Undead Horde 2 is a top-down strategy/hack and slash mash up from Finnish studio 10TonsLtd and if you’ve ever read our reviews of their games, you’ll know that we’re huge fans of their work. The game is, of course, the follow-up to their 2020 original, a game that we liked a lot.
As with that game, you play as the King of the Dead, a character who very much has the skillset of the Night King from Game of Thrones. Aside from being able to use melee weapons and magic staffs to cause direct damage to enemy units and structures, his real party trick is to be able to raise enemies from the dead and command them in his army. This means that skirmishes that might not start in your favour are really just potential recruitment drives.
It’s a great system that makes for a pretty original gimmick (for anyone who didn’t try to recruit ghosts to their army in the original King’s Bounty at least). At first you start with a pretty low command cap and will just be able to lead a small rabble of skeleton warriors and archers but along the way your leadership will improve, as will the quality of units that you’ll be able to recruit.
Before long you’ll be able to create an army of ghouls, zombies, giants, scorpions and a whole lot more from a selection of twenty types. The more formidable units (such as giants) will use up a bigger chunk of that command cap and, of course, different units will attack from different ranges while others, such as the Skeleton Bards, act only as support units. So there’s definitely a good strategic element to how you put together your undead militia.
The main gameplay loop generally involves you entering an area with your army and working your way through it clearing out enemies and destroying buildings. The latter can be houses/shacks that respawn enemies at regular intervals as well as defensive structures that dish out heavy damage if you get too near. However, once you’ve cleared out everything, that area then becomes safe and you’ll not need to worry about fighting there again.
In terms of the structure of the game, you’ve got four main areas, each split into 15-20 stages. You’ll generally be given tasks (find this, destroy that etc.) and will need to travel to the relevant stage, do what you need to do and then return back to the quest giver or your hub world (the titular ‘Necropolis’) to hand in for a reward (XP and cash).
So, if you’ve played the original Undead Horde, you’ll be thinking ‘yep, you’ve just described the previous game’ and that’s definitely fair, so what’s different? Well, while the game still feels and plays much the same as before, there are some significant, and less significant, differences.
The main one is that where before you’d be raising up enemies that you’d killed and they’d return as the same unit type as before (so if you killed a skeleton, it came back as a skeleton) now you can pick what it comes back as. You get five slots where you pick the unit types you want to command and then you use up and down on the d-pad to select which of the five you’ll be raising dead units as. So you can kill, for example, a human soldier but if you’ve got ‘Scorpion’ selected, that’s what they’ll come back as.
Now initially we were a bit disappointed by that. There was something cool about fighting a difficult enemy, defeating it and then turning it to your side (think of when the Night King got himself a dragon that way in Game of Thrones) but the advantage of this system is that it makes things a little more tactical. Now you’re working with units you’ve pre-selected and it works well. Is it as good? We’re not sure. But it’s different and sequels should be different. Another difference between the games is that you can no longer recruit fallen heroes to fight for you. There are still these named champion enemies to defeat but once they’re gone their bones can only be used to create one of your five pre-selected units.
The other main change is in the game’s hub area, the Necropolis. In the first game, your hub area was a crypt which was laid out with merchants at the bottom and your possible unit choices at the top. It was a nice, elegant layout. Well, that’s been replaced now with an area that is more of a district with houses and paths.
Where you once had five merchants, you now have one. That’s better. But you now get a lot of extra stuff going on. For example, you now have four types of unit class (animals, skeletons, spirits, corpse) with each one having five unit types. Each class has a building where you can assign upgrades which are fueled by spirit jars that are earned when you completely clear a stage of enemies. These of these buildings is located in different places around Necropolis and they all have various options attached to them. Once you get used to it, it’s fine but we can’t help miss the simplicity of having all the unit types represented by rows of statues like you had in the first game.
Aside from that there’s also a church where you can assign noble souls for permanent stat upgrades, a crafting station to make new gear, a rune guy who lets you assign runes you’ve found (these act as temporary buffs in battle) and four teleporters. It’s okay but it’s all a bit busy at first.
However, once you get past all of that, the game plays reassuringly like the original. At first you feel like an unstoppable wave of death, re-filling the empty spaces in your army on the fly and overwhelming your human adversaries but before long you’ll start to struggle and it’s at these points where Undead Horde 2 is at its most compelling. On a hard stage, this is how it’ll go. You walk in, you have a skirmish, you die. So then when you come back you need to take out structures as these act as respawn points for enemies or, as previously mentioned, defensive fixings. You take them out, you thin out the enemies, you use their bones to keep refilling your squad and eventually you’ll make it. It might take several deaths but these struggles feel strategic and interesting and things improve if you manage to get a bit of gear that helps turn the battle in your favour.
That said, the loot game here is a bit of a mixed bag. At its best, getting an improved weapon or bit of gear is always welcome and the new crafting station also allows you to create really useful bits of kit. However, there’s a lot of drops in this game and, especially towards the end, you’ll find yourself stopping fairly regularly to sell all of the unwanted stuff clogging up your inventory. It’s fine but the balance isn’t quite as good as it could be. And, as with the first game, we kept favouring experience or coin gain over fighting stats which is probably a mistake on our part.
They’ve recycled the previous game’s music and the graphics have kept the previous cartoon-y look but for a game with so much going on, this clean and colourful look is the right choice to make sure the action never gets too obscured. The game won’t win any awards for presentation but we’re always happy when a game focuses on playability over aesthetics.
Undead Horde 2 is pretty compelling stuff. While the melee combat is still not all that good and feels as clunky and unsatisfying as before, the main draw here is the on-the-fly army management and that’s still great. We’re not sure we prefer the new system over the old one but we’re happy they’ve made the change and once you get used to it, and to the changes in the hub world, the game is a lot of fun to play through and as addictive as you’d expect from this publisher which is to say ‘very.’
+ The core concept of raising the dead makes for some great strategic gameplay
+ Very addictive
- Melee combat is still pretty unsatisfying