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I’ve never met any Orcs personally but apparently they are disgusting, vile, repugnant, evil creatures and they must die. If this game is anything to go by then they are an infestation and need to be exterminated. Developed and published by Robot Entertainment, Orcs Must Die! was released for Xbox Live Arcade and PC in October, 2011. For this review, I played the PC version. It’s a tower defense game that puts the player directly into the action. I haven’t played many tower defense games so I was looking to check one out and that’s when I found Orcs Must Die! I thought it looked pretty cool because of its action-oriented nature and colorful presentation.
There is a plot in Orcs Must Die! and it centers on a faction known as The Order. They are responsible for guarding Rifts which are magical openings between the human world and Dead World and The Order has created fortresses in the Dead World to guard the them. An opposing faction known as the The Mob which consists of Orcs, Ogres, and Gnolls, among other creatures poses a threat to the human world and after a surprise attack, only one Order member remains, and he must defend the Rifts at all costs. The plot never gets in the way of the gameplay and is primarily conveyed through a few cut scenes. You can ignore it if you want because, luckily, the gameplay is enjoyable enough to keep you engaged. If you like these types of games, that is. The voice acting is solid and often comical. I like the Orc dialogue because they often say silly shit.
Orcs Must Die! is an action tower-defense game. You take on the role of the Hero and must defend the Rifts using all the tools at your disposal – weapons, spells, and traps. You can run, sprint, and jump and if you have the Orc Slayer DLC, you can change the Hero’s outfit. Unfortunately, you cannot change the keyboard controls in-game. So I consulted the game’s PCGamingWiki page which does contain instructions on how to change them. I had to create a configuration file and change the controls in there. Orcs Must Die! is a one-man show. There are no multiplayer modes which is kind of a shame because I think this kind of game could benefit from a cooperative mode.
The main campaign consists of twenty four levels and the DLC campaign called The Lost Adventures consists of five. There are three difficulty modes – Apprentice, War Mage, and Nightmare, and the objective of each level to prevent the Orcs from getting through the Rifts. Levels can contain more than one Rift as well as multiple doors for the enemies to come pouring through. If a certain amount of Orcs pass through the Rifts, you fail. If you manage to complete a level, you will earn skulls based on your performance and the skulls can be spent on trap upgrades.
Enemies arrive in waves and the Hero is always equipped with a Crossbow but as you progress through the main campaign, you’ll unlock new weapons and traps. You have a limited amount of inventory slots and can assign weapons traps to the slots. You do have to unlock the Nightmare difficulty and on the Apprentice and War Mage difficulties, the game gives you what I call breathers. By that I mean these difficulties give you time to look around before starting the first wave which is helpful if it’s your first time playing. As soon as you start a level, you’ll want to open your spellbook and choose what you feel are the appropriate weapons and traps. You are given breathers after completing a certain number of waves. On Nightmare, once you close the spellbook, the first wave begins, you get no breathers, and tougher enemies will appear earlier.
Orcs Must Die! is more about the traps than it is about combat. That’s not to say the combat isn’t fun, but successfully annihilating a horde of foes with well placed traps is often more satisfying than taking them out in combat. In addition to the Crossbow, you can wield a Bladestaff, unleash fire balls, throw acid bombs, freeze foes, electrocute them, push and throw them with the wind belt, and even steal their health with gauntlets. Using most weapons will drain mana which does replenish over time. Other than the Crossbow, the others need to be assigned to slots along with traps so you should choose your tools wisely. Traps come in different forms. There’s wall traps, ceiling traps, floor traps, and guardians like Archers and Paladins that you can place in specific spots.
There is a decent variety of enemies and they all behave differently. You’ll kill Orcs, Kobolds, Gnoll Hunters, Cyclops, Hobgoblins, flying types, and the most dangerous enemies – Ogres. They can tank damage and stun you. The enemies don’t exhibit super intelligent behavior but if they did, it would probably make the gameplay more frustrating than anything. They will move down specific paths and corridors. While there might be a quicker route to a Rift, they often won’t take it and they don’t try to avoid traps. When enemies are killed they can drop health potions and currency or money. If they manage to go through a Rift, you lose Rift points. You also lose Rift points if you die. It’s often wise to keep your distance.
