Those pesky orcs never learn. Why, oh why do they never learn? It’s too bad for them, but great for us gamers who love to use any means necessary to deal with the ugly and green digital creations. Now, we’re able to flatten, gib, pummel and eviscerate the horde in visceral fashion, within the realm of an action defence title. The title which allows all of that to unfold in sadistic but hilarious form is Orcs Must Die! from Robot Entertainment. A strong game, it contains a lot of neat ways to protect your base from oncoming attackers.
As the story goes, orcs have been threatening local rift portals for years. In charge of protecting these castle-based reality wonders is a group of war mages, whose craft has been passed down from sorcerer to apprentice and so on. The most patient of the all powerful ones was given a bit of an imbecile as his latest student, with the hierarchy believing that the most patient teacher could eventually get through his thick skull. Lucky us, as that’s who we play as.
Orcs Must Die! opens by showing the last few moments of your mentor’s life. After surviving many attacks from the vicious orcs and their companions, he has succumbed to a head gash as a result of a fall. Why this fall occurred is a direct consequence of his occupation. His legs gave out after slipping on blood, resulting in unfortunate head trauma. It’s during these fleeting moments where gamers are told of what has happened and who the trust now relies on. Of course, all of this is done in comical fashion, using a “we’re doomed” B-movie approach.
The scouting report on our hero was certainly correct. He’s a heel-clicking fool, who likes to spew cheesy one-liners as he slays his foes. If this was real life, we would be doomed. However, we’re gamers and it’s our job to save this digital world from its evil nightmares. This means that it’s our responsibility to take this bumbling dud from rookie status to professional idolatry. Then again, it’s not like there’s much of a choice afforded. No character select screen is made available.
Now, there’s been a lot of talk about protecting the rift portals and saving the world. You may be wondering how this is done. In fact, you surely are. Well, worry no longer. It’s all performed using interactive action defence mechanics. Think of a tower defence game with a roving, playable character in the middle, who can set up traps and use weapons to kill straggling enemies. It’s similar to Dead Block, though the hack n’ slash mechanics are faster and more refined, with the addition of some magical and elemental spells. However, our trusty sword and crossbow make what are possibly the greatest aids throughout this experience.
Each of the twenty and a half stages in Orcs Must Die! present different geometry to tackle as you do everything in your power to prevent a set number of baddies from reaching the portal(s). A lot of the time, there’s just one rift to deal with, but that isn’t always the case. What this creates is a strategical yet obsessive-compulsive need to check your bases…literally. Make good use of different traps to stop most of the horde in its tracks, though always make sure to double-check your home plate. You never know if one or two will sneak in, especially if they’re of the flying variety.
If your allotted amount of escapees is met, then it’s a quick game over and a forced retry in your future. This acts as extra reason to be both smart and diligent. Keep in mind that, when your avatar is killed, this limit also reduces itself. For example, one death can drop the amount by a staggering five points. Hacking and slashing comes at a premium, to say the least. Thankfully, there are dropped health vials to be found, which replenish your health fully. The only other healing option is to stand by a rift for a short amount of time.
Although they’re the only mutated race listed in the title, orcs are surprisingly not the only enemies to be found here. Sure, they’re the most common, but some friends were also invited to the party. There’s your quick and pesky gigantic rats, hulking ogres with gigantic clubs and flying deformities, as well as a couple other classes. Each type presents a different challenge, though they all collapse in similar ways. Different traps work best for certain foes, with placed archers acting as a stellar last line of defence against small flying creatures. My personal favourite and most trusty placed companion was the arrow wall, which unlocks right at the beginning of the game and always made foes pay the ultimate price.
Traps run the gamut of types, with both conventional and unconventional designs making it into the final build of Orcs Must Die! Tower defence fans will get the gist of it from the beginning, as there are your ranged traps, slow down spots and special weapons. In addition to the arrow walls, there are basic creations such as a crushing trap, gruesome bladed walls and a slick floor pad which hampers orc progression. These work really well, but aren’t the standout hilarity which can be found in schematics unlocked later on in the game. I particularly enjoyed the launching pad and its springboard effect, as well as the hot coals which burned slowed enemies to crispy perfection. The levitating trap also became quite helpful.
A spell book becomes available at the beginning of each match, allowing virtual mages to select their traps and weaponry for the mission at hand. This becomes your arsenal once the action begins, with shoulder buttons allowing for quick circulation within. Since you’re earning cash for every kill, it’s important to choose your placements wisely because funds are never unlimited. Money can be spent on bonuses offered by sultry women, such as elemental powers, extra money drops and stuff like that. This adds a risk and reward type scenario as it limits your starting purse for the purchase of differently priced traps. Then again, these giving maidens are only available in certain missions.
