The real-time strategy genre has come a long way since its inception in the 1990s, but Warcave and Crazy Monkey Studios’ new game, aptly titled Warparty, has us going all the way back to the stone age. Sure, it’s more of a fantasy stone age with magic and dinosaurs, but it’s a stone age, nonetheless. As a concept, the stone age could be an intriguing backdrop to a game about building up dinosaur troops and sending them to war against the other tribes, but in Warparty, just about every system feels a bit too archaic.
As a package, there’s a fair amount of content in Warparty: a three-part campaign between the three warring factions, a survival mode to test your turtling abilities, an online multiplayer complete with leaderboards and such, and even a built-in wiki containing the full details on each unit, building, and faction. I spent most of my time in the campaign, as it acts a bit like an extended tutorial for each faction, though I still dabbled in every aspect to see what would genuinely strike my fancy. As it turned out, pretty much none of it really stood out as anything better or more unique than the other RTS competition.
The mechanics of Warparty are pretty standard. You have a pair of resources to farm, a population limit, and certain upgrade trees to improve units. The resources prove to be quite scarce, though, as nodes in your base run out quickly and the player is expected to farm multiple areas at a time using a basic storage building for each. This means that a player’s territory is widened relatively quickly so that you can have more farmers harvesting at the same time. For each of the three factions, there’s also a hero unit with a giant health pool and potentially a unique ability that comes into effect on the map. There is also a third resource, power, that’s used to cast special magic that may turn the tide of combat or speed up production. Peculiarly, there are no transportation units, nor can you attack from the air or sea. Everything is ground-based, for better or worse. Also, gathering units can all occupy and gather from the same node, meaning there’s no hard limit to how many gatherers you can use. Luckily, those nodes are scarce, so most gatherers will inevitably get sent to a farm building, which has unlimited food to offer but works at a slower rate.
I’ve always had my best times in typical strategy games playing through the campaigns. Not only do the levels offer unique challenges, but they feel fair and rewarding by the end when your army either crushes the opposing side, or you just manage to eke out a win with your few remaining troops. That wasn’t quite the case in Warparty, who’s campaign feels like an afterthought compared to the multiplayer aspects.
The campaign’s broken up into three branches, one for each of the warring factions, though all three branches take place simultaneously during the same period in this world. That means that some stages will be the same levels but from the opposite viewpoint. What’s worse, these stages each have unique objectives to obtain aside from destroying the other faction, yet they seem irrelevant if you just kill the other base first. I had multiple maps end before I finished my mission because I was just able to crush the enemy base instead. At that point, the game threw out those other objectives and let me move on regardless.
Other times, the objective seemed so impossible and frustrating that I’d give up entirely. For instance, one map wants you to occupy the top of a mountain for 10 full minutes without losing it to either of the opponents, which sounds simple enough. However, that one space was a tight squeeze, covered by other tight corridors, and then some tight stairs to reach it from three sides. As many players know, AI in strategy games is notoriously bad with pathing in tight spaces, leading to a lot of units getting lost or wasting tons of time looking for a vantage point to attack. On top of that, the map had some kind of glitch where I’d watch multiple units fall through the map entirely, either dying or respawning a few seconds later. After spending some 20 minutes preparing for this occupation, the final fight was anything but climactic.
This wasn’t enough to make me entirely quit the campaign, but it did have me switching factions often to replace one frustration with another. For the Vithara, the faction built upon nature and dinosaurs, the second mission has you deliver dinosaurs to your base to unlock the healing units. I must have played this mission in eight different ways to figure out how I could possibly win, and I’d learn something new every time I lost. For instance, sometimes you’ll get defeated in a mission and have absolutely no idea why. At least twice, I’d be finally doing well, move to destroy some enemy towers and then suddenly receive a Defeat screen. No explanation, no replay, just 20 minutes of my time lost to confusion. I also learned that the enemy AI may be heavily scripted in the campaign, meant to keep up with the human player in terms of upgrades and unit power. If I looked to rush the objectives to beat the opponent before he got too much going, he’d instantly have a massive army sent to crush me. If I slowed down to a crawl, I could build up basic forces and be untouched by the AI until I was fully prepared.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best with real-time strategy, but I’m definitely no slouch, and these campaign mechanics sure felt like they were punishing me when I thought I was doing my best work. Got a lot of units to defend the top? Watch how this constant stream of snipers wipes them out before one can fit down the stairs. Rushing down your upgrade tree? Good thing the AI gets each of those upgrades, as well. The only methods that seemed to work were silly strategies meant to trick the AI rather than win in any meaningful fashion. Needless to say, the campaign was not at all entertaining.
After pounding my head against that wall, I decided to try out some other modes to see what was on offer. The survival mode was my first stop, a game type that tests out how well you can sit around and defend your base versus neverending waves of enemies. There’s an online leaderboard and everything, so I felt it’d make for a good timesink. It starts out relatively slow, giving you about five or six minutes to build up your base from scratch before the trickle of enemies begins to knock at your doors. Though it could be fun for the more advanced players, I couldn’t really get into it.
Warparty puts minimal emphasis on defense. There are no walls to speak of, there’s just one basic turret for each party, and the AI doesn’t actually fight back if attacked from outside the unit’s range. So, the concept of having to hold on to your base comes from just how well you can split up your groups to defend each of the three or more entry points. And even a perfect split can be ruined by the oblivious unit AI, so it’s up to the player to continually jump between packs, initiate the fighting and retreat back to safety. Even the turrets aren’t a big help, as there’s a limit to the number you can use, and the cost starts increasing once you have five. Why have a defense mode if your game regularly punishes defense?
Luckily, the last mode I tried was the best way to play Warparty. Fighting in an AI skirmish finally demonstrated some semblance of balance while also posing a solid challenge. Booting up, I had to make just a few main choices for map and mode before jumping into the scuffle. It didn’t take long to figure out that your hero unit plays a major role in the early portions of a battle. With such a large health pool, melee heroes can draw the fire of a small squad while you use other units to pick off the much flimsier enemies. Also, gathering units can occupy and gather from the same node, which means it isn’t a bad idea to just send out packs of 10 gatherers to quickly clean up stray nodes before beginning their farming career. Once I started learning the nuances to Warparty, the versus mode was a relatively satisfying experience.
Graphically, Warparty looks closer to Warcraft 3 than anything more recent, and there’s no grid system for building, meaning it’s more up to trial and error to see how close you can place your houses. Otherwise, Warparty is mostly competent as a competitive RTS, but it doesn’t offer enough diversity to set it apart from powerhouses like Starcraft or the Warhammer series. I’d much rather play Starcraft’s engaging campaign than learn how to correctly path a few triceratops riders to sit in a circle for 10 minutes.
As it stands, Warparty might be seen as a new challenge for a select handful that has grown bored of the usual strategy scene. But for most, Warparty is a significant step back from the advances that RTS games have made past Warcraft 3, and its stone-age systems will still get in the way of having any fun outside of the AI skirmish and multiplayer modes.
Warparty may be a decent game for simple multiplayer matches, but its lack of creativity and rough mechanics keep it feeling older than the timeframe it’s based upon.