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Orcs Must Die Hands-On Preview [PAX 2011]

At PAX 2011, I had the opportunity to play Orcs Must Die, a new action/tower defense game coming to PC and Xbox Live from Robot Entertainment. How can I describe Orcs Must Die? Well, honestly, the title says it all.

At PAX 2011, I had the opportunity to play Orcs Must Die, a new action/tower defense game coming to PC and Xbox Live from Robot Entertainment.  How can I describe Orcs Must Die?  Well, honestly, the title says it all.  Players take the role of a warrior who has been charged with making sure that no orcs make it through any of the “rift portals” in their world, a glowing portal that would allow them to travel to the land of humans. Luckily, the rifts are encased in fortresses, which means that, in addition to taking them on in hand-to-hand combat, players can build traps to stem the tide of ravaging orcs.

Mixing the action and tower defense genre seems to be growing into a genre all on it’s own – Psychonauts developer Double Fine’s newest DLC game, Trenched – strikes a similar balance. Before each level starts, players get to choose what traps to add to their menu, and can then place a certain amount of traps. The game’s levels feel more like a level creator than traditional top-down Tower Defense games.

Players should feel free to throw their traps in whatever positions their sadistic hearts desire without too much fear of making a mistake – any orcs that get through your traps can be taken down with your character’s melee and long-ranged attacks, as well as built-in environmental traps (falling chandeliers, boiling oil, etc) which you trigger yourself.  In other words, where you put traps doesn’t feel like a matter of strategic importance, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The fighting is fast-paced and addictive and you aren’t going to want to wait for enemies to make it through your traps.

Strategy aside, like any Tower Defense game, it’s the traps that are going to make Orcs Must Die.  With OMD’s sandbox feel, having the appropriate toys to play with are especially important.  The game does a good job of giving a wide array of options for players to choose from.  Most traps are set to attach to specific surfaces – the floor, the walls, ceilings, etc – and many of them are designed to interact with the environment or each other.  For example, using springboard trap keeps orcs out of the way, but from there you can place some boiling oil where they land to finish them off, or direct the springboard into an environmental trap like a pool of lava.  If it seems like you need to change your strategy, traps and weapons are hotkeyed and easy to scroll through at any time; weapons and traps are in separate lists, so you won’t have to scroll through too many options to make any one switch.  Traps can only be cashed in between waves, so a small amount of resource management is a good idea.

Overall, Orcs Must Die is a highly addictive variation on the tower defense genre.  If you can’t get enough tower defense in your life, then check this one out.

Orcs Must Die will knocking down your door on XBLA and PC this fall.

About the author

Michael Epstein