It seems like Tower Defense is the kind of subgenre that can merge well with a wide range of different mechanics and concepts. Last years Sanctum fused first-person shooting with towers, mazes and upgrades and a host of other indie-and arcade games have attempted similar permutations. The latest offspring is called Orcs Must Die; a third-person action game that bears resemblance to aforementioned titles but instead adds traps in place of turrets and though it isn’t very long and has no multiplayer modes to speak off, this is still a decidedly amusing and entertaining experience that will no doubt quench the thirst for Orc blood and it’s worth checking out even if you have grown tired of Tower Defense games.
Orcs Must Die tasks you as the apprentice of the War Mage order to defend rifts – gates that lead into the human world – from a seemingly never ending horde of pesky Orcs. This means that you’ll have to use all manner of traps as well as your own repertoire of weapons and abilities to fend them off; all while you’re earning cash to strengthen your defenses and as you complete levels you’re granted skulls that you can use to upgrade your vast assortment of traps and you’re always given new toys to play with every level.
The traps are undoubtedly the best thing OMD has going for it – everything from slow inducing tar pits to spike traps to spring traps and much more can be deployed throughout the levels and the effects of these can combine to dish out some serious damage. You might send an Orc flying through the air by way of a spring trap and send him ferrying towards a deviously placed bed of brimstone, or you might create a lawn of tar pits and place walls on the sides that shoot arrows, effectively slowing down enemies while pummeling them with a constant stream of projectiles. There’s a nice bit of flexibility to be had and as the game wears on, the levels and waves become progressively tougher and you’re forced to conjure up good strategies to best win the day. Archers and mages are well suited on elevated positions and barricades can force enemies down pre-determined paths – mix these two strategies and you’ll rack up your body count significantly fast. Every kill you tally nets you with points which you can use in between waves to further fortify your position and later on you can even beef up your defenses with temporary perks and bonuses by way of weavers.
This might all sound very standard for a Tower Defense game, but OMD’s real hook lies in the fact that you yourself get to run around and shoot up Orcs with crossbows, swords and spells from a third-person perspective. Seeing enemies being funneled down a trap-cluttered maze while taking aim with your crossbow to shoot is a lot of fun and though the core action isn’t all that satisfying or immediate, it’s still fun to see the hapless Orcs being absolutely decimated by both you and your traps.
Before a level starts, you get to open your spell book and outfit yourself with different traps and weapons. You don’t get to wield everything, so picking what’s best suited for the time being is crucial. Once a level ends, your performance is graded from one to five by way of skulls, which you can then use to upgrade your offensive and defensive capabilities. However, most of these upgrades are incredibly minor and don’t necessarily make the difference between victory and defeat – for example, you need 14 skulls to invest in an upgrade that makes your archers less expensive and eight skulls to make spike traps reset faster. These are nice perks to have, but aren’t mandatory and do little to help even the odds.
Also a bit of a pain is the sporadic difficulty; some levels are an absolute cake walk whereas others tend towards punishing. The three difficulty settings in the game also determine the amount of skulls you’re granted at the end of every level, and you might find yourself switching back and fourth between the three because of how uneven the level of challenge is throughout the game.
Orcs Must Die features a rather goofy and cartoony visual aesthetic that makes the game look simple, yet appealing. Animations and effects are particular standouts and the frame-rate is always consistent, even when there’s literally thousands of Orcs filling up the screen at once. Music and voice-work on the other hand is repetitive and don’t add much to the overall experience.
It should be noted that Orcs Must Die is best enjoyed in small bursts – there simply isn’t enough variety to accommodate long play sessions and if you’re not cool with this, then be warned. There’s also an irksome lack of any multiplayer modes and with a rather short campaign, the price tag of 15$ (or 1200 Microsoft Points) will seem a little steep for some. Still, the elegant controls and fun mash-up of third-person action and Tower Defense works, leading to a compelling enough game.
If you have no interest in Tower Defense games, then Orcs Must Die can safely be skipped; yet there’s something rewarding about raining hell down on legions of oblivious, intrepid Orcs using a garden-variety of traps and weapons. Sure, the game is tepid in some spots and the steep price and lack of any multiplayer options does sting a bit, but provided you haven’t grown tired of this tried-and-true formula then Orcs Must Die can definitely provide some hours of silly, unrelenting fun.