Orcs Must Die – Review
Review by: Robstein
So, the whole reason Orcs Must Die! exists (plot-wise) is because of these magical “rifts” that attract the attention of a bunch of unsavory fantasy creatures. The rifts are under constant watch and protection by mages, who fight the hordes off incessantly in a never-ending game up tug-of-war. Anyway, the game begins with the death of one of the most powerful mages in The Order as he slips on a pool of Kobold blood and cracks his head against some stairs. An epic end if ever there was one. With him gone, the burden of protecting the rifts falls on his exceedingly dimwitted apprentice. Things are not looking good, no sir. Luckily this buffoon isn’t calling the shots, the player is. He just kind of spouts out moronic (and quite funny) lines along the way.
The best way I can think to describe this game to the unfamiliar is as a kind of action-tower defense affair. Players control the apprentice in real-time; attacking, casting spells and setting up traps in order to protect the rifts from numerous orc assaults. What’s great is just how well everything works together. Each trap and guardian has its usefulness, and many of the levels are laid out in a manner as to allow for all manner of various loadouts. Some are more suited to an environment than others (such as the ceiling traps that are only effective in areas with low ceilings), but overall players can find a combination they like and stick with it. After a certain point The Weavers, sisters that grant special ability bonuses for a price, become available and add an even deeper element of strategy to the proceedings. Each new level grants access to a new tool, and by game’s end I had far more items to pick and choose from than I had open inventory slots. This made a dry-run (a.k.a learning the layout before the attacks began) essential as there are a number of ways to exploit a level’s structure.
The “playing” is where Orcs Must Die! truly shines. In other words, it’s unbelievably fun and hard to put down. Even after completion. An aspect that some AAA games tend to miss these days. The ever-present draw of seeing what new trap or artifact (for spells) I’d earn next was overpowering, and being able to replay past stages to earn more skulls (up to five per level, used for upgrading traps) kept me coming back for more. Similarly, the enemies do a great job of keeping players on their toes. Some, like Ogres, aren’t affected by physics-based traps such as spring-loaded floor panels. Others can move past barricades as though they weren’t there and utterly decimate archers. Each one poses an on-the-fly problem that must be solved quickly, or else it’s certain room (or at least a restart). More than anything, though, it’s the satisfaction of setting up a series of traps so insidious that the player doesn’t actually need to do anything. There’s nothing like sitting idly back and watching orcs and ogres alike wade through a gauntlet of death and never reach the end.
I cannot sing the praises of Orcs Must Die! enough. I’m not entirely sure that I’ve ever played a defense-based game like this that’s so well-balanced as to remain challenging but still completely fair, or that encourages so much strategic variety. The best part is, even after the main campaign is beaten upside-down and sideways there’s still the Nightmare difficulty. It can earn more skulls for even more upgrades, but it also tosses players face-first into each stage with no time for a planning phase and much more difficult enemy waves. Yessir, this is a Must Play for people who like to play video games. No matter the preferred genre.