Every gamer has a genre for which they feel special nostalgia. For me, real-time strategy games like Command and Conquer, Warcraft and of course, the Age of Empires series will forever represent a time of happy gaming. In some ways, Starcraft put a period on the end of the sentence, and the flood of RTS games eventually slowed to a trickle. So, it was with great anticipation that I looked into Warparty, which not only includes a very “old” setting, but pretty traditional mechanics as well.
Warparty is not set in some techo-future, but a fantasy historical period where cave-dwelling humans and dinosaurs stride the plains and forests side by side (hey, it worked for The Flintstones, right?). There are, in typical RTS fashion, three tribal factions: the Wildlanders, Necromas and the Vithara. Between the three factions — which have hero units as well — there is the making of a pretty good RTS cover band, with some factions dabbling in zombies and magic and others in the use of trained dinosaurs as weapons of war. As long as you’re not a stickler for logic or historical accuracy, it’s fun to play with such a fanciful array of units. However, there are some balancing issues that impede the experience, with the Necromas able to create vast Zerg-like hordes of zombies with little resource cost.
Unsurprisingly, the single player campaign includes missions for each of the three factions and is a learning tool for becoming familiar with the units. There is a story that ties everything together but as in most RTS games, the campaign is primarily a series of puzzles to be solved and tasks to complete on the way to preparing for online or AI skirmishes. Some of the missions are very short and others are more protracted, and occasionally, it feels like the goal is to exploit weaknesses in the AI or game design instead of strategizing with units and build orders.
For a long time, real-time strategy games were strictly the domain of PC, because at higher levels of competitive play, the ability to create keyboard hotkeys and quickly implement tactics were the difference between victory and defeat. Eventually, developers like Blizzard found a way to port their games to consoles and controllers but unfortunately, controlling Warparty with a gamepad is the single weakest and most frustrating aspect of the game. It’s slow and cumbersome and builds in some regrettable elements, like pausing the game to select and manage units. I assume that when played on PC, control issues disappear but on the console, Warparty feels like a nearly fatal mismatch.
It’s a shame because visually, Warparty strikes a good balance of whimsy in its unit and character design and maps that are well thought out, with the more serious aspect of strategy and base building. Of course, the overall aesthetic is broad and cartoonish and lacking in detail, and reminded me of Warcraft 3-era visuals, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Warparty is clearly derivative, both of older RTS games and mechanics and unit types — zombies and dino-warriors — but there is enough entertainment value to make it worth exploring, especially for fans of the genre with a soft spot for the classics. On console, controls will frustrate but not enough to entirely kill the experience. The timeless quality of RTS games still comes through, and Warparty manages to catch at least a bit of that magic.