Orcs Must Die! will require thinking especially in the later levels. You’ll probably fail some levels more than once until you know the enemy routes, what tools to use, when and where to place specific traps, and basically have the layouts memorized and mastering these things is more important on the Nightmare difficulty. You will have to spend money to place traps but you can also sell traps and money is accumulated by killing enemies. You can achieve kill streaks and rack up combos and well placed traps can be the difference between success and failure. You’ll get to burn, slice, chop, impale, and launch foes in an effort to keep them away from the Rifts and watching them get destroyed can be very satisfying. However, if you’re not patient, Orcs Must Die! can prove to be a very frustrating game. Many traps will need time to reset and some enemies can survive certain traps. What traps you choose and placement are both extremely important.
One of the more interesting things you unlock are not traps or weapons but Weavers. You’ll unlock three weavers that offer different bonuses. You can only select one for the match and the bonuses do cost money but can make a world of difference. Weaver bonuses can improve the efficiency of your traps, weapons, and even grant the Hero additional capabilities. I tried them all out and most of the time I ended up sticking with the Steel Weaver which grants bonuses to your traps and Guardians.
All of the levels are laid out differently. Some contain multiple Rifts to protect and environmental hazards and weapons you can utilize. Many levels feature teleporters to help you get around quickly. Most enemies come through doors and flying enemies will often come from above or below. In my opinion, the best levels let you utilize choke points. Any time you can funnel enemies down a choke point is a good time. I think some of the DLC levels are overly frustrating due to them giving you little money to start while having you fend off enemies pouring through multiple doors. It’s not that it’s impossible to complete them and earn the max amount of skulls but there’s very little room for error. I thought the difficulty in the main campaign ramped up rather well. The DLC levels, specifically the last few, are much more difficult and it wasn’t until the fourth one, “Triple Down”, that I started looking up walkthroughs. I was actually pretty happy with myself that I managed to get as far as I did without any help because I’m usually not very good at games that require strategic thinking but that level just got too frustrating for me. It can go fuck itself.
I love the art style in Orcs Must Die! I enjoy the cartoon-y look of it all mixed with the violence. When you attack enemies, they bleed and they can explode into gibs. When enemies burn to death, their bodies will appear charred, and acid bombs reduce them to skeletons which is always fun to watch. Because of the visual and gore effects, the melee combat looks and feels satisfying. Overall, the presentation is bold and colorful but all the levels kind of look and feel the same. There’s not much environmental variety. The music also lacks variety. While it sounds appropriate and adventurous, you’ll hear the same tunes repeatedly and they’re catchy enough to get stuck in your head. The sound effects are good with satisfying sounds of impacts and slashes. On the technical side, I encountered no issues.
I enjoyed Orcs Must Die! I like the gameplay, presentation, and comical tone. I also like how it gets straight to the point. From the moment you start playing, you’ll be slaughtering tons of Orcs and the story never gets in the way. I think the lack of any kind of cooperative mode is a big missed opportunity but what’s on offer is enjoyable and it’s got a good amount of replay value. There’s a lot of ways to successfully complete levels and that’s what makes it fun. You can get creative and experiment and most of the weapons and traps are fun to use. You can also revisit previous levels and use any newly acquired equipment. If you include the DLC, the game has close to thirty levels and I would say only a handful or less of them border on frustration. But that also depends on the difficulty. You can always turn it down if you’re having a tough time. You need to have some patience. Failure should be a learning experience.
I would recommend Orcs Must Die! to anyone that likes action games and/or tower defense games. It’s fun, it’s silly, and it’s action-packed. There is a bit of strategy to it so it’s not just mindless killing. Thinking is required and if you do things right, the payoff is satisfying and rewarding. If you like the idea of slaughtering Orcs in fun and cool ways, definitely check out Orcs Must Die!