With the developer pedigree behind 8-Bit Hordes, there’s an expectation of something special, and there is something special about this title, and indeed the whole 8-Bit series, however, it’s more about the aesthetic and nostalgic experience than anything else. Otherwise, despite a strong core gameplay loop of real-time action, there’s very little in the way of strategy.
Indeed, 8-Bit Hordes offers excellent action. Build up your base, start spitting out troops and then send them at your opponent and watch the carnage. It’s an experience that lives up to the ‘Hordes’ in the title, and it’s a satisfying one at that. Like you might expect when coming from C&C veterans, 8-Bit Hordes benefits from simple resource management and a philosophy of large armies. It’s all about building a big enough force to overcome your opponent’s own forces and defences. It’s a straightforward tactic but a fun one.
What it lacks, however, is any real strategy beyond building up a large force. Despite a nice selection of unit types, there isn’t the ‘rock, paper, scissors’ effect that you typically find with strategy titles, meaning any kind of unit is just as effective against any other. Or at least that’s how it feels. Behind the scenes there may very well be some number crunching advantages that’s unit dependent, and certainly there’s power differentials between units, but ultimately the bigger armies win the encounter, no matter the units making up the force.
This lack of strategic depth doesn’t distract too much from the fun, however, it’s still glorious leading a massive army into the fray against a similarly massive force. Meanwhile, defensive building are wonderfully effective at thinning invaders, and any weapon or spells with splash damage can utterly obliterate a densely compacted force. As such, despite a lack of strategy it’s still not thoughtless; bringing your forces in in waves, testing an opponent’s defences to find weaker areas, and counter attacking when you know your opponent is low on units, all help you achieve a victory. But ultimately these are tactical considerations to the one strategy of overwhelming numbers.
Playing against the AI can therefore get repetitive, but a human opponent helps add some important variety. Moreover, being able to play against players with other games in the 8-Bit series is a particularly nice feature. Additionally, the control method 8-Bit Hordes uses on console is excellent at mitigating the frustrations a controller can add to RTS gameplay. Radial build menus makes building structures and units easy, meanwhile, units are built and then attached to a particular face button, allowing you to then control all units that are under that face button. This does, once again, limit your strategies a bit, especially as units can’t be swapped to other face buttons once built, but it’s still a neat feature to make the controls work fluidly on console.
Of course, the big pull of 8-Bit Hordes is the 8-bit aesthetic, and it does look excellent. The 3D voxel units, buildings and terrain strike a wonderful balance of looking modern and nostalgic at the same time, and despite the basic, blocky look it’s still easy to tell everything apart. That is until units clash on the battlefield, where it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on, but in many ways that adds to the charm and excitement of battles.
The theme in 8-Bit Hordes is high fantasy, complete with Orcs, Elves, magic and dragons. The voxel visuals suit the theme well and, most importantly, helps differentiate it from similar titles. Indeed, 8-Bit Hordes plays and feels a great deal like classic Warcraft, even the story elements hark back to the likes of Warcraft 2, with the Human forces on a quest for allies dealing with internal struggles before the invading Orcs. What’s a shame is the story is delivered entirely through text on the campaign screen rather than any cinematics, making it feel somewhat soulless.
While 8-Bit Hordes lacks strategic depth and strong storytelling, It’s terrific aesthetic, smart design to feel smooth on console controllers, and nostalgic overwhelming force tactic certainly makes it an entertaining RTS. And with this genre being so rare on console, we can quite readily say this is one of the best RTS experiences you’ll find on one.