Back in November 2018 I reviewed 8-Bit Armies – a blocky pixel RTS in the vein of a simplified Command and Conquer. I noted at the time that 8-Bit Armies was but 1/3 of a series which was due to fully release over the next few months. So, here we are with the second instalment of the franchise, 8-Bit Hordes.
If you’ve already played 8-Bit Armies then you’ll know what to expect, if not then we’re looking at a game created by Command and Conquer veterans (the good versions) yet the game has been made more casual and accessible to controller support. One of the biggest draws of the series for me has to be its Cross-Game multiplayer – not Cross-Platform, Cross-Game. However, there’s something ‘wrong’ with this iteration of the game, a rather critical and annoying issue which almost had me giving up on the game and refusing to play it anymore, let’s see what that was…
First of all, if you’ve not read my review on 8-Bit Armies, click the name and it’ll open in a new tab for you. I go into detail how the mechanics work and what I thought of the first game in the series over there.
Okay, so we’re all up to date with our details? Good. 8-Bit hordes is essentially the exact same game. You have a choice of two different races who both have twelve missions each (which is about 16 missions less than 8-Bit Armies) and their own individual tech tree full of various buildings and recruits to… recruit. Each mission is similar in that you’ll always start in pretty much the same way – create a few resource-collecting trucks, build a barracks and a few farms, create a mighty army, then go exploring. Obviously, if you’re tasked with defending a location then exploring may not be the best thing to do.
Once your army is big enough, then it’s time to either fortify your defences with new turrets and watchtowers or run in swords-a-slicing towards the enemy camps. As I stated in the previous review, the way you actually ‘group’ and ‘select’ your little guys is still one of the most bizarre and confusing ways I’ve seen in an RTS. When you’re creating a unit, you press Square, Triangle, or Circle to select the unit to be created. This will place that unit within either one of the three groups upon being created. Then, once you’re in control, you press one of these face buttons to select the group and then Cross to issue a command such as move or attack.
This is one of the issues I have with the series, but I’ll talk more about that later.
The three-star method…
Even though 8-Bit Hordes has fewer missions than 8-Bit Armies, we do see a return of the three-star tasks. I’m not a fan of the three-star progression implementations in console games as it feels like a mobile phone trait which has bled over into the world of home consoles. But, it all comes down to how the developers have utilised these, if progression if halted if you don’t have enough stars, and what do you get for achieving them all. Thankfully, Petroglyph has managed to use the three-star process for benefits and boosts rather than progression.
Just in case you don’t understand – Angry Birds, you can get up to three stars but you can proceed if you get at least one – that’s just a score thing, JYDGE has up to three stars per difficulty and you can’t move on without a certain number of stars – that’s blocking progression, 8-Bit Hordes is like Angry Birds but each star you unlock makes your life easier later on. You see, if you achieve one or two stars on a mission, you’ll get access to either a new piece of tech or some initial starting units. This means if you replay the same level, you now have an advantage you didn’t have before. Thus, a good way to use a star-method.
As noted in my last review though, playing any level on Easy will lower the difficulty but only the first star (the mandatory to complete the level star) will be available to achieve. You MUST play the game on Normal or Hard in order to have access to the other two – so, if you play the game on normal then you can technically earn all three stars if you meet the criteria. I found that playing the game on Easy first, and achieving all of the extra benefits and boosts, made going back and playing on Normal much more do-able.
The actual tasks you need to perform are the same as the ones we saw in 8-Bit Armies. Destroy a certain number of units, Defend a building for a certain amount of time, Save as many villagers as you can, etc… They are all similar in concept but you can go about it however you want. You can build an army and run in, head first, or you can strategise and pick off the enemies from their weakest point as you work your way up – it’s all up to you. You can even send in troops to open up supply crates and unleash a big group of strong allies to help you out.
Now, the biggest issue I had with 8-Bit Hordes is balancing. The game is really unbalanced and really brutal in favour of the CPU if you play through the Deathsworn story (the Lightbringers one is fine). This is why I almost gave up and stopped playing, but I didn’t. I persevered and carried on until I finally won the level. Basically, the CPU built a total of 66 buildings – these ranged from defence towers to barracks – as well as 657 units. That may not seem like much as I had 922 units created, yet I only had eight buildings – why? Because I was spending all my money on trying to amass an army to take him down. Every time I sent in 60+ units, the enemy would tear them to shreds because they had much better units and I can’t make better units until I’ve passed this mission!
So, the whole affair took me over an hour to finish – a standard mission in the 8-Bit games usually lasts about 10-15 minutes at the longest. I was constantly selling my buildings to buy new resource trucks because the enemy destroyed then, then re-building the barracks and making more troops, then getting wiped out all over again. Personally, that one mission felt really out of place and unfair – it took me four attempts until I finally did it – and that was on Easy in the end as well! Now, I say it was unfair because the very next level I completed with no issues at all – I went through it like a hot knife on butter.
