The Golden Horde Review (PC)

JoWood and Wold Forge bring medieval hordes together as they battle each other for land, faith or just the plain glory of conquest battle brings.

The Golden Horde isnít your traditional run-of-the-mill real-time strategy game, and Iím not talking about its period setting.† Sending troops to war is the corner stone of pretty much all war games that work in real-time, but World Forge have upped the ante by introducing an overlooked but critical part to a battle no matter the century; the weaponry.† Not only do you send those guys off to some forsaken field of battle but first youíll need to actually equip them first, presented in a light RPG way.† Resources and arming your troops is the bottleneck to the game but also one of its major tactical depths which probably wonít be to everyoneís taste.

Build me a church so that I might pray, for erm, for victory and stuff
The forge is definitely a delicate and crucial puzzle piece

You decide which kind of weapon you want to equip your men and they each carry different ranges, damages and bonuses.† Before that youíll need to feed your industry of war with raw materials.† Resources are approached the same way Age of Empires or Empire Earth deals with needed materials, you seek them out, set up shop and mine or chop the heck out of it.† They also deplete so itís best to always be on the lookout for a new iron vein or youíll be scavenging for new armaments instead.† After a time though a metal mine can suddenly get back some of its resources so donít overlook them once theyíve been mined 'empty'.

The game isnít going to be pulling you in for its eye candy.† Thereís nothing grotesque about it but at the same time itís rather unremarkable.† The terrain feels a little stretched and imperfections are easily spotted, the same goes for much of the units and various other objects that would or will litter the fields.† Some of the buildings though buck the trend like the huge tent of the Khan, the size and design of it is rich in the history of the period.† Still while itís no competition for the stylingís of say the latest Command & Conquer or World in Conflict it does have its own charm, it just needs a little time to work it through to the player.† Watching major battles unfold is a great way to fuel the bloodlust as bodies and sprays of red fly.

Three factions make up the Golden Horde, the Mongolians, the Russians and the Crusaders.† Each is uniquely styled and has different preferences for combat and building your encampments.† The Mongols are more mobile and so their structures can be packed up and moved around the map which is helpful if you find yourself in a less than defensible part of the map.† Russians build up in a more traditional town setting and only a few select buildings can be put up away from the towns centre.† The Crusaders can build where they please and can even have their structures fortified by some units.† Except for the Russians who order their buildings through the town, workers are used to erect all the buildings.† These include fortifications like walls which can be countered with siege weaponry, strategists who like a good siege wonít be shy to some good stone throwing.

Capture villages for more men to recruit for war and shovelíin
No metal means no weapons, a simple yet deadly concept

Recruiting units may seem a bit confusing at first, especially if you read the manual.† The weird sounding names for units donít help much even if theyíre there for historical and factual accuracy.† The Russians and Mongolians essentially recruit workers or peasants and you then equip them with what weapon type you like, once they get some experience and level up they can become specialists for those weapons.† Experience for the units is everything, where as other RTS games usually have this as a complimentary dynamic ĖGolden Horde makes it an absolute must.† The Crusaders are the more straight forward lot with two types of units which too can specialise.† This veteran system even translates to your faction producing weapons; an experienced worker who has become a smith will produce higher quality weapons which can deal greater damage.

Population is another important resource and capturing villages, which seem to be just a large wooden shack on occasion, will slowly increase the population pool for you to recruit from; your main building helps with this as well.† Much like in a RPG, units themselves have armour ratings, attacking bonuses and chances to land a critical blow.† Its best you try to keep a force reasonably numbered and equipped with the finest weaponry and armour you can afford to give them.† Having an enemy pillage your dead for their stuff, aside from losing good decently train troops, is a real insult to injury.

Another element which tends to be overlooked but at the time was a major decider for most battles is the weather.† At the top of the screen is a little arrow which can swing wildly around at times, this is telling you which way the wind is blowing.† Itís not just for show either as itíll effect long range units, namely the archers.† Heavy snow will slow down an advance and the pesky rain reduces the visibility forcing your units to get up close and personal.† Itís a great idea and I think many more strategy games should pay more attention to the effects of the weather on tactics; many battles in history would have played out very differently if it hadnít been for the intervention of nature.

Unit experience is everything, n00bs donít win wars
Graphics wonít be blowing socks but theyíre colourful

The UI is pretty clear for the game and units have the suspect actions buttons like move, stop, stance change etc as well the ability to alter formations.† Each of the resource types are displayed along the top so easily managed with the playerís watchful eye.† You can play custom games -- though thereís a distinct lack of map variety -- or you can opt to try out the full campaigns for each faction, youíll be treated to ingame cinematic with the camera zooming about a bit with the occasional voice-over.† The audio is satisfactory with the music providing oriental stylingís but is otherwise largely forgettable, with voice overís a mix of generic and sometimes pleasantly quirky.

The Golden Horde is a pleasant shake up to the usual tried and true method of a RTS game, mixing light RPG to give the player the chance to better customise and tune their own war machine is an engaging feature.† Unfortunately this also plays against as some wonít find it to their tastes.† World Forge does well to deliver a good competent stint for the Mongolians, their neighbourhood Russians and visiting Crusaders Ė while nothing here is going to blow you away itís still a bloodthirsty challenge.

Top Game Moment:Watching as a sea of red misty spurts erupts during a heated Mongolian-Crusader 'dispute', then pinching their stuff.