Since the genre began, tower defense games have always been downloadable titles with very few ever making it to full retail release. This has been an advantage for the genre as it has given more opportunity for innovation. For example, with Toy Soldiers and it’s sequel Toy Soldiers: Cold War, players were allowed to both roam the battlefield in various vehicles as well as take on the role of the towers themselves.
Now, Robot Entertainment, the makers of Age of Empires Online, releases their second title to the world with Orcs Must Die!.
Orcs Must Die! is another new take on the traditional tower defense formula. Instead of setting up towers throughout the enemies path, Orcs Must Die! focuses on the use of traps along with third person action mechanics such as shooting, melee and magic spells. The result is an incredibly addictive experience.
Each level starts with a player in one of the many keeps of the Order where he must stop a horde of the Mob from reaching rift points. Players see the start locations of the Mob and the paths they will take in order to reach the rift points. Once enough of the Mob has reached the rift, the player loses. Players need to use a combination of an ever expanding assortment of traps along with their own combat skills to hold off the horde.
The most interesting aspect of the traps in Orcs Must Die! is how they can be used in combination of each other. Players can put a tar pit in front of a blow dart wall to slow down the orcs so they get caught in place and take more damage. Players can place launching platforms to send enemies into pits or back towards the beginning of a level so they must run through sets of dangerous obstacles a second time. The game will reward players for this as well. When multiple traps work together to take out enemies, players will receive bonuses to purchase more traps as well as upgrades in between levels.
Players are also rewarded for their own skill in dealing with attacks. At the start of each level, players are given limited amounts of money to use on traps. Many early kills will be dependent on their own combat skills. Things such as headshots are rewarded with instant kills (except on the massive Ogres) and bonus money. As with many games, spraying arrows from your crossbow in reckless abandon is proven not to be as sound a tactic as carefully placed kill shots.
At the start of the game, there is an opening cinematic giving a very brief setup to the game and how the player became the War Mage. Anyone who attended the Microsoft Lounge at San Diego Comic Con could have received a limited edition comic book expanding on this story though it isn’t necessary to enjoy the title. But, as with most tower defense games, Orcs Must Die! relies on gameplay more than story to keep players coming back.
The levels of Orcs Must Die! are ever evolving. Some are symetrical while others sometimes feel like strangely laid out mazes. These keep players changing up their strategy as they deal with the Mob. Along with the changing levels comes a new trap with each level as well. Early on, players have a very limited selection of what they can bring with them. As they progress, they earn new items to stop the assault of the Mob.
There is no mistaking that the visual designs of Orcs Must Die! had some heavy influence from World of Warcraft. The bright and bold colors of enemies and rounded edges of walls inside the game have a very distinct and accessible WoW feel to them. These pair up great with the virtual slaughter brought forth in every level. With the game’s light hearted tone, the “gore” is meant to inspire laughter, not disgust. Had the developers taken a more realistic approach, the game would have certainly been M rated and feel more like Slaughterhouse with its bloodbath of greenskins instead of the comical portrayal they decided to go with.
The sound design is a mix of the classic Warcraft 2 with Orcs blurting out comedic quips as they are about to be ripped to shreds and the Deathspank franchise. The hero is close to being unlikeable because of his unwarranted arrogance and male bimbo tendencies but one can’t help but laugh as he describes the scene in front of him before the Mob rushes towards him.
Orcs Must Die! is a fantastic experience from start to finish. It has the right mix of challenge, engaging gameplay and humor to keep almost any player happy. While it isn’t something everyone is going to go through flawlessly their first time, part of the joy of tower defense games is the trial by fire gameplay that must be used to refine strategy, unlike the “run in to a room guns blazing” mentality of most shooters.
Robot Entertaiment has done a fine job on their sophomore release and we are looking forward to more from them. In a sea of military shooters, zombie survival games and epic RPG fantasy, it could be easy for something as “simple” as a tower defense game to get lost in the shuffle. Luckily, Orcs Must Die! is an engaging experience that turns out to be one of the premiere XBox Live Arcade titles for the past year.
XBox Live Arcade (also coming to PC)
Developer: Robot Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studio
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points ($15.00)