Orcs Must Die! Review
And there’s over two dozen ways to make sure that happens.
Let’s face a fact: the world of videogame baddies has, over time, become overly saturated with concepts that have been done to death and beyond – zombies, vampires, mutants, demons – we’ve all spent countless hours tearing them a new one and shoving them six feet under across dozens of games for a number of years. Now for the most part, these scenarios still tend to be fun and quite easily become a source of immense satisfaction for us trigger-happy folk; but if there isn’t something significantly novel and unique for us to experience every once in a while, said satisfaction would be rather short-lived, and would quickly degenerate into boredom. So if you’ve been hankering for a change of scene, you owe it to yourself to check out Robot Entertainment’s brand new strategic fantasy-action romp, Orcs Must Die! – a game that seamlessly blends together elements of strategy, tower defense mechanics, and over-the-top quirky, cartoony violence, all in one fantastically fun package. Also, they decided to go with Orcs, thereby avoiding the slew of aforementioned stereotypes and giving us a different, not-so-often seen species to get down ‘n dirty with.
As far as the gameplay objective goes, nothing does more justice in explaining it than the game’s title itself. No, seriously. You take on the role of an apprentice war mage after your master succumbs to a particularly vicious Orc onslaught; with him ending up as a human shish-kebab, it falls on you to slay the seemingly endless hoards of Orc scum that keep breaking through your fortresses in an attempt to enter the “Rift” – an enchanted glowing portal-like orb and the source of your power. But if you’re thinking “Oh great, mindless button-masher!”, you’ve got it all wrong. While the plot is nothing to write home about, the sheer variety of methods by which you can do away with those green-skinned bastards is a real winner, and will guarantee hours of frantic, unadulterated fun. Instead of decking your character out with a load of weapons that would give even the Duke a hernia, the game grants you access to an increasing array of traps that can be set within the fortress you’re defending, in addition to a limited but fun set of both physical and elemental weapons.
From spike pits to sticky tar traps, ceiling crushers to arrow-dispensing walls, springy launchpads to wall-mounted spinning axes, and about a dozen other quirky mechanical contraptions, this game has it all. And here’s a heads up: if you’re usually the run-and-gun kind, you’re going to have to put that on the backburner and don your thinking cap if you don’t want to die a miserable death every few minutes. You see, you have limited funds with which to purchase and set traps, and in all honesty, your war mage dude can’t hold his own against the Orcs, so squander your precious resources, and you won’t be having much fun for long. On the other hand, take time to perform some recon in each fortress, and then choose and set your traps wisely, and you shall be rewarded with some of the most satisfying cartoony carnage you’ve witnessed in a long time.
There are 24 fortress to defend in total, and for each fortress, you have to hold off against a set number of waves of enemies, each of which gets progressively harder. The Orcs (and the occasional Ogres, Gnoll Hunters, and Hellbats) begin by smashing in through the fortress doors, and then make their way to the Rift, often times using multiple paths, which can get really challenging even on normal difficulty. The underlying idea is to ensure that by the time they get close to you or the Rift, they’re weak enough (if not already completely sliced, diced, and pummeled) to be finished off by your weapons or magic. Keeping yourself and the Rift in one piece at the end of all the waves nets you a win and a number of skulls, which are used to upgrade your instruments of pain. A slight downer here is the fact that each trap can be upgraded only once, and I personally feel the upgrades are a bit too expensive, but to be fair, you’re given a new toy to deal death with for every fortress you complete, which ensures there’s always something to look forward to and keep playing.
Ok, so we’ve established that the gameplay is fun and engaging at this point, but what about the rest of the departments? “Oh no problem, we’ll just nail those too!” say the developers. And they have. By realizing some well-made models and environments with a toon-based renderer and vibrant colours, Robot Entertainment have an absolute winner on their hands in terms of visual fidelity. In addition to throwing copious amounts of red blood cells at you, the game sports a truckload of particle and special effects, great lighting, sharp texture work, and some hilarious enemy animations, so whether you’re launching Orcs into lava pits, decapitating them with your bladestaff, or flinging them around using telekinesis, your eyes are in for one big joygasm. And don’t worry, your ears have been invited to the party too. Background scores are a nice mix of epic medieval tunes and some snazzy guitar riffs, every single event is punctuated by satisfying sound effects, and the voiceovers are done well too, although the protagonist’s cheesy one-liners and silly banter do tend to get repetitive pretty soon.
On the whole, Orcs Must Die! is one of those rare games that blends together concepts from existing genres and produces something totally fresh that feels genuinely fun and entertaining across the board. Despite its quirky, comical outer shell, it’s a game that has a surprising amount of depth to it, a characteristic that makes it both challenging and satisfying. Whether you’re a fan of all-out, balls-to-the-wall action games, or more of a strategy connoisseur, Orcs Must Die! definitely deserves your undivided attention.