Orcs Must Die! hands-on preview
Orcs. They’re green, they’re smelly, they’re rude, and they cheat at poker, so they must die. But it shouldn’t stop there, their transgressions upon humanity are so notorious that they shouldn’t just die, they should be punished for having lived. No game features as much orc-centric punishment as Orcs Must Die! from Robot Entertainment. Use sadistic traps and powerful weapons to sort, punish and mow down waves of brutish creatures in this real time strategy turned fast paced action game.
At first glance Orcs Must Die! is a game of strategy requiring much thought. It requires players to manage space with different traps dealing different amounts of damage and have various affects on enemies. Tar traps slow and magma tiles burn, spike traps impale and archers perforate, and when conducted properly the trap symphony comes together in a comical crescendo of devilishly delivered death. However the action is just as player focused as it is trap focused. Our hero’s faithful crossbow can dole out headshots or hectic rapid fire and can supplement his repertoire with other weapons like one that shoots ice and one that can lay down a powerful firewall. Orcs Must Die! is a hybrid title like no other.
The premise of is simple: kill orcs. The way you do that, however, involves a lot of space management, crafty trap combinations, and skillful use of player weaponry. Level design here is key and if our playtime with the game is any indicator, Robot Entertainment nailed it. The first level in the demo was simple, orcs flooded out of a door, rounded a corner, and tried to dive into the rift and destroy it, but the second level (actually the third and the hardest in the demo) had two doors and two rifts. Since the game is single player, sometimes trying to manage both sides symmetrically just isn’t possible, so evaluating each level’s design is incredibly important.
Equally as important is preparing for the waves to come. Before each level starts your spell book will tell you what sort of enemies will be showing up in the game and gives some information on them. As for your repertoire, you’re also given a selection of traps and weaponry handpicked for use on that level. There are tons and tons of traps–too many to list–but they’ve all got their properties and methods of use. Unlike some tower defense mechanics, Orcs Must Die! uses the floor, the walls and the ceiling to allow for maximum trap deviousness. To further that extent, many trap effects can be compounded to ensure that when the big damage traps take a whack at them, they’ll go down for sure.
The first level was easy so we’ll talk about the second one. The layout was simple, enemies from both sides would run in a straight line right up the stairs where they’d have to deal with our paladins and then into the rift they go, but to throw us off balance there’s also a window opening in the center (over a huge pit of acid) where flying enemies would go straight to our base if left unattended. At first slowing tar and damage-over-time fire traps were employed to thin the herd on both sides, but it was too much to manage. Our reoriented strategy included blockading an entire side to force all the traffic up one stairway. From there things moved far smoother as the focus turned t0 bottlenecking the one side before smashing and maiming them into small green chewy bits.
To help manage space and strategy Orcs Must Die! utilizes some absolutely fantastic strategic mechanics that put it head and shoulders above the strategic elements of a lot of other tower defense games we’ve played. The big one is that anything can be sold for a full refund, no trap placement corners you into a loss of money if you mess up, the game won’t punish you for a mistake any more than you should be via the loss of life. To help figure out how your plan is working the minimap can be expanded to get a better look. But it doesn’t stop there, it also features a heatmap showing the location and volume of deaths separated into red dots for trap kills and green dots for player kills. As a tool, it’s absolutely essential for replaying a level or even just adjusting your strategy mid-game. Despite all the other fantastic elements like the different traps and the quick pace of it all, those two things are what really bring the strategy of the game to a forefront.
However it’s not all traps and planning, the player’s fighting ability is also a huge part of the game. While he can place traps on the fly with currency he earns, most of the time the player will spend the actual wave-time running around using the various weapons. Some enemies have counters like the flying miniature bloated dragons that are susceptible to ice, and some are just tough like the Ogre who’s too heavy to be launched by spring traps. The action and combat aspect of the game is very familiar for anyone that’s played a first or third person shooter or hack and slash, and such players will take to it right away. Along with rewards for combining trap effects, you’ll get killing sprees, combos and rewards for headshots to encourage that aspect of the game.
No matter which a player prefers, strategy or action, players can gear their character’s ability and play style to their choosing via the Weavers system. This system behaves sort of like an RPG’s talent tree, allowing players to use currency to buff their crossbow over their traps, upgrade their magic, get more money, etc. The system is simple, easy to digest and can really help a player succeed at the aspect of the game they’re good at.
Unfortunately the run through the harder level ended in failure, but that result didn’t feel like a cheat or that it was achieved in frustration. In between key waves are “go breaks” where the release of the next wave(s) will be entirely controlled by the player so they can reevaluate their strategy. Orcs Must Die! is by no means forgiving on higher difficulty levels but it doesn’t cheat, superior strategy and/or player skill will win out and achieve the high scores here. At the end of each level skulls are rewarded for performance, one for beating the level under par and four that depend on the status of the remaining rift points (or health).
Orcs Must Die! has something for everyone; action and strategy as both work very well and support plenty of features to enrich either or both facets of gameplay. Tons of traps and weapons to choose from with just as many ways to implement them into any level ensure that players will keep coming back to the game and replaying levels to get more skulls and higher scores. The game is set to hit digital shelves in the next few months.