, and these will eventually force you to switch down the difficulty rather than trying to overcome the challenge with brainpower. This is not what an RTS is supposed to do. It should give you the tools which allow you to try different tactics and overcome the enemy AI through tactics and perseverance.
Instead, you will find yourself being unfairly defeated against an AI whose difficulty has been dialed up because of how far you are along the campaign, leaving you to become frustrated with how different tactics do not change the outcome of being defeated at every attempt.
As well as this, the achievements are absolutely ridiculous in this game as every single one is a secret achievement.
As for the multiplayer and I can, I’m sorry to say, confirm that there a few issues with connectivity plaguing it at the moment. It took me multiple attempts to host a game successfully, which is slightly worrying. When I did get into a game however, the same experience existing within the normal campaign was copied into here but with the obvious twist of playing against real people. It is what you’d expect, nothing more, nothing less.
Attempting to complete cooperative missions of the 8-Bit Hordes campaign helped confirm my suspicions about the single-player campaign. Having no choice of difficulty for this co-op campaign, the difficulty is astoundingly high. Being a fairly experienced RTS player alongside another experienced RTS player, we struggled to survive for any reasonable length of time; the enemy AI would rush our bases with more units than we could possibly defend against.
This really does need to be changed so that you actually have a chance in competing against the enemy. In its current state, the difficulty spike it presents makes things near unplayable.
An absolutely fine RTS game which has things to like about it, but that is all that 8-Bit Hordes is. It does not venture beyond this mediocre territory because of its limiting gameplay, uninteresting factions, poor interface and difficulty spikes. I wish I liked it more than I do, but I don’t.