Tower defense games have been around for almost as long as the medium itself. Although, the strategy sub-genre didn’t really begin to pick up mainstream love until the last 10 years or so. We’ve seen pretty much every one of the typical settings, ranging from space to medieval times to even zombies. In order to keep the genre evolving, developers have begun to change things up a bit. Instead of a top-down or isometric view, we are now beginning to control and participate in the action much more directly, dropping down into a third or even first person perspective (see Signal’s Toy Soldiers and Uber’s Monday Night Combat). The latest entry in the tower defense realm, Robot Entertainment’s Orcs Must Die!, continues this trend of melding with other genres in order to bring more action to the player. The result? One hell of a great time!
Ok, let’s start with the basics. You are an unnamed War Mage apprentice, a student within the magical Order. The Orcs are invading the various fortresses of the Order in an attempt to take control of the Rifts; magical portals that connect to the non-magical realm. As the last line of defense, it is up to you to stop them from getting through. Pretty simple, right? Yes, deceptively so. Keep in mind that Robot isn’t a stranger to the strategy universe, given they were founded by ex-Ensemble folks (the studio behind such little known titles as Age of Empires and Halo Wars).
Orcs Must Die! features 24 stages, and as you complete each one, a new trap or weapon becomes available. The hero is controlled from the third-person, allowing you to place your traps any way you see fit. Tar pits, spikes shooting from walls or coming out of the ground, meat grinders, molten floor pads, hanging auto turrets and many more are at your disposal. For those of you who go back a bit, you’ll immediately recognize the strong Dungeon Keeper vibe and it works really well here. Laying traps to decimate the incoming horde is not only a joy in itself, but there’s a huge layer of strategy involved, especially as you get to the latter half of the game. There’s also combo system in play, meaning you’ll gain more points (for the leaderboards) if you can chain them together. For example, using a Push Wall to shove an Orc onto a Spike Trap that results in his untimely demise will be more profitable than just the Spike Trap alone.
Speaking of the horde, the title is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, the Orcs (which come in two flavors; melee and ranged) are the primary baddies and they will raid your fortress en mass. However, in addition to them, players will find themselves face to face with the lightning quick Kobalds, the assassin-like Gnoll Hunters, and a few varieties of lumbering Ogres as well. Each will take some juggling to contend with. While your traps are great against the Orcs, the Gnolls and Kobalds are a bit to speedy to really get caught up in them, and the Ogres are hardly affected by them at all.
Which leads to your other form of defense, YOU. With a standard crossbow always in hand and a sword if you choose, it’ll be up to you to take out anyone who makes it past your traps. As levels are unlocked, you’ll also be able to harness the elemental powers of fire, ice, wind and even lightning. These all come in very handy when dealing with the barrage of bodies bee-lining for your Rift. It comes at a cost though, both directly (via Mana consumption) and indirectly (as they all take up your limited trap slots). On top of that, the Weaver powers, which adds bonuses to things like gold acculmation, weapon power, etc., tosses a whole other strategic layer onto the pile. And the level design is downright evil at times, forcing you to manage multiple insertion points. So wise choices and a strategic mindset is a must. Pro-Tip: Be sure to run around and survey the map before picking your trap load-out.
Visually, I had no complaints at all. Carrying a cartoony style that faintly reminded me of Don Bluth’s work with Dragon’s Lair, the characters are all well defined each with a personality all their own. The environments do come across a bit repetitive, but that’s mostly due the the cloned fortress aesthetic. And while the score became virtually unnoticable a few levels in, the lighthearted quips from the Orcs and from the hero himself provided a few laughs in the middle of all the carnage.
Orcs Must Die! is one of those rare games that arrived exactly as promised. It’s a fun tower defense romp with a twist, and plenty of strategy to keep the brain-gears spinning, nothing more and nothing less. Putting the player right in the middle of the action ensures plenty of sweaty palms and lots of juggling, especially in the back-half of the game where the challenge really ramps up. There’s no multiplayer, but the leaderboard support and the three difficulty levels should be enough to keep people coming back for more. And the entire set-up just begs for DLC, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see more maps and traps released sooner rather than later. Those who don’t like to have some strategy mixed in with their gaming or those who don’t care for the genre in general may find themselves having more frustration than fun. Nevertheless, everyone should at least give the trial a spin, if anything to just satiate their devious side a bit and make some minced Orc pie.
Release date : 2011-10-05
Publisher : Microsoft Game Studios
Developer : Robot Entertainment
Gameplay : Tower Defense
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