I don’t consider myself to be an unreasonable man – in fact, far from it. I just request that some of the more simple things in life be handled. My iced tea should be sweetened, my Big Mac should come with special sauce, and all of these orcs have to die. That’s not asking too much, is it?
It’s only been 10 months since the release of the original Orcs Must Die! hit PCs, and it’s a bit frightening to realize how much has changed in that time. Orcs Must Die! completely revolutionized the tower defense genre, opening it up to a host of new fans.
While it would normally be right for fans to possess a bit of trepidation regarding picking up a sequel released in such a short turnaround, Robot Entertainment seems to have addressed every single complaint one could have had with the original. Orcs Must Die! 2 may not show drastic changes with its aesthetics or mechanics, but the way the core game has been fleshed out is fantastic. The deeper customization and inclusion of co-op make this a straight upgrade from the original.
The first thing players will notice is just how deep the spellbook is. The book itself is broken up into sections for weapons, traps, trinkets and costumes. Every single item outside of the costumes can be leveled up numerous times, buffing their effect and adding new abilities such as the ability to put flaming arrow traps on the ceiling. For a point of reference, it would have taken you around 200 skulls to max out everything in the original Orcs Must Die! whereas you’ll need close to 1700 in Orcs Must Die! 2.
Getting these skulls is no easy task, either. Each level will award you with upwards of 5 skulls for a perfect run with a few additional bonus skulls for completing special tasks. Enemies can also drop skulls this time around, offering another chance to pick some up.
The easiest way (hypothetically, at least) to pick up a few skulls is through Endless mode. Upwards of 50 waves will assault you on a map of your choosing, putting your skills to the test. The option to go into Endless mode opens fairly early, but don’t be fooled into thinking you can take an improperly equipped character in there. The enemies ramp up in difficulty fairly quickly, and unless you’ve got some pretty powerful tools at your disposal, you’re not going to survive for very long.
Regrettably, the two characters in the game are seen as two completely different save files, meaning that while my War Mage may have had 100 something skulls floating around waiting to become the harbinger of death, my Sorceress was for all intents and purposes starting the game over fresh. While this will add a lot of replay value to those looking to max out both characters, I couldn’t help but wish I’d had some sort of jumpstart when playing as her.
I’ll admit I was a bit worried when I heard that Robot Entertainment was bringing co-op to the table. I knew it could be done well since Dungeon Defenders was able to implement it so seamlessly, but I was hesitant to think about how it would work with the more streamlined gameplay found in Orcs Must Die! I’m happy to admit that my fears were completely unfounded. The co-op is incredibly smooth, and really highlights the strengths of both characters. The game’s difficulty is ratcheted up just enough to stay challenging while never once becoming insultingly easy or excruciatingly difficult.
The only place I can find a true negative with Orcs Must Die! 2’s multiplayer is in its complete lack of a lobby system. In order to play with someone, they have to be on your Steam friends list. This is fine for the times when I want to play with a friend, but every so often I want to go out there with a complete stranger in order to see what will happen. For everything Robot Entertainment did right, this is a pretty glaring omission.
The one issue you may run into while playing with a friend is that it’s easy to fall into a trap of building up your skills with a partner in mind. The Sorceress has some amazing crowd control skills for example. However, with a competent War Mage at your side it’s very possible to forget that when you go back to single player you’ll need to produce some of your own.
Luckily, Robot Entertainment has included the ability to completely respec your character at will and without penalty. Just a few clicks and you can completely retool your offence to fit your current needs. Of course, the downside of this is that it manages to cheapen the unlock system a bit. If it’s that simple to buy whatever upgrade you need for a given map, why make it necessary to unlock them at all? This is a minor qualm in the long run, but it is something that stuck out.
While this may seem like a minor thing to take note of, the developers have made it possible to reassign every key binding in the game, even including extra mouse buttons as viable options. Personally, I can’t stand an open microphone, and I’m not a fan of having to abandon the action to talk to my partners, so being able to assign the push-to-talk button to the side of my mouse was a very welcome addition.
Strangely enough, while I couldn’t find anything in the options referencing it, I discovered that the game is compatible with a game pad when a friend joined me for some jolly-cooperation and noticed that he had accidentally left his plugged in. After playing around with it for a bit, I can safely say I could never play this game that way because it feels a bit sluggish to switch between traps and it doesn’t seem to work at all with the menu system. However, the option is there for those who would prefer to use a pad.
The only thing in the game that doesn’t feel like a pure upgrade from the original is the level design. There’s nothing really wrong with the levels here, but they lack some of that magical whimsy I had grown accustomed to. It all seemed a bit too straightforward at times and there weren’t as many opportunities to use the environment to my advantage. Truth be told, if the first game’s level design wasn’t as fantastic as it was, this wouldn’t be an issue whatsoever. Robot Entertainment spoiled us a bit with Orcs Must Die! and I don’t think we’re wrong for being slightly upset that Orcs Must Die! 2 didn’t live up to that standard.
Luckily, ten of the original levels have been included in the Lost Adventures DLC, which is free to anyone who owns the original title. Classic mode is also available to those folks, and there’s a ton of fun to be had playing through some of the original levels with a friend at your side.
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said much about the story. The truth is that the story feels secondary to the gameplay and is largely forgettable. The basic gist is that when you sealed the rifts in the original game, you also sealed the land off from the influence of magic, dooming the world to starvation. It’s fairly bare bones, and outside of a sparse few cut scenes and witty banter at the beginning of a stage, there’s no real focus on it.
The character banter before each stage is fantastic, however. The War Mage and Sorceress play off each other perfectly, creating some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. The voice acting is top notch and the relationship between the two characters is subtly brilliant. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the ridiculous tension between the characters, paired with the silly tips on the game’s loading screens, will keep you smiling the entire time.
Orcs Must Die! 2 is a strange sequel to be sure. This isn’t a massive step forward in terms of storytelling, and the level design may arguably have been better in the first title. However, with that being said, the game feels like a pure upgrade from the original. Almost every complaint I previously had has been rectified, and the new additions manage to make it feel like a brand new title waiting to be discovered.
Less than a year ago, Orcs Must Die! was among the first games to blend third-person action with the tower defense genre. Now, with the market dangerously close to saturation, it manages to stand out again as king of its domain. I couldn’t be happier.
This review is based on a copy of the game that we were provided with.