Monday, April 18, 2011

HOARD Review

HOARD, developed and published by Big Sandwich Games.
The Good: Quick gameplay provides constant action, numerous on-board obstacles and targets, multiple game modes with varied objectives, informative tutorial, multiplatform
The Not So Good: Imprecise aiming available only while stationary, can't customize controls, arbitrary upgrade restrictions, lacks difficulty settings, annoyingly balanced “ammunition”, fixed game length, no map editor
What say you? This predominantly multiplayer dragon action game is fast paced but limited in several areas: 5/8

This review also appears at The Wargamer

If you think about it, heroes in role-playing games are a bunch of jerks. I mean, they run around the countryside, killing the native population while stealing their gold and items. It’s about time that somebody fights back, and it’s clearly up to the dragons. As one of those fire-breathing beasts, it’s up to you to dispose of those irritating knights, while kidnapping princesses for ransom and looting villages along the way. Hey, a dragon gots to get paid. HOARD (this must be shouted at all times) is another flip of classic hero game design, recently encountered in Dungeons. How does this PlayStation 3 import work on the PC?

HOARD features decent graphics for a budget entry. The game is played from an isometric perspective (sort of) that works well. The tile-based maps have subtle animations for each of the map elements, which are varied and easily identifiable. The dragons and villagers are detailed enough and have good animation as well. Fire is a bit underwhelming, both breathing it out and when objects burn to a crisp, and other special effects are basic in nature. The sound effects are sporadically used, utilized distinctive tones for collecting items, killing things, and capturing princesses. The music is repetitive and reminiscent of old-style MIDI melodies. Overall, though, HOARD fits its price point in terms of graphics and sound design.

In HOARD, you are a dragon, attempting to accumulate the most treasure by burning things and taking the sweet, sweet gold inside. The game offers two tutorials that do an admirable job teaching all the aspects of the game mechanics. HOARD can be played four ways: “treasure” mode (accumulate the most gold), “princess rush” (kidnap the most princesses), a survival mode, and cooperative play. All of these modes take place within a set time limit: you are playing HOARD for ten minutes whether you like it or not. The game also lacks difficulty settings, meaning the AI will remain at the same level of competence for all time. There are twenty or so maps spread across each of the game modes; while this offers a decent amount of variety and supports up to four players, the lack of an editor means you’ll have to settle for the same options. HOARD offers multiplayer matchmaking and online leaderboards, so you can compare your progress even in the solitary game modes. Finally, HOARD is available for both Windows and Macintosh operating systems, a flexibility that’s always appreciated.

HOARD has several control schemes that cannot be customized: one for a gamepad, one for the mouse, and a couple using the keyboard. The basic itinerary is to attack objects, collect the gold they drop when destroyed, and fly home, adding the money to your score. Your fire breath has very short range and aiming is a bit imprecise; I was unimpressed by its lack of accuracy. In addition, you can’t move and shoot for some reason; this makes it really difficult to chase things down like knights and other dragons that move quickly. You also have a limited amount of fire breath: it’s set just low enough where you must “reload” to fully destroy any building. The path to gold supremacy is the score multiplier, which is reset if you “die”: you automatically fly back to your roost immediately (do not pass “go,” do not collect two hundred dollars) and fully reheal if your health bar becomes depleted. Gold also unlocks points you can spend to upgrade your speed, fire breath, armor, or gold carrying capacity. However, upgrades are very restricted as you are forced to balance out your points: you can’t concentrate on, say, simply speed and carry to create the master collector. The upgrade system also needs further explanation: why do sometimes you get three upgrade points and sometimes one? Why can’t I upgrade this path any further without upgrading others first? Temporary power-ups are also available that must be manually activated (using the “R1” button on your gamepad, as the in-game documentation explains whether you are using a PS3 controller or not), allowing for increased firepower or speed, or the ability to wield fireballs or frozen breath.

There are many objects to attack on the game map, which annoyingly regenerate health while you wait for your fire bar to recharge. Towns have defenders and a selection of buildings to fry; if you damage (but not destroy) a town enough, it will periodically send a tribute of gold directly to your headquarters. A rival dragon can then destroy “your” town and reset the tribute (I guess the citizens forget if they are all dead). Each map also has mills with crops that send wagons to city markets that can be attacked in transit, and thieves spawned at city taverns will attempt to steal your gold. Princesses can be captured for a ransom: burn their carriage, transport them home, and defend them for a period of time. Knights will come to rescue them, and your short fire range and high knight health makes them difficult to fend off. More imposing things also impede your progress: wizard towers offer a hefty reward if destroyed but offer a substantial challenge because of their long range and the various limitations (range, speed) of your fire breath, and giants can easily destroy many structures (including towns offering you tribute). The AI starts out slow but plays well enough, providing a good challenge as you battle your rivals, both directly and indirectly. You can be a real jerk because of the way the fire breath is balanced: since it takes more than one shot to fully destroy most objects, you can swoop in, finish off the farm, collect the money, and fly away, and your opponent can't do anything about it because they can only attack you when stationary. Since you can't move and shoot, it's usually trivial to just fly away from a rival who is attacking you, making this a poor tactical option.

HOARD is an interesting game peppered with questionable design choices and feature limitations. The game is an illustration of gaming dichotomy: several nice features are balanced by some really arbitrary restrictions. The game has multiple game modes, but lacks difficulty or time limit settings. You can level up using your collected gold, but can't dedicate to one or two upgrade paths. The control scheme can't be customized, and your restricted fire-breathing abilities, available only while stationary, reach only so far for only so long. HOARD does give you plenty of objects to destroy: towns that can give you tribute after suffering enough damage, princesses to capture for ransom, crops and knights to burn to a crisp, and wizard towers to completely avoid since firing on them (while stationary, again) leaves you open to attack. HOARD also offers several power-ups to accentuate your abilities, a passable AI opponent, online capabilities, and multiplatform compatibility, but the various shortcomings make it only a mildly intriguing action title.