Although it’s a good idea to use different types of route blockers, I found that the arrow wall was always the most important. That was especially true when I upgraded its power and area of effect, using skulls which I’d earned from the game’s rating system. You see; in true genre form, players are rated based on their quality of completion in each stage. Skulls are conveniently used to show how badass of an orc slayer you really are, with five being the premium score. These skulls are then turned around and used for currency, allowing for upgraded versions of every trap you unlock. What’s great is that a lot of these can be placed from a decent distance.
Playing on easy will limit your skull rewards to two, meaning that fewer upgrades are available. On normal, Orcs Must Die! purchasers can look forward to a full array of skulls, though nightmare difficulty is the ultimate test. It’s unlocked after completion of the normal difficulty level. The most hardcore of the hardcore will want to test their skills against the toughest challenge, though normal is a pretty difficult beast in itself.
What I really like about Orcs Must Die! is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s a colourful game visually and in spirit. This is evident in its fast-paced movement, abundance of gore and hilarious one-liners. What other game has orcs which ask if they’ve validated parking, some which call for their mothers and others who like to use slang like “No, you di’ant”? It’s funny to hear their reactions to death, as witnesses or the receiver of the attack. This attention to comedy keeps the game fresh and sets it apart from its peers, which tend to usually have very serious subject matter and story content.
Another area where Orcs Must Die! is impressive is the variety department. There’s a good amount of choice presented in your form of attack (or defence, if you will,) using options you won’t find in any other video game. Taking out hordes of orcs is a heck of a lot of fun, which doesn’t lose its appeal as the game progresses. In fact, the experience is always evolving with the addition of new traps and environmental hazards, such as triggered rolling logs (pancakes, anyone?) and falling chandeliers. This is a different game from any tower defence and action defence title I’ve ever played, which is a good thing. Not to say I dislike the genre by any means – it’s just nice to have something light.
Needless to say, Orcs Must Die! is a great purchase for fans of the tower defence genre, or hack n’ slash games. It’s fun, enjoyable and funny. Sure, there’s some repetition which is inherent in this type of game, but it’s easily forgotten due to the good amount of added creativity. It’s also unlike any of its peers or predecessors, which is a good selling feature.
However, if there was one major complaint I’d levy, it would be that there isn’t a lot of extra content outside of the single player campaign. Though it’s lengthy in and of itself, I wish there could have been some extra challenges, co-op game modes or the like. Some sort of a competitive offering could have boosted replay value. As it stands, if you’re not one for going back to replay for better scores, then this game won’t have a ton of replay value for you. This may be a deterrent for some gamers, though it’s important to mention that the campaign itself is quite good. The price is worth it just for that, in my opinion.
Visually, Orcs Must Die! does its best to emulate comic book flavour using cartoon visuals and great amounts of gore. It’s extremely colourful with a varied palette, though grey and brown do factor in quite often within the environments. I however liked that this was broken up a bit by the inclusion of lava, fire and toxic waste. The utilized character models look pretty good, though their animations aren’t that varied. Then again, they don’t need to be in this type of game. Overall, the visual department has no major complaints from me as it conveys its message well while running seamlessly.
Complementing the hilarious one-liners are some decent sound effects which do their job well. There’s a lot of splat, groans and zinging arrows. Though, a lot of the time, music tends to take the reigns, becoming the loudest facet of the Orcs Must Die! symphony. I was fine with that because the music is excellent. My personal favourite song would certainly be what I think of as medieval cover of a Dragonforce song. Honestly, the music couldn’t be much better in fitting the outrageous yet grounded tone of this game.
To conclude, I must say that I quite enjoyed Orcs Must Die! It’s fresh and unique, while still maintaining the elements tower defence lovers appreciate. I like how fast-paced and funny it is, while still remaining difficult. However, there is a lack of gameplay modes as well as some repetition. Those who love to replay levels to better their scores should certainly pick this one up, as should any fan of the genre. Others should try the trial first just to make sure it’s right for them. This isn’t a judgement based on quality, but the genre’s structure itself. Regardless, it’s important that you remember this: Orcs Must Die!
This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.
Orcs Must Die! is an entertaining and comedic take on action defence. It's quite polished and creative too, allowing for a unique experience within a tried and true genre.