If we’ve only learned one thing from Lord of the Rings, Warhammer, World of Warcraft, and all the other fantasy settings out there, it’s that orcs are just no good. They don’t speak ANY language fluently; they depend on numbers-based tactics for every situation. They’re not even smart enough to avoid painfully obvious traps set out before them. That’s the new piece of information that Orcs Must Die adds to that ongoing dossier fantasy authors and game creators have been building for the last sixty years.
Orcs Must Die is, in short, a take on the Plants vs. Zombiesstyle of tower-defense. As the War Mage, you stand between those nasty orcs and the rift that leads to our world. Between the orcs and you is a long, sometimes winding hallway just waiting to be covered in traps. Instead of pointing and clicking from an overhead view like most tower-defense titles, though, the War Mage is an on-screen character. Gone is the usual omniscience that comes with these sorts of games. Instead it feels more like a character-action title; you’re vulnerable to orc attacks and some of the level hazards (but not your own traps). This not only lets the player get in on the action and turn the tide of a wave-gone-wrong, but it also becomes an additional source of stress when you’re at one level and a horde is suddenly busting in at the other.
Thankfully, the War Mage ends up with a ton of awesome tools at his disposal as he progresses through the game. Floor spikes, arrow walls and crusher plates are just a few of the available traps and tools available. Every level introduces something new to play with, making sure that the initial playthrough is never boring. The best one, though, without question, is the spring plate. There’s nothing better than watching an orc sail through the air to his imminent doom in the bubbling magma nearby.
While the addition of an on-screen avatar adds an interesting wrinkle to the gameplay, the personality of the avatar isn’t quite as successful. The War Mage comes across as a kind of a Bro. His response to every situation is jocular in tone and quips that were funny at first lose their freshness. It’s not a total loss, though, as the character goes through some change over the course of the game – that’s right, a tower-defense game with a story – that makes him a bit more interesting by the end, even if he was annoying in the middle. Maybe it was intentional. The War Mage’s former teacher sure seemed irritated by him. The female characters that make appearances later aren’t any better; the amateurish art is accompanied by voice acting that implies the women are very sexy while giving you special powers. It’s weird and doesn’t help the game any.
The addition of the third person perspective also makes me wonder why there isn’t any multiplayer. I normally don’t think multiplayer is necessary in every game, but some options could add to the replayability of the title. A co-op mode that has two players working together – or even competing – to fend off the horde would be fun. Even a versus mode that has players setting down traps and unleashing their own respective orc minions on each other could be interesting.
And just one incredibly nit-picky note to the designers: the “X” up in the corner of the spellbook just reminds us console players that this game was intended for PC. That sort of thing is easy to fix and shouldn’t show up in a final console release.
Orcs Must Die is easily one of the most entertaining implementations of tower defense in a while. They’re almost as numerous as the hordes of orcs in this game, and often just as dumb. This one’s a lot of fun and definitely worth checking out.