Thursday, October 20, 2011

Orcs Must Die! Review

Orcs Must Die!, developed and published by Robot Entertainment.
The Good: Significant number of traps, item use restriction requires planning, challenging map layouts with multiple paths and trap placement freedom, small penalty for death
The Not So Good: Becomes repetitive, inconsistent difficulty, no cooperative play, can't save progress mid-level, more varied personal weapons would be nice
What say you? This third-person tower defense game thrives on its item variety and strategy: 6/8

This review also appears at

A popular fantasy antagonist is the orc: stinky, green, ugly creatures bent on the destruction of humanity. Oh who will defend the women and children against the incoming horde? Some wimpy elves and midgets with a magic ring? Hardly. The orcs must die, and it's up to you, equipped with a healthy collection of traps strewn about your castle, to dispose of them on a personal level. The title “Orcs Must Die!” leaves little to vague interpretation: place the traps and shoot the orcs in the head. How does this third-person take on the tower defense genre stack up?

Orcs Must Die! features some nice graphics for an indie game. The character models are quite detailed and animated nicely, from your hero to the roster of enemy units. The game is bloody without being overly gory, striking a nice balance. The levels are a little bland, as all of the maps take place in gray castles differentiated only by slight ambient color changes and the occasional vat of fire or acid. Your weapons and items are easy to discern based on visuals, and they are also animated well (burning orcs when using the fire crossbow is a nice visual...not for them, of course). The game features a fitting soundtrack and sound effects, though it tries too hard to be funny with the various lines the main character and enemy say (though I did find a couple of them humorous). Overall, I found the presentation of Orcs Must Die! to be quite solid with little room for improvement.

In Orcs Must Die!, you are defending rifts to the human world that are conveniently placed in maze-like castles. The game consists of nearly twenty-five levels, and each successful completion unlocks a new weapon or device, a good carrot to dangle in front of players. Uneven difficulty is present: commonly, there are hard levels followed by much easier ones. A single level takes about ten minutes to complete, depending on the number of waves of enemies that will try to enter the rift. Unfortunately, you can’t save your progress in the middle of a level, a problem for people who tend to be interrupted during play time. Orcs Must Die! lacks cooperative play, but it does offer online scoreboards as motivation to go back and improve your plans in previous levels.

Orcs Must Die! works like a tower defense game, except you are also present in the level, able to assist your items in eliminating the orc threat with third-person shooting. Your arsenal is a bit limited: you are given ranged and melee weapons of various kinds (arrows, fire, electricity), but the game lacks interesting magic spells to vary your strategy much. You can push enemies into vats of lava or acid using the wind spell, but more diverse options are not present. You can spend points to upgrade certain abilities during each map, and each weapon has a primary and secondary ability, but I would like a little more variety borrowed from your favorite role-playing game.

Your primary role is to pick off orcs that sneak by your defenses, but you can also use your abilities in tandem with the innovative and varied selection of traps you can place in your castles. There are many items to choose from (once you unlock them during the campaign): explosives, close-range spikes, longer-range arrows, speed modifiers, things that get orcs airborne, crushing devices, and so on, that attach to the ground, walls, or ceiling. Points given at the beginning of each map and earned for killing orcs are spent on placing more traps, and you can also upgrade traps between maps using points derived from your score. You'll quickly find your favorite items (the arrow wall, for me) and use them every level while completely ignoring other items that are either useless or more expensive. Interestingly, Orcs Must Die! restricts how many items you can use at a time, so you really have to think about which traps work together the best on each map layout based on environmental items and hallway width. Orcs Must Die! is also one of the least restrictive tower defense games, letting you place things pretty much anywhere. A poorly executed plan will quickly become apparent as you panic to shoot the orcs that have made it way too close to the rift.

Orcs Must Die! is challenging without being too unfair, although, as I mentioned earlier, the game suffers from an inconsistent ramping up of difficulty. There are plenty of enemy types you will encounter: the basic melee unit, ranged fighters, flying monsters, large bosses, and fast (annoying) crawlers. The AI is obviously not too smart (on purpose), running over traps where they could easily go around them, but the map design allows for them to take multiple paths to the rift, so you must divide your attention, leaving other areas of the map open to assault. You can't sit back and let your traps do all of your work, so you'll constantly be taking shots at the enemy as they march through your fortress. The minimap helps in identifying areas of concern as you attempt to destroy everyone. Your character does take damage, but the penalty for death is thankfully small: you lose some cash and respawn instantly at the rift. This isn’t enough to lose a level for you, which is a smart design decision. You can reheal at the rift, but the penalty for death is small enough where it’s almost better just to die and take the small resource hit instead of walking all the way back there. While Orcs Must Die! does throw new items at you every new level, you've seen pretty much all of the game's tricks after the first set of levels, and only true fans of the genre will stick through until the end.

Orcs Must Die! is a nice variation on the tower defense genre. The game is highlighted by its varied arsenal of destruction: there is an impressive number of traps to place around each castle level, and the design of the fortress plays a large role in determining which traps you'll take in to battle. Since you are restricted in how many items you can use during each level, forethought is required before you even start placing things: which objects work best together on this level? Orcs Must Die! also gives you a good amount of freedom in placing your items as well, letting the player make the call. I would like to see more magic introduced into the player's arsenal, however, as you're only given basic ranged and melee combat options. The enemies require different approaches, with the flying, fast, and big types being the most problematic. The game's twenty-five levels suffer from some imbalance, as a really difficult level is followed by an exceedingly easy one. Still, the layouts are quite varied and usually offer multiple paths towards the goal that demand some advanced thinking and quick reactions to defend. I do prefer Orcs Must Die! over its direct competition Sanctum, thanks to its more varied arsenal of items and more complex map layouts. The repetitive nature of the genre does creep in after the first set of levels, even though you earn a new toy after every completion to keep you motivated. You can aim for the high score list and attempt to create the most efficient death creations, so Orcs Must Die! does have some replay value for fans of the tower defense genre. In the end, Orcs Must Die! is a slick combination of tower defense and shooting that falls victim to the repetitive shortcomings of the genre.