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Undead Horde is a strategy game where you raise an army of undead to battle the living. Check out our Early Access impressions to see how it's coming along.
Being a necromancer is tough. Your school of magic is generally viewed in an unfavorable light. Your skillset forces you to spend a lot of time in really unsavory locations. Worst of all, most of your friends are dead. Undead Horde casts you as one such spellcaster, and takes a lighthearted approach to the whole "raising the dead to do your bidding and destroy the living."
Undead Horde is developed and published by Finnish game studio 10tons Ltd. It is currently in Steam Early Access, but it seems fairly close to its full build. If the idea of slaughtering your enemies and bringing them back to fight on your side sounds up your alley, read on. As for me, I tried this game at work, since I work as a resume editor, I had time to test it. Let's dig in and see whether or not Undead Horde is something that should stay buried.
Building a Better Zombie
The core gameplay in Undead Horde revolves around strategically building your army of undead warriors. There are a variety of types of enemies to defeat, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. After you've killed a certain amount of any specific type, you will "unlock" that creature to start summoning from your crypt. There is a wide variety of enemy types you can take control of: People, orcs, bears, chickens. A big part of the fun is putting together your horde of undead to see how they work with one another.
You don't have to let your horde have all the fun, either. You can also upgrade several stats as you level up, improving things like your health, magic damage, and the amount of creatures you can control. These tweaks let you control the types of strategies that will be effective in your effort to destroy the living.
Another core concept of Undead Horde revolves around the management of your different attributes during battle. Your necromancer can do a ton of damage with each hit, but you will quickly get burst down if your horde has fallen. Carefully managing your mana, health, and cooldowns during fights takes a lot of practice and split second decision making. Fights are a fun combination of raw skill and strategic planning. Do you want to pop your Raise Dead ability now to help you kill the giant scorpion? Or do you want to risk battling it with your weakened horde so you can add it to your ranks when you do raise the dead?
The Skeleton Dance
The way all this handles is pretty simple. Undead Horde looks like a twin stick shooter, and it works in a similar way. You move your necromancer with WASD and change the direction he faces with the mouse. Clicking attacks and controls your magic, while a few keys help you manage inventory, raise corpses from the dead, and change skills.
The simplicity of the controls fits the game's aesthetic nicely. Undead Horde has a cartoonish style, both in its look and its humor. The humor is pretty predictable—lots of Game of Thrones jokes, for example—but the game doesn't beat you over the head with them. It knows it isn't being overly clever, which is fine. If it leaned more into the jokes, they would stick out horribly. It sounds like backhanded praise, but it does honestly help that the jokes are just... there. A little smile now and again at a clever bit you notice is much better than groaning every time there's another heavy-handed Jon Snow reference.
That simplicity also plays against Undead Horde in a few ways. The different types of undead units you can summon don't seem to differentiate themselves enough, and too often you will find yourself going back to the well of, "I guess I'll just summon the most recent creature I unlocked." There's very little reason to summon early units—the peasants and conscripted guardsmen—once you've started unlocking orcs and the like. It would be nice if there was a strategic reason to do so, but as of yet, there doesn't really seem to be one.
The simplicity also rears its ugly head when you are trying to make those split-second decisions in the middle of a fight. The units are too hard to differentiate in the speed of battle; they all just look like skeletons wearing armor. It can be frustrating when you're trying to figure out what skills to use and you aren't even sure at a glance how many melee units you have left. Successful games with top-down views always make it very clear which unit is which. Undead Horde could greatly benefit from some differentiation in its unit types, mainly with its non-animals.
"And the b-boy skeletons?" "Part of it!"
Another issue with Undead Horde comes from its lack of stakes. When you die, you simply go back to your crypt. You're a quick teleport away from whatever map knocked you out, and enemies that you killed are still gone. This can make some tactics—rushing down a boss without caring if you actually survive or bombing out barracks and ignoring enemy soldiers—far too effective. The idea of an undead army is that they will never stop coming, and this plays into that concept. But without stakes or punishment for failure, Undead Horde can sometimes feel more like a game of "how much time do I have to throw at this problem?" instead of "How much skill do I need to solve this problem?"
This compounds with some of the other issues we've talked about to fit a poisonous classification on Undead Horde: It's a PC game that feels like a mobile game. There is nothing wrong with some mindless fun on your Steam account—not every game needs to have brain-numbing complexity and spreadsheets of strategy to pore over—but it feels like Undead Horde is missing something central to make it stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Keep in mind: Undead Horde is still in Early Access. It's entirely possible some of these central "missing" things are still on the way. As of this writing, it is a tough game to recommend. That said, there is a pretty impressive... skeleton (I'm so sorry) in place. A few tweaks could really make this one shine.