A long-term investment in fun
Hoard is (currently) a PS3 exclusive in which you play as a dragon. Already the game risks drawing unfavourable comparisons to the other PS3-exclusive dragon game; however, the two could not be more opposite. I would tell you that Hoard has been a great experience from start to finish, but that would leave you with the incorrect impression that it ends. Hoard is not temporary entertainment until the next big thing comes along; it is a long-term investment in fun for you, your family, and your friends online.
Hoard is a difficult game to describe and even more difficult to assign to a genre. The developers at Big Sandwich Games have suggested it fit into a new category, “Stratecade: arcade action-strategy.” I can think of no better term. The game plays like a top-down twin-stick shooter, except that your projectile is mainly a short-range fire breath that you can sweep across areas. Burn down farms, cities, wagons, carts, knights, archers, or castles to find gold to bring back to your hoard. The more wealth you accumulate, the more you can upgrade your dragon’s attributes. The strategy aspect comes from the economic ecology playing out on the board around you: farms send carts of gold to towns, which makes them grow. Towns send gold wagons to castles, and these wagons become more valuable as the towns grow. The castles also increase in size when they receive new wealth, and in turn they send out increasingly valuable princesses that you can capture and ransom. You can easily cull these cities and castles for mediocre rewards, or you can allow them to grow and enjoy larger hauls of gold. However, the more these structures grow, the more threats they produce: archers, thieves, and knights will be produced by structures as they grow and constantly threaten to deprive you of your precious score multiplier. You have to play a constant risk-versus-reward balancing act to get the biggest hoard. On some maps, these are the only challenges you need to worry about. Others add Mage Towers, Giants, and power-ups into the mix for even greater chaos. That covers the Treasure mode, which is the default ruleset for the game. There is also Princess Rush, where you compete to be the first to ransom 15 princesses, and HOARD mode, where the goal is simply survival. There’s plenty of variety between the large number of maps and the various modes for plenty of hours of single-player entertainment.
If you get tired of playing alone, there are also hours of entertainment to be found playing multiplayer Hoard. Nearly all single-player modes are playable with up to four other players that can be any combination of local and online participants. The HOARD survival mode, which isn’t really meant for multiplayer, is replaced by a co-operative Treasure mode where all players contribute to a single high score. The game is just as frantic with live players controlling other dragons. By default, the screen remains zoomed in as much as possible on local players, and zooms out as they get farther apart. This system isn’t perfect, as dragons near the edge may still be threatened by knights and archers they cannot see, and the highest zoom level can make units appear positively microscopic. Still, it does a decent job of keeping the action to a single screen. Speaking of small, the text can appear fairly tiny. The game looks gorgeous in true 1080p, but that high resolution means the text can be nearly unreadable except on larger displays or situations where one sits right in front of the TV. The developers have promised a patch for this issue. My only other complaints with Hoard are related to its multiplayer interface. The menus are basic but functional. Starting a game is an easy procedure, though sending game invites to particular PSN friends can be annoying if you happen to have more than 10 friends. My biggest problem is that once a match ends, everyone returns to Hoard’s main menu. You cannot maintain a party; you must re-invite your friends every time you wish to start a new match. You can also wait for random online folks to join your game, or join a random open game yourself. Unfortunately, Hoard does not appear to contribute data to the PSN’s “Player’s Met” menu, because I was unable to send Friend requests to any of the excellent Hoard players I met through random matches unless I wrote down their PSN IDs before the match ended. Finally, there was a minor bug we encountered at random with moderate frequency where we would be locked in the Online/Offline submenu, unable to back out or go forward without rebooting the game entirely. These are my only issues with Hoard. In a lesser game, they would detract enough from my experience to reduce my recommendation. In Hoard’s case, the core gameplay is so much damned fun that I give the game my full endorsement in spite of these flaws.
The graphics are simple and beautiful at the same time. There are plenty of little graphical touches, like cosmetic elements in the environment being affected by dragonfire. The dragons themselves change in subtle ways depending their upgrade levels in the four statistics, which may not be apparent until you fly a dragon with max armour next to one with max speed and note the stark contrast between them. It is apparent that the game’s visual style was directed by someone with a love of boardgames: levels load as a set of tiles tumbling onto a table top, units have little green bases beneath them; I could easily believe that an actual Hoard boardgame exists and was the basis for this title. The music toes a line between bubblegum upbeat and medieval pageantry which, surprisingly, fits the game very well. The game also features excellent sound design, from the slot-machine-payout-esque clamour of gold falling onto your hoard to the semi-panicked, semi-aroused gasp of princesses captured. These aspects could have easily taken a darker focus to reflect the destruction left in the wake of a ravaging dragon, but instead they went with something lighthearted and charming. It’s a perfect fit.
At the time of writing, there is no demo available, though Big Sandwich Games is apparently working on one. Regardless, allow me to assure you that spending $15 on Hoard is one of the best purchases you could make on a game today. Once this game gets it’s talon-shaped hooks into you, beware... little can resist the call of the Hoard.
Editorial note: a copy of this game was provided for review purposes.