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Review: Hoard


There's not many games that let you play as a dragon. Not a cute, almost human-like dragon such as Spyro, or a human that turns into a dragon like Divinity 2. Normal, fire-breathing, princess-stealing, loot-gathering, town-torching dragons are fairly absent from the rosters of gaming protagonists. Their actions are a bit hard to justify in a story-focused game, after all. Hoard aims to change that. Not the story bit, as the game is almost entirely arcade-like, but rather the playing as a mostly evil dragon part. Flying around and torching everything from towns to ogres has never been this satisfying, and Hoard has quickly become one of our favorite short-session games. Pop in, play for a few minutes, pop out. It's brilliantly designed, fairly cheap, and visually stunning. We found it difficult not to immediately love Hoard straight from the get-go.
Hoard doesn't have anything resembling a story, so we'll get right down to it: this is a very impressively presented game. The music is reminiscent of old arcade games, but done in a much more modern style. Classic synth sounds coexist with more cheerful instrumentation, and it's a style we enjoy. It somehow manages to strike a balance between fantasy and arcade. The visuals are much the same. Clear coloration and simple models belies the arcade roots, and a storybook style gives it a distinctly fantastic and pleasing air. As far as presentation goes, we couldn't be more impressed. Everything about Hoard fits the game perfectly.

Hoard's basics are very simple. Fly around with the keyboard, aim and fire and use power-ups with the mouse. You can only do three active actions (breath fire, move, use a gathered power-up), so the control scheme is instantly understandable. Where Hoard tries to differentiate itself is in just how many ways that the player can interact with the environment using just this extremely small roster of moves. Surprisingly enough, there are enough ways that the game avoids being stale. Well, stale for the eight minutes or so that each level lasts, anyway.

The core game mode, and the one that you are likely to spend the most time in, is Treasure. It's easily the most complex of the three. The basics are very simple, however: gather gold, bring it back to your stash. Every time you stash levels up, you get to allocate points to skills. From the very beginning, Treasure sets up a quick progression that pulls you in. You want to ding to reach a new level of skill, after all. The four skills are speed (movement, obviously), flame (damage dealt with fire breath and amount of researve kept), carry (increases the max limit on gold carried), and defense (less damage from attacks). The hoard levels are fairly predictable, which means that you can also judge when you should and should not return to base to drop off your loot. For example, you will always level your hoard at 1,000 and 5,000 value gathered.

What we enjoy most about Treasure is the automation of the fantasy land in which you torch and gather. Each map generally has four major NPC landmarks: mills, towns, castles, and wizard towers. Mills are the first to spawn, and produce carts of food that are worth gold. The more fields a mill has around it, the more gold the carts will generally be worth. These carts move towards a town in the vicinity, and if it makes it, the town grows faster. If there are multiple towns, each town also sends off trading carts worth even more than the mill carts, with the size of the town contributing to the size of the cart. A fully-stocked town, for example, might regularly produce carts worth around 1000 gold, while a starting town might only produce carts around 400 gold. The relationship between the mills and towns continues without your interference, and although there's an upper limit on town buildings and mill fields, the game always feels like it is growing.

Besides gold, you can also turn princesses and gems into your hoard. Princesses are spawned from castles, and their value is dependent upon the size of the castle. Grabbing them instantly makes you the focus of all nearby knights, and bringing her to your hoard will start a ransom timer. Defend her from knights and other dragons, and you will get a large ransom. Likewise, gems give the most gold in the game, but come with a caveat: they halve your speed and can't be carried alongside gold (unlike princesses, which can). If you want a gem, you have to dump your current gold inventory to grab it. It's usually worth it, however. Tribute is another way to get gold without killing anything, and involves terrifying the inhabitants of a town (must be on a map with more than one dragon!) into acknowledging you as their master.

The castles, towers, and towns, however, are not pleased by you torching their sturdy carts and absconding with their hard-earned cash (or food). As a result, you can be attacked by a few different NPCs. Knights - which are spawned from castles - are the most formidable, as they are tough to kill and deal substantial damage. If you don't have any ranks in armor, the knights spawned from a tier one castle can down you in one hit, and as the castle grows they only get tougher and nastier. Likewise, while archers are less threatening, they tend to be produced faster (from towns) and can strike at a range, thus making them quite the nuisance. Towns also produce thieves, which steal from your hoard rather than attack you. If they make off with some of your loot, your multiplier is lost and you must wait to increase it. Finally, wizard towers hit hard, at a range, and are annoyingly tough to kill, but they are stationary, attack slow, and give the aforementioned massive gems. An upgraded wizard tower's gem gives the most gold in the game at 5000, but it also hits extraordinarily hard and fast, making it a definite risk for the massive reward. Besides these, ogres will also sometimes spawn if the local economy has grown enough, and they will smash their way across the landscape, stealing gold and killing everything (including you!) in their path.

The overall them of this is that, if left unchecked, each map will become inhospitable to a dragon just trying to burn and pillage everything it can. Thus, playing Treasure is almost like playing the groundskeeper to a particularly unruly lawn. Worried about black knights? Burn every castle to the ground. Worried about dying and losing your multiplier? Pick on carts and mills instead of attacking towns and castles. Want to slow down how fast everything is growing? Torch it all! It's easily our favorite of the different modes, if just for how engrossing it is. The amount of complexity packed into an 8-minute session seems impossible, but the gentle slope of difficulty and gradual reveal of new elements keeps the game from becoming too obtuse to handle.

There's three other game modes as well. The titular Hoard mode is a waves mode similar to a normal twin-stick shooter. You must survive on levels which grow way faster than normal, and gathering gold (there is no Hoard to return to) gives you time bonuses at the end. Princess Rush plays a lot like Treasure, except that winning is determined by the amount of princesses you capture, not your overall gold reserves. Finally, there's a co-operative mode that is essentially Treasure, but with a friendly dragon to help out. All of these modes can be played in single-player or multiplayer, so this is one of the few games that has no real delineation between single-player and multiplayer games.

Despite being fantastic, Hoard does have a few issues. The most frustrating of them all is regular and random freezing. SOmetimes you'll play for hours with nothing happening, sometimes it will simply freeze five minutes into the game. There's not really any indication as to what has happened, and it doesn't spit any error messages. It just freezes and forces you to close the process. Other issues include a UI bug that makes you pixel hunt in order to correctly assign skill points and sound sometimes cutting out. For the most part, the only issue you are likely to come face to face with is the freezing. It's extremely annoying.

We loved Hoard. It has a nice arcade feel while still making the world appear alive and populated and dynamic, and every elements has been polished to a mirror shine. The few faults we found did not detract significantly from our experience, and anybody looking for a quick coffee break game can likely do no better than Hoard. It's also fantastic for local multiplayer, thanks to the heavily competitive nature of grabbing all that gold. Cheap, replayable, charming, and fun is a good set of traits to have, and Hoard nails every one.

Final Verdict

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