Often frustrating, sometimes fun primitive grooves.
Since virtually every other genre is having a bit of a nostalgic throwback craze, why not one of the absolute biggest genres of the mid-to-late 90s? Real-time strategy games exploded thanks to Warcraft and Starcraft, but have severely died down in recent years. Developer Warcave, however, clearly remembers the golden age of RTS and have done their best to pay homage to the classic RTS with Warparty.
Available on not just the PC, but the Switch, PS4, and Xbox, there are a lot of interesting things going on in Warparty. The setting is terrific. Everyone loves cavemen versus dinosaurs, right? Warparty makes good use the absurd premise and even goes a step further by introducing three separate factions with very different goals.
The world of Warparty revolves around the secrets of Go’n magic, an ancient and mysterious power that, obviously, must be fought over. The Wildlanders are the most traditional faction. They’re stereotypical caveman types who build, gather, and train in typical classic RTS-style. These people want to unlock the secrets of the Go’n temples and sacred powers, and not die.
Warparty uses the Wildlanders for its tutorial and a basic way to ease into the game mechanics, but the other two factions—the Vithara and Necromas—are much more interesting. Vithara is a kind of insane monk who believes he has seen the future thanks to Go’n magic. Regrettably, that future showed him that humans were garbage and would ruin the world. So, he comes to the very sane conclusion that all humans must die. Also, he can control dinosaurs, so he is naturally cooler than anyone else.
The Necroma faction is led by a brutish hammer-swinging dude who had a similar Go’n experience, whereupon he is imparted with the questionable wisdom that humans will only attain true freedom in the afterlife. So, basically, he wants to murder everyone because he too is a lunatic. Thankfully, as the name suggests, he has the power to create and control the forces of the undead.
So, basically, Warparty is humans vs. dinos vs. zombies, which is arguably one of the coolest basic concepts for any game ever. It’s unfortunate that the rest doesn’t really live up to such promise. RTS on consoles have always been problematic and it’s clear that Warcave tried to adjust the control mechanics to accommodate control pads.
On the Switch—the primary platform we tested—it’s not bad, but still clunky, especially when it comes to fine control of individual units or small groups. Part of the problem is the game explains very little about how it actually works, beyond the most basic elements of the Wildlanders. Since the other two factions control in at least partially different ways, there’s a lot of trial and error learning to figure out how they work.
Worse than that, however, is the wildly uneven and imbalanced difficulty level in the single-player modes. This makes the otherwise interesting campaign incredibly frustrating. Even the early levels of the three story-based campaigns suffer from seemingly random spikes in AI difficulty level. This leads to sudden failures no matter how prepared your base and troops seem to be.
Each faction leader has special powers as well, enabling powerful attacks or unit boosts. Building, powers, and other functions are tied to radial wheels accessed through the shoulder buttons on the console. There are some hotkeys tied to the left D-pad as well for selecting specific or all units, but the controls never felt entirely natural or intuitive.
The PC version doesn’t have the same issues there. Mouse and keyboard are still the best way to play a game like this, but the difficulty spiking and suspect AI remain. Even on PC, the overall UI isn’t nearly as friendly and streamlined as the classics of the genre, but the game definitely fits better on PC.
At press time, only the PC version featured any multiplayer options at all. The online skirmish mode supports up to six players across a variety of differently sized maps, and even offers a spectator mode and leaderboard rankings. There are also single-player skirmish and survival modes for really honing your prehistoric edge. Warcave is due to release a patch for all the console versions enabling their multiplayer modes as well.
The PC version, unsurprisingly, looks best, especially compared to the much lower-res Switch version. Just the same, the game’s 3D landscapes and units have a distinct charm and the dinosaurs look excellent. The score gets pretty repetitive early on, though, and the voice acting is humorously sketchy.
Warparty needs quite a bit more polish before it has any hope of reaching any sort of classic status. The setting and factions are great, but the interface and mechanics are muddled. Control pad support is serviceable, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. It’s definitely a fun gimmick to play a full-on RTS on a portable like the Switch, but all versions of the game seem to suffer from substantial play imbalances and questionable AI.
So, Warparty is decidedly hit and miss. If you want a quirky RTS game with plenty of classic overtones, while still having a quirky personality of its own, this is it (warts and all). Hopefully, the game can get patched to improve the rough spots and controls. As it stands at release, Warparty is frequently frustrating more often than it’s fun.
[Reviewed on Switch and PC]