Can you call someone a hero if they don’t actually defeat any villains themselves? Imagine, for example, a pajama-clad hero wandering into a dungeon. They’re thumbing through a copy of Moby Dick with one hand and tucking into a pain au chocolat with the other. They take a bite of the flaky pastry and turn the page, and then everything around them bursts into flames. No effort was expended on their part. You might as well give the pastry the medal.
I bring up this facetious imagination exercise because it encapsulates my biggest issue with Spirit Hunters: Infinite Horde. There are a lot of tremendously exciting things going on but my involvement in any of them is extremely limited. As a result, it was hard for me to stay interested, despite some good polish in key areas. Then again, I suppose it doesn’t matter how sweet the toffee is if it’s covering a rotten apple.
Great Balls Of Fire
Spirit Hunters: Infinite Horde doesn’t bother with plot or context. There are too many hordes to destroy for things like that. Instead it opens up with a choice of character. At first, you have a choice of just two: the grumpy looking mage Magnus and the equally grumpy looking sorceress, Vivian. Each character has a different focus, which alters your starting powers and gives their own unique boost. There’s quite a few of them too, which is good. Magnus, for example, is built around regaining HP, either by levelling up skills or by tearing it straight out of enemies.
Along with a hero, you’ll need to choose a starting skill. From the small selection I was presented with, I chose the fireball. An old mage favourite, after all. I was then plonked into a desert with a baseball sized fireball circling me. Therein lies the central mechanic. All attacks are automatic, all you need to do is line yourself up with the enemy and your attacks will do the rest. It’s a modification on what’s being termed ‘Bullet Heaven’, where the bullets that fill the screen are yours, rather than the enemy’s.
The bare truth is that I don’t like this system very much. The thing that I kept thinking of while playing was the brief time I played Counter Strike: Source and came up against people using aimbot. All they did was look at other players and they’d die. Not much difference here. There’s just a lack of actual, meaningful input that bothered me. I’d see bosses explode in a cacophony of spikes and flame, and feel nothing. I was just over here picking my nose. I didn’t even have the minor satisfaction of pressing a button to make it happen.
That said, if this is the type of thing to grip you then Spirit Hunters: Infinite Horde will have its claws in you for some time. For one thing, the progression web – called the ‘Divinity Web’ – is immense. It will take quite a few runs to unlock it all. As you progress you unlock new skills, mods, characters, and locations. It’s the good kind of progression too, that generally changes up each run. It can become a bit of a grind, though, as some of the later nodes need a good chunk of resources. That’s mainly an incentive to dip toes into the higher difficulties though.
Speaking of difficulty, allow me to dip back down into grumble territory. When I play a game like this, with the emphasis on repeated runs, I never expect to beat the first run. It’s a pretty standard death so you can be introduced to the progression. Odd, then, that I beat my first run without incident. Then I beat the next run and the run after that. Of the eighteen runs I’ve done so far, I’ve won fourteen of them. That seems a little backwards to me. A smidge too easy, which means a smidge too repetitive. I think it comes back to the lack of player interaction again. When all you have to focus on is dodging, it becomes hard to be overwhelmed. The higher difficulties fare a bit better, but ultimately slide down into the same tedium.
It’s a hard judgement because there’s been a lot of polish in key areas. It looks rather nice, for one, with clean graphics that remind me of old Flash games. It even has an alright soundtrack. There’s a lot of variety here too. All the heroes look distinct and there’s an impressive range of different skills. I enjoyed Shakpana and his penchant for poisoning everything, especially when paired with the ability that caused spikes to erupt from the ground. There’s decent enemy variety too, and I like how it changes based on map and difficulty. But everything orbits around an unsatisfying core. Every time I saw a new enemy, I knew it would just slowly move towards me and little else. Then a spike would pop up and job done.
Let me throw Spirit Hunters: Infinite Horde a bone here. This genre has been long established before I came in here like a negative nancy. It’s possible I just don’t like the genre. Any game that seeks to take things away from the player, like actually attacking the enemy, and then doesn’t replace it with anything (such as turrets for instance) is one that I’m not going to have a good time with. It’s not menial enough that I can switch my conscious brain to a video and let my lizard brain take over and it’s not engaging enough that it keeps me solely focused on it.
Still, if this is your cup of tea then you’ll find some fun in Spirit Hunters: Infinite Horde. It polishes the right elements to keep it solely focused on the central component. The graphics are okay, the soundtrack has some good notes and there’s mountain of progression to keep you chiseling away. Unfortunately, from where I’m standing it’s all set-dressing around a hollow core. Your mileage may vary but, personally, if I’m faced with an infinite horde then I’d prefer to hunt it myself. I’ll eat the pain au chocolat beforehand.