Let me paint you a little Venn diagram here: there are games with Action RPG and RTS elements, then there are games in which you’re the bad guy and games where your protagonist has long taken its last breath. Undead Horde is all of the above, right in the middle, but how good is it to be bad this time around?
In Undead Horde, the newest Early Access title by 10tons, you control Orcen, a freshly awoken necromancer with a simple wish: turn every living thing into a skeleton xylophone. The core gameplay is just as simple, kill some things, raise them as part of your undying horde, command them around, loot, repeat.
To carry the underlying mechanics you run around the lands to conquer all, neatly segmented into waypoints on a map completely interconnected. The levels themselves almost inspire memories of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, where your objectives are as simplistic as “Kill and destroy everything in sight” or “pick up that thing and put it in there”. The loot and level systems are a welcome distraction to break up the flow, but they don’t encumber the experience. Sleek interfaces enable you to quickly deal with anything not pertaining to combat, on controller or mouse and keyboard equally.
Speaking of input methods, both typical playstyles feel absolutely fine after a short while of getting used to them. The controls in general are kept pretty basic and simple, fitting the game’s overall theme of less is more perfectly. Your left hand is in control of movement and your right hand is for aiming, no wild jumps across buttons, sticks or keys needed in the thick of it.
The theme of something akin to minimalism also shows up in the graphics department. Presented in a low poly style the art design is very in tune with the light tones of the story and character interactions, while not going off the goofy end. I would be curious how much 10tons will actually add in the way of graphics, as some of the characters and units might do well with a bit more uniqueness. At the moment your undead serfs seem kind of… samey. Nonetheless, a clear identity already shines through, this early into the Early Access process.
Your equipment dictates your abilities and while raising the dead is always available, spells like fireballs, bone walls and timed vampirism supplement your means of disposing of your enemies. Short enhancements to your undead troops are also at hand. During my time with Undead Horde a patch dropped, already bringing new spells to the table.
One of the driving forces in the game is the unlocking of new, fierce skeletons to command, achieved by killing enough of their living counterparts. Back at your home base you can summon them at will before heading out (via a handy, unlockable, quick travel system) again.
With enough systems in place that bolster the simple idea of an Action RPG combined with RTS elements beyond the sum of its parts, Undead Horde might become something of a hidden gem. The minimalistic approach lies firmly at the center, but never so much as to make the game overly superficial. Leveling and handling loot are quick and painless, yet feel pretty rewarding, the tutorialization is excellent and the drive to play on is firmly in place, with more and more unlocks in your own necromancer crypt leading the charge.
I’m keen to see how 10tons will use their time in Early Access, but Undead Horde already has the framework of a great game in the making, which catapults it miles ahead of the lion’s share of Early Access titles on Steam.