Tell you what though – even though it frustrated the hell out of me, it didn’t half put up a challenge and make me actually work for my victory! I may have had a little dance once I finally finished that mission…
The multiplayer aspect is literally the same as 8-Bit Armies, only with the two new races and new maps, so I’ve copied the below from my previous review and made a couple of amendments:
If you’re tired of playing 8-Bit Hordes on your own, there are a few online options.
• You can play one of twelve missions in online co-op with another person (friend or stranger) where it’s both of you commanding units on the same team as you aim to complete the mission and take down the enemy together. These all also come with three objective stars for you to work towards.
• There is also a standard Multiplayer mode. In here you can pick from one of the 10 maps which are based around how many players they support (2-6). You can set whether you wish the game’s objective to be: destroy all the opponent’s structures, destroy all units and structures, destroy your opponent’s HQ, or assassinate your opponent’s ‘super unit’. You can also adjust how many resources are present in each deposit and if there will be random crate drops which store additional units.
If you still want to play these Multiplayer levels but you can’t find anyone online, jump over to Skirmish mode and you can do exactly the same options as you can in the MP mode above only this time it will be you vs 1-5 CPU opponents instead. The good thing about the skirmish is you can even jump into a 3-6 player map and have multiple ‘people’ grouped together. For example, if you want to take on a ‘hard’ CPU but you don’t think you can do it alone, stick a few Easy or Normal CPU AI teams in the game and set them to be your ally. Now it’ll be you three against the one enemy. Obviously, you can flip it and have more against you or a simple free-for-all if you choose as well.
As I mentioned previously, 8-Bit Armies and 8-Bit Hordes (and the upcoming 8-Bit Invaders) are Cross-game in terms of the online multiplayer. This means if you have a copy of 8-Bit Hordes and your friend has 8-Bit Armies, you can actually play against each other as you would in a normal multiplayer game, only you both can only access the units for the games you own.
That’s right, I don’t know if the game looks for a save or if it sees what’s installed, but when I went to start an online MP game it allowed me to pick from 22 maps instead of 10. This is the 10 from Hordes and 12 from Armies. It also let me pick either of the four races from both games, so I imagine it’s detected my save file for the other game and instantly unlocked all the content for both skirmish and online multiplayer. I find this whole concept really interesting and almost like how Hitman 2 dealt with its legacy content by allowing you to import and play all of Hitman 1 within Hitman 2, you can access all the maps and units from the other games within one game (in terms of MP and skirmishes, not the campaigns).
I had a few skirmishes against other races and I think my favourites at the moment, even though their story has it’s difficulty spikes, are the Deathsworn – I love their resource collectors who are little skeletons riding minecarts all over the place! They also have access to giant creatures and dragons – they are clearly the best!
My technical comments and personal opinion from 8-Bit Armies stands in regards to 8-bit Hordes as well. The game runs great, it’s very aesthetically pleasing, the music is very fitting and really pumps you up, and the overall experience with the game is very positive – bar the difficulty in that one mission. It still takes a while to get used to the fact that you can’t rotate or zoom the camera, all you can do is pan it around the mission. I really do wish we had an option to rotate and zoom out so we can see more of what’s going on around us, but it never really impacted my enjoyment.
I’m still sticking to my opinion that the franchise feels like a mobile game – but in a good way. It’s been created by veterans in the genre but adapted to be played casually in either short or long bursts based on how much time you have available to play. The star method they used could have been an annoying ‘get X amount of stars before you can progress’, but they chose to use it more constructively and make the game easier based on how hard you work at obtaining all the stars, which is a great concept and reward.
The game also comes with its own platinum, but just like 8-Bit Armies, I expect it’s going to be very, very hard to achieve it based on the criteria for getting some of the trophies.
8-Bit Hordes is a really fun and enjoyable second instalment in the 8-Bit Franchise and an interesting RTS as a whole. Instead of fending off the enemies with guns and bullets, we resort to melee, magic, and brute strength this time around as the ogres and wizards get involved. the gameplay and mechanics are identical to what we saw in 8-Bit Armies, but that’s not a bad thing as that game was also a great casual interpretation of the RTS genre on modern consoles.
The online side is a bit quiet at the moment, but you have the ability to Cross-Game play with anyone who owns any game in the franchise – this even unlocks all the maps and races for MP and skirmish if you own both games. If you’re looking for a more casual RTS where missions can be played in 10-15 minutes, then check out either 8-Bit Armies or 8-bit Hordes today.
- An enjoyable continuation in the '8-bit' franchise
- If you own both this and 8-Bit Armies then you unlock all maps in skirmish/MP as well as all four races
- Rather difficult campaigns which will last you a long time if you're going for 100% completion
- The character design in this iteration pleased me more than what we saw in Armies
- The skeletons who ride the minecarts are cool!
- The online aspect is suffering like the previous game - we need more people online wanting to play!
- I experienced a difficulty spike in the first campaign which may have been random. It did affect my enjoyment for over an hour though
- Camera controls are absent, your viewpoint is locked
- I still feel the assignment of units would be better if we could change the button they are assigned to post-creation
- Pretty much the same gameplay as 8-bit armies only with new units and maps