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I went into Hoard with almost no expectations. Other than one vague press release a made public around a week ago, I knew virtually nothing about the game. Still, the game’s description on the PSN promised much castle burning and villager scaring, which was enough for me to justify throwing down fifteen bones without a second thought. Sadly, Hoard never quite lives up to my wondrous visions of flames and chaos.
Although Hoard is technically a dual joystick shooter in the vein of Super Stardust HD or Everyday Shooter, the focus is less on the shooting (or, since you play a dragon in Hoard, perhaps it is more apt to call it breathing) and more on strategy. Burning buildings, farms, and roaming wagon carts will earn you money, which you can then deliver to your lair for points. You can only carry so much gold, though, so repeated trips to your hoard of gold will be necessary. Occasionally it will also be possible to nab a princess from one of several royal carriages that travel from kingdom to kingdom. Returning the princess to your hoard and subsequently defending her from the knights who will come to rescue her will earn you a large ransom bonus.
This might sound like a simple setup, but it quickly becomes more complicated. If you opt to spare the wagons that ride between kingdoms instead of immediately destroying them, they will supply the kingdoms with gold. The extra gold will allow the kingdom to grow bigger, which in turn will make the eventual reward for destroying said city much greater. However, as the city grows, so too will its defenses. Archers and knights will spawn and attack you if you get too close. These risk/reward strategies are what make Hoard more than just another dual joystick shooter, and they become far more important when competing dragons are added in the form of either AI or human opponents.
The concept of a strategic shooter is certainly an intriguing one, but Hoard is far from perfect. When you begin a game, your dragon is pathetically weak. It is possible to level up by collecting gold, but the upgrades feel like too little, too late. Controlling a dragon should be an empowering experience, but the player characters in Hoard feel less like deadly beasts of myth and more like hatchlings. This is not helped by the pitiful reach and duration of your dragon’s breath, or the imposing wizard towers that will spawn later in the game, which can take you down in one hit unless you have your health upgraded fairly high. The idea of razing a few villages does not seem as appealing when you have to retreat to your hoard to heal all the time and your dragon can barely sustain its fire breath long enough to kill something.
Hoard does boast a large amount of challenges, similar to those in Call of Duty, for players to conquer. With dozens of these challenges to complete, it would be unfair to accuse the game of lacking value. However, most of the goals are simple grinding affairs like “Kill one enemy dragon,” which is followed by “Kill X number of enemy dragons,” and so on. If you find yourself enjoying Hoard’s unique blend of action and strategy, the somewhat predictable nature of the challenges will not bother you much. Most players will probably tire of the game long before they are able to meet most of the challenges, though, because eventually it just becomes boring. Sure, there are a few other modes to distract you from the main game, but the survival mode is lame due to the previously mentioned weakness of your dragon and the multiplayer modes, while better than flying solo, are a far cry from other online offerings on the PS3.
Hoard’s presentation continues the trend of mediocrity with bland graphics and some frankly baffling audio decisions. While the visuals are not exactly bad in that they convey the world and the characters in a clean and unobtrusive way, they are also far from good. With such stiff competition in the genre (the aforementioned Stardust and Everyday Shooter still look beautiful today,) it is strange that Hoard is content with such an unremarkable look. The music fares worse. It seems like the audio team was segregated from the rest of the team during development and were under the impression that they were making an entirely different game, because while the music would be okay for a science fiction space shooter, it sounds totally out of place against the backdrop of medieval warfare.
If the idea of a more cerebral dual joystick shooter sounds appealing to you, rest assured you are not alone. Unfortunately, the execution with which this idea has been pulled off is not up to par with the quality of other recent releases. Especially in this crowded autumn season, it would be wise to save your fifteen dollars for a more polished experience. Hoard tries something new, and it is to be commended for that, but it is not enough to save the game from mediocrity.