Orcs Must Die! is an interesting game. Created by the developers of Age of Empires, this game immediately caught my attention when it was announced. The gameplay seemed so unique that I just had to check it out. So how is this new genre turning out for the developers of Halo Wars and Age of Mythology?
The story begins with an amusing little cutscene, in which our mentor dies because he slipped on Goblin blood and cracked his head. The mentor doesn’t really have a good opinion of our protagonist, who is a War Mage in training, and we quickly see why. It’s because our protagonist is a dork. War Mages defend the rifts to the human world from Orc invasions and our protagonist is not very smart, he doesn’t have any talent and he’s very full of himself.
Why do the rifts exist? Only through these rifts, which are connected to the devastated Orc home world, magic can be used and thus can’t be closed without sacrificing the entirety of magic in the process. So it’s up to us, a dorky student in training, to defend the rifts from the Orcs and at the beginning, that’s pretty much it. As you continue to progress, a bigger story unfolds with a few cut scenes narrated by the late mentor, and with in-game conversations between our character and the later-to-be-revealed- villain. The story is interesting and the ending leaves a bitter taste of both victory and defeat. The ending is not a cliffhanger either, which is always good but as we know, Orcs Must Die 2 is already released and the second game directly follows up on the first game.
The plot is solid and can stand on its own for being amusing. What’s more interesting is the entire universe of this game, because this is a universe in which you can basically make any kind of game in. They have complete freedom and any kind of gameplay style would fit this world. The story, lore and overall character interaction (even between the Orcs and your protagonist) are always full of humor, one-liners and it never takes itself too seriously (but manages to pull that off when needed) due to our protagonist’s lovable nature. A normal playthrough of the 24-mission campaign should take you around 5-12 hours.
This game is a tower defense game but it has a very strong focus on action gameplay. You control your protagonist via third person mode and you place traps as well as guardians, which you acquire later, throughout the map. That alone is not enough though, you have to interact and fight yourself because if you only rely on traps, you’ll loose very quickly. The game gives you an ever increasing arsenal of weapons to fight against the incoming Orcs and every new mission gives you a new trap or weapon to use. You can also upgrade your traps and guardians once with skulls, which you earn with each mission and the amount of skulls depends on how you’ve performed (depending on time and how many Orcs passed through the portal). It’s too bad though that you can’t reset your skulls, so your experimentation options will suffer because most newer traps naturally aren’t as strong as your upgraded traps. Your rift has “rift points“ that decrease with every enemy that passes through, once these points reach zero, you’ve lost. If you die, then five of these points are going to be taken away as well.
Headshots with the crossbow, basically your most used weapon, usually kill with one shot (except tougher enemies like Ogres) but don’t think it’s going to be easy because of that. There are MANY Orcs to kill and the game rewards you for killing many Orcs at once (combo-chain) and thus grants you more points to place traps. The enemy variety is also going to increase quickly so you also have to adapt to that as well. This game encourages you to try out new things and you will probably find your personal play style which you keep enhancing and modifying while playing the game.
One warning ahead: If you want to play this game on Xbox 360 then keep in mind that you’ll have a much, much harder experience ahead of you. This game was designed to be played on PC and it is best played with a mouse and keyboard because in this game, you need a lot of precision aiming which, on this level, can’t be done with a Xbox controller. The general difficulty is the same on Xbox so the console version is much harder, be aware of that.
The game contains 24 levels, which are all uniquely designed and usually encourage you to test out a new trap or weapon but not all of them are designed like that. Each map challenges you to think differently.
Now for the bad part: This game only has a singleplayer campaign with three difficulties and nothing else. The highest difficulty, nightmare, is unlocked once you complete the 24 missions on the normal difficulty. Nightmare mode is awesome because it gives you additional skulls and forces you to rethink your previous strategies due to end-game enemies that appear in early levels in addition to you being unable to prepare calmly during the wave pauses. Sadly, there aren’t any special challenges (except achievements which are of no use to you in-game), mini games or a horde mode.
The greatest weakness of Orcs Must Die! is its content. You can get five additional missions via DLC but these don’t have any story and barely bring any new arsenal. You can buy the GOTY edition though since it’s worth it. The real issues of the gameplay itself are the upgrade system, which doesn’t allow you to upgrade your weapons like your crossbow or your magic spells and that the aiming is sometimes a bit… off. It seems like your crossbow just aims downwards or upwards without your input as soon as an enemy gets too close to you, which is annoying. Outside of that, every trap can have its own use and the key to win is to use the traps you’re most comfortable with, and combine them with other traps, so that you can brutally murder all Orcs in the most efficient way.
The music is pretty good. It’s nothing too outstanding and I would have liked a few more tracks but it’s good quality music which does what it needs to do, setting up hype to kill Orcs.
Graphics are a bit mixed, they use an art design which will make the game look somewhat good even in five years but while characters and monsters are detailed, the levels themselves needed more attention. “The library“ is a good example: You won’t find a single book there even if it’s heavily implied that the level should be full of them. This usually makes all the levels look somewhat similar to each other but even though they are all unique, they don’t have personalities. The graphics themselves work well.
What this game does very good for its genre
It’s the first game in this unique gameplay style and it immediately pulls it off pretty perfectly with minor nitpicking. It was successfully able to establish a universe in which basically everything is possible thanks to the humor and the tone of irony. They could have laser-chainsaws and it would still work. Also Nightmare difficulty is great!
What could have been improved?
Enhance the upgrade system so that traps can be upgraded several times and make weapons upgradable, include additional modes like mini games or horde mode and/or multiplayer, make the melee weapons stronger so that you can actually effectively engage in melee combat and work on the level detail so that they’re worth their names. Make skulls resetable without any penalty for doing so. It’s also a shame that Nightmare difficulty can’t be accessed from the start.
Orcs Must Die! is a must-play for anyone who loves tower defense and third person shooters on PC. It’s recommendable for Xbox 360 too but keep in mind that the game was meant to be played with a mouse and keyboard. Overall, I can give this game an outright recommendation even for a younger and a new audience, because this game handles its outright brutal premise with tons of humor and minimal amount of (comic) blood in addition to being very newcomer friendly. Be aware that there’s more to the Nightmare difficulty than just being another difficulty setting.
Test based on:
Game + DLC (equivalent to GOTY edition)
Final Version (PC)