Friday, April 13, 2012

Orcs Must Die! (PC)

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: A fun spin on a tower defense game with great audio and visuals
Cons: No multiplayer or endless mode to keep you playing after finishing it

Orcs Must Die! is an action/strategy tower defense game from Robot Entertainment where the goal is to go through each level killing and destroying "The Mob" of Orcs and their allies. You play as an apprentice of "The Order" who is tasked with protecting fortresses built in the dead world of the Orcs and the magical rifts inside. The Orcs wish to use these rifts to travel to other worlds so they can plunder and ravage them, and it's up to you to stop them using any means necessary. I picked the game up because it looked a little bit similar to Dungeon Defenders, which I really like, and I was not disappointed.
To accomplish this hefty feat you can use a number of different devices -- including up to 6 different weapons; 17 various floor, wall and ceiling traps, and 2 distinct guardians to aid you. You start off with a magical crossbow, a bladestaff, a tar trap and a spike trap. You also start out with 4 empty places in your spell book (basically your quick action bar of hot keys), which allows you to add all of your available weapons and traps to it and use them right away; you can only use devices that are added to your spell book at the beginning of a level. Every level you finish unlocks an additional device, and sometimes adds another empty spot to your spell book (to a maximum of 10, mapped to the number keys 1-0).
Since you can't have everything available all at once for most of the game, you have to pick and choose what you want to bring into each level. Some levels don't have much in the way of ceiling space, for example, so you would naturally want to avoid wasting your space by bringing any ceiling-mounted traps. Likewise, if you fill up your entire spell book with traps then you have no room left to bring any other weapons or guardians to the fight (though you'll always have the crossbow, as it's locked into the first slot).
As you progress through the game, you are awarded skulls based on how well you do in each level. You can obtain up to 5 skulls at the end of a level, and these skulls can be used to permanently upgrade one of your devices to make it cheaper, stronger, or have some type of additional effect. Since there are a limited number of skulls in total you can not upgrade everything, so upgrading what you use most based on your play style is key to getting the most use out of them.

