Undead Horde (PlayStation 5) review
"Now I'm feeling zombified"
I'll admit that I was reluctant to check out Undead Horde for one reason: I'm sick of the undead. With the overabundance of zombie movies, games, and TV shows, I've grown weary of pretty much anything that features rotting corpses moseying about and noshing on people. Horde at least gets credit for avoiding the tired apocalypse trope, instead presenting itself as a real-time strat piece where you command an army of ghouls and take over a whole kingdom.
Wait, didn't I basically describe an apocalypse trope, except through a high fantasy lens? Damn it!
Early on in your plot for conquest, you emerge from an urn and assassinate a chicken. After that, you zombify it and force it to kill for you like any respectable chicken owner would. As you and your feathered friend pick off peasants, you earn opportunities to also resurrect them under your command. This butchery continues until you've slaughtered a level or two worth of townsfolk and guards, eventually rescuing a few skeletal compatriots and acquiring a crypt of your own to serve as a hub.
Your headquarters don't start out as anything special. You get a chest to hold spare items, an NPC who practically does nothing, and some statues that allow you to summon units that you've unlocked. For instance, after you've dispatched enough peasants, you gain access to their statue. From that point onward, you can conjure up as much of that unit as your "command cap" will allow.
Yeah, you read that correctly: command cap. In other words, there's a limit to how numerous and powerful your army can be. After all, it wouldn't be fair if you stomped into town with an endless contingent of giants, now would it? The command cap puts a rating on each wight, with weaker creatures costing fewer command points. In theory, this can make forming your raid party tricky: do you go for a humongous flock of chickens or a smaller pack of templars? Should you stick with only one type of troop or mix things up a bit? Both choices in either case would seem to have their benefits and downsides.
Not really, though... Honestly, though Horde maintains the appearance of an RTS affair, it's more like a hack 'n slash RPG with light strategy elements. Mechanically, the game is more akin to Diablo than Warcraft, where loot manifests as handy pieces of equipment that you can exchange, and combat on your part boils down to mashing the attack button and occasionally casting a spell. Whenever you gain a level, three choices pop up on the screen offering various stat-increase packages, each tailored to a different build.
Strategic elements play an integral role throughout the proceedings, but your tactics mostly boil down to amassing a gang of brutes and sending the whole lot of them into a particular direction to pillage and murder. You don't get the benefit of selecting a single or particular group of combatants, instead have to hope your swarm proves to be destructive enough to handle whatever stands in your way.
Also take into account that your warriors fall into one of three categories: melee, ranged, and support. For the most part, any new character you've unlocked in a particular type basically renders previous members of that grouping obsolete. Sure, you can summon more guardsmen than you can huru-kai, but a smaller group of the latter tends to last longer and and dish out more punishment than an immense battalion of the former. Once you've unlocked the next step of melee battlers, any previous examples become all but useless.
And that's really where this game sours a bit. Because strategy here isn't all that deep, you end up going through a simple, familiar routine from one level to the next. You enter an area, gather the strongest troops you can muster, send them to fight, revive any fallen enemies if you have vacancies, and start the process afresh. If you run into trouble, you can always escape back to your crypt and regroup. Assuming the role of villain remains compelling throughout the campaign, but there's no denying that the content on offer grows repetitive by the time you're halfway through the whole shebang.
Thankfully, this adventure also incorporates some concepts from Gauntlet that not only prevent the experience from completely falling apart, but also keep your quest just challenging enough to maintain a decent level of entertainment. As it turns out, your foes don't merely stand around waiting to be killed. They're mostly defending bases, offensive guard towers, and other structures that occasionally spawn additional soldiers. You see, even if you annihilate every target, more of them will come. Also, if you perish during your travels, any living characters dwelling in unconquered lands return. The only way to permanently prevent them from regrouping is to destroy their buildings and massacre an entire stage's population. Doing so puts the territory in question under your banner, adding an extra task over which you can obsess. Seriously, half the fun I derived from this product came from stomping out the competition, assuming control over their domain, and watching as my nation of ghouls grew.
Of course, it helps that buildings never respawn. Thank goodness for that...
The farther into the proceedings you advance, the tougher it becomes to take out adversarial bases. Peasants take a bench and let paladins, orcs, wolves, giant scorpions, and barbarians onto the field. You now have to figure out how you're going to destroy any of their hovels without losing your whole party or dying yourself. Sometimes you might allow them to destroy you, so long as you're able to take out just one home. Other times, you might sneak around the back and hope you don't aggro the opposition, quickly crumbling their real estate before they can respond in earnest.
One other thing to keep in mind: being selective about the equipment you use helps a bundle. If you're lucky enough to locate a book that prevents enemy attacks from canceling your resurrection spell, for instance, then you've practically got it made. Also, various weapons add additional damage to bulidings, which speeds up the demolition process. Hell, some of the accessories you snag grant buffs to you or various types of units, or even passive bonuses that play very well in your favor. You could use a vampiric ring that instills a hit point-syphoning ability to your army for a limited time (handy for mitigating damage and keeping your warriors around just a tad longer) or an amulet that imbues you with a one-time super-crushing blow. Yeah, that's also helpful for knocking down human homes...
The bottom line is Undead Horde is decent, albeit slightly repetitive and somewhat derivative. It thankfully borrows some intriguing elements that add up to a fair, straightforward experience that kills a handful of hours. You'll be glad to know its campaign isn't very lengthy, so it doesn't outstay its welcome. Don't let this game's worn out usage of zombie legions feasting upon the warm flesh of the living scare you out of at very least securing it on a sale and picking at it occasionally. If nothing else, it provides a fair way to pass a rainy weekend.
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (April 23, 2022)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
If you enjoyed this Undead Horde review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!