Since the time when man first sharpened a stick and hurled it at his neighbour, we have been at war. With battles spanning across books, films, games and traversing sci-fi and fantasy genres, never once has our grisly fight come to an end. Our enemy? The green-skinned horde that torments our every waking hour with their tusk-filled grins and poor personal hygiene. I’m talking, of course, of orcs. Be they the comical gun-toting cannon-fodder or fearsome Hobbit-crushing beasts, orcs have relentless harassed us for countless centuries. Developers Robot Entertainment are clearly just as fed up with them and have come to a solution – Orcs Must Die!
Orcs Must Die! follows the recent trend of tower-defence-with-a-twist titles, pitting you against waves of bloodthirsty orcs and requiring you to use your wits as well as brute force to keep them at bay. And traps. Lots of devilish, fiendish, back-breakingly hilarious traps. Ranging from the standard fare including hidden spikes and gunpowder-stuffed barrels to intricate set-pieces that require careful placement to make the most of the fortified environments (and be thankful that someone thought pits of orc-melting lava were the absolute height of home decorating fashion), you have to be sure to spend your gold wisely at the start of each round and in the welcome respite every three waves. The orcs aren’t stupid and won’t long be fooled by the same tactics. With time running short, the game forces you to think creatively while danger is hammering down your door. It makes for a frenetic and deeply satisfying experience as you fight off certain doom by the skin of your teeth. At points the game could be considered too difficult but is just forgiving enough to avoid threatening a rage quit.
What may turn you off is the game’s protagonist, the orc (and other assorted beastie) slaying hero. As his former teacher and master explains at great length, you take on the role of an incompetent, unlikeable, arrogant fool. While fairly skilled with a weapon and able to throw out some impressive spells to help defend the front lines, I was at times tempted to simply run the cleft-chinned prat headlong into the grinder just to watch him die and put an end to his ceaseless one-liners. In a game that successfully combines a rich, colourful world with just the right edge of humour, the nameless hero (the last of the battle mages – certainly a job title worth bragging about) and his awful dialogue drag what would be a comedic masterpiece down to prime time sitcom levels of cringeworthiness.
With my ears sufficiently plugged, I was at least able to enjoy the spectacle of the game. The bright, cartoonish graphics offset the grisly murder taking place at every junction (which can be turned off making it a great experience for younger players as well) and the seventeen traps provide ample opportunities to set up your perfect gory punchlines. While wading in with sword and crossbow isn’t advisable, picking off the odd mob does keep the action going when all of your fortifications are in place. Your skills and equipment can be upgraded but the real fun is in unlocking and improving your static defences to defend the fragile Rift at the heart of each level.
The tower defence game has quickly grown from a simple yet addictive pastime into a fully fledged action genre. Orcs Must Die! is an excellent example of what can be achieved from such a simple concept but, even for an indie title, it feel as if obvious aspects have been overlooked. With no multiplayer options, the admittedly lengthy single-player campaign has to suffice. Had a bit more time been spent to provide a solid co-op or even competitive multiplayer option, Orcs Must Die! would have been the perfect example of tower defence’s maturity. With so much depth to the gameplay and levels that scream out for a buddy to watch your back while you rebuild traps, sink pits and prepare to unleash hell on your enemies, it’s a shamefully missed opportunity.
Still, with enough levels and a new game+ option that carries your previous traps, money and skills forward to face a new, more powerful range of enemies, you’ll likely be enjoying Orcs Must Die! for a long time, even if it does get a little lonely.
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