The weapons can do various things like shoot fireballs, ice bolts or chain lightning. Weapons also have an alternate fire mode that you can use with a right click rather than the usual left click. The alternate fire mode of the regular crossbow is a small area of effect stun attack, while the alternate fire mode of the bladestaff is a frontal knockback attack. These alternate fire modes are pretty varied between weapons, and one even lets you pick enemies up and throw them at other enemies. I most often find myself using the fire gauntlet to throw a fireball at a group of enemies, but the alternate mode lets me lay down a small flame wall that incinerates enemies who walk over it for a brief time and it's a godsend in certain situations. Most weapons cost mana to fire, except for the crossbow and bladestaff which only require mana to use their alternate fire modes. Mana does regenerate itself over time, but not exceptionally fast so you have to make sure to save some for when you need it.
The traps you can use are pretty diverse and fun, and while there are too many to talk about specifically I'll list a few examples and some of my favorites. Floor traps include spikes that pop out of the floor, magma that burns enemies, or even giant springs that can launch enemies over a ledge into some lava. Wall traps feature arrows that fly out of the wall, grinders that suck in enemies, or axes that chop enemies up as they walk by. The grinder and the axe trap are both short range, but you can use the barricade floor trap to force enemies to walk beside them and put slowing tar traps on the floor underneath them to make the enemies stay there next to them for an extended period of time and take a load of damage. Ceiling traps can swing a giant spiked mace back and forth or even spew lightning at incoming enemies.
Guardians are totally different than traps. While there are only 2 different guardians to choose from, they both fill different roles and you can place some of each if you have them both in your spell book. Granted, there's a limit of like 10 or 12 guardians you can place on any given level, but I almost always max them out just for their utility. The archer guardian will shoot down flying enemies before it will plink away at the normal ground enemies your traps will take care of, and it's nearly ridiculous to have a pile of archers on a ledge overlooking a large portion of the map. While they're not as strong as you are, in numbers they are quite lethal. The paladin guardian is nearly as good, but he is a melee tank type of guardian who will stand there and fight a number of Orcs at once and keep them busy for a while.
I like to take a choke point where the enemies can be funneled into, and line it with grinders or axes on the walls. I put tar along in front of them to keep the enemies there for a while, and place brimstone just before it to catch the enemies on fire. A swinging mace on the ceiling, and maybe a turret/ballista trap off to the side on the ceiling and not much can make it through. Just for overkill though, I like to use a pile of archer guardians behind my trap setup to pelt everything with arrows while it's already getting demolished (unless it's a map with flying enemies, in which case my archers are positioned somewhere that allows them to clean those guys up for me while I focus on the ground).
Placing traps or guardians costs various amounts of money. You start off with a fixed number of coins and earn more by killing Orcs. Getting kill streaks by killing many Orcs in a row increases the amount of money you earn, so it's important to try for them -- especially early when you don't have many traps set yet. Sometimes an enemy will drop a coin on the map in addition to the coins you get from killing him, and picking it up also gives you additional money. This happens most often with the bigger enemies like Ogres, who take a lot of damage before dying and also hit pretty hard should they get near you. In addition to the coin, enemies can also drop health potions that restore your health when you step on them.
A little while into the game you also obtain "Weavers", which basically serve as the tech tree in the game. They are some type of magical creature that will allow you to spend coins to upgrade certain abilities or traps. There are 3 different Weavers which are like different skill trees; the Elemental, Steel and Knowledge Weavers. The first lets you increase your weapon abilities -- like adding flame to your crossbow shots or making your frost spells last longer. The second upgrades your traps and guardians by allowing traps to reset faster or guardians to have extra health and regenerate any they lose. This one is my personal favorite; I always purchase the ability that allow me to gain extra coins from Orcs killed by my traps and guardians, as well as the one letting my archer guardians gain flame arrows.
The last Weaver is probably the best all around one, even though I don't use it often. It has some nice abilities like gaining 20% run speed or letting trap kills restore 5% of your mana. Each of the Weavers has 3 tiers of abilities, with 1-4 abilities in each tear. While you can only use one of these 3 Weavers at a time, the abilities you purchase from them only last for one level so you can choose a different one every time if you like. Using the right Weaver for your play style and trap usage is immensely helpful, especially later in the game.
There are 24 different fortresses to defend. They all feature different layouts, some with stairs and multiple floors, some with cathedral ceilings so there's limited room for ceiling traps, etc. Some levels also have natural traps such as suspended logs that you can knock down to roll over enemies or chandeliers that you can shoot off of the ceiling to crush enemies. One annoying thing in some levels is the fact that you can fall from a ledge into oblivion and die, which really irks me sometimes. Maybe I should just pay more attention to my surroundings, but I always hate things like that in games.
There are a couple of DLC (Downloadble Content) packs available for Orcs Must Die!, which are only a couple dollars each. The Artifacts of Power DLC adds 2 additional weapons as well as 2 additional traps with upgrades. The other DLC is the Lost Adventures, and it adds 5 new fortresses, 2 new enemies as well as a new wall trap that can restore a player's mana. The DLC packs, as well as the game itself, are reasonably priced -- but if you're patient you can find them all on Steam for sale for %50 to %75 off. That's when I picked up my copy, and I paid a whopping $4.99 for the game along with both expansion packs.
Unlike traditional tower defense games which are often played using a top-down overhead view, Orcs Must Die! brings you closer to the action by using a third-person view from behind the main character (much like Max Payne or Syphon Filter). Everything is well modeled in 3D, with crisp and colorful textures and the entire game looks terrific. Animations are fluid and smooth, every trap looks totally distinct and there are a dozen different types of enemies. The limited amount of story is portrayed as comic book style still images, and is pushed along by some decent narration. The game has a pretty unique sense of humor which I rather enjoyed -- like your master initially dying by slipping in Orc blood and cracking his head open on the stairs.
The sound effects are equally good, with the traps all sounding great (and different from each other), and Orcs squealing as they get torn asunder or lit on fire. The background music was pretty thrilling during intense portions of the game, and more laid back and mellow between waves of enemies and before starting. I really enjoyed both the graphics and sound in Orcs Must Die!, and they really added a lot to the already fun gameplay.
The replay value may be a bit low since it's a single player game with a limited number of fortresses to defend, but with so many different traps and weapons to try out you can at least try out different combinations in different levels for kicks and giggles. It looks like Orcs Must Die! 2 is going to have a multiplayer co-op mode, which is one thing that I wish this game would have had. I would have even settled for an endless mode of some sort, where you could keep playing forever until you were overrun by enemies. As it stands though, once you get all 5 skulls from each level and all 28 Steam achievements there's really no incentive to play further as you will have likely exhausted your curiosity about different trap combinations by then. Still a really fun game that will last for quite a while. A good value for the price, especially if you catch it during a sale.

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