8-Bit Hordes Review

RTS games are a rather fickle beast. Every element needs to be in order, lest the whole experience fall flat at the finish line. Blizzard’s own work in the genre is the result of decades of grueling effort. There’s a delicate balance in place in 8-Bit Hordes, though it took some time to click for me. After a bit of struggle, I feel a bit better about my tour through this chunky little warzone.

‘Chunky’ is being used in the most endearing way possible, as 8-Bit Hordes simply oozes retro charm. I’m not as easy a target as I used to be when it comes to nostalgia. Pixels and synth loops can only earn you so much good will. No, this game lays it on just right, with old-school aesthetic coming from every angle. The menus, the music, the color palette and the characters all ring the retro bell just right. The victory and loss screens feel like they’re trying just a little bit too hard, but otherwise I’m all aboard this tacky train. Once in a while the music cuts out at some odd moments, but the songs themselves are a nice blend of punchy and restrained. Thankfully the combat effects have some depth, which leads to truly satisfying large-scale battles. In fact, let’s dwell on the battles a bit.

Just Like The Wars Of One’s Childhood

There’s a weird rhythm to the combat in this game. You’ve got no limit to the structures you can build, and there’s only one resource to keep track of. Duplicate buildings let you make fighters faster, which means you can channel your whole being into raising armies at blinding speeds. Yet, you’re limited to making one building at a time, and you go through money crazy fast. You can go from zero to a hundred and back in maybe five minutes. I’ve seen massive armies melt like butter in the microwave, on the other hand. 8-Bit Hordes pulls no punches when it comes to type matchups. In fact, every battle can be a truly harsh lesson if you aren’t paying close attention.

8-Bit Hordes

Lesson one: don’t use the Deathsworn. Of the two campaigns, theirs is inexplicably tough, with the challenge level spiking by stage three. After bashing my head against that wall all night long, The Lightbringers were a breath of fresh air. You get a better variety of units in a shorter time frame, and the challenge doesn’t turn cruel until the halfway point. On top of that, the good guys have Sappers. The side with more explosions wins, you guys. Although the Deathsworn eventually get some amazing units, you have to work a lot harder to acquire them.

Next is type matchups; they’re crazy important! I love how much strategy this adds to the game, but making sure the right people are attacking at the right time is a terrible struggle. You can assign separate hordes to the controller’s face buttons, but this can lead to some tragic command mishaps. I feel obligated to warn you that 8-Bit Hordes is a problem to control, but you knew that going in. Real-time strategy games simply work better on the PC. Console versions will always feel a little slower and clumsier. I’ve yet to encounter a single counter-argument. I haven’t played the PC version, but I would be shocked if it wasn’t at least a little bit easier to control.

Aimless Armies In Arrears

Sometimes these matchups can seem poorly-balanced or uneven. This can either feel like a bug or a feature depending on your play style. Perhaps you take great pleasure in finding the huge holes in every unit’s defense. That’s the fun of RTS games, really. Some units are so good or awful against certain opponents you feel like you just walked through a massive gap in the source code. The Sappers are an excellent example of this. Those innocent little dudes with their exploding projectiles send such waves of suffering through slowly-moving ground units it feels unfair. It’s places like this where you have to seek out that depth you’re looking for. The simple development trees and streamlined resources mean that combat is the beginning and the end of your strategic conniving.

Which leads to the best and the worst part about this game: the depth. I love how simple things are, but this is also crazy frustrating. You’ve got fewer resources to juggle, but you burn through them much faster. The development trees are streamlined, but this limits the variety of your units. The controls are straightforward, but you’re kind of at the mercy of the AI. This lack of depth leads to pacing problems, as well. You can quickly get back on your feet after a battle goes wrong, but so can the enemy. It’s all too easy to end up in a grueling war of attrition with your opponent. Even the build speed becomes a double-edged sword, since you so quickly hit the population limits on each map.

While each element of this game had it’s ups and downs, I was still able to get sucked right into the battles on every stage. Even when battles dragged towards the one-hour mark, the rhythm of construction and conquest was compelling. The catchy music and the destructible environments meant that each fight was fun, even when it was frustrating. Though there were some flaws and stumbling points, I can still easily recommend 8-Bit Hordes to anyone looking for a simpler stroll through RTS territory.