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E3 2011: Orcs Must Die! hands-on

E3 2011

Tucked away in the furthest recesses of the south hall at E3 2011 was one of my early favorites of the show, Orcs Must Die! Completely unfamiliar with the game, other than recognizing the title as one of the games recognized in this year’s ‘Into the Pixel’ art exhibition, I had no idea what sort of game I was getting into.

Orcs Must Die! was running on PC, but I immediately gravitated towards the wired Xbox 360 controller sitting adjacent to the keyboard. One of the team members gave me a brief overview of the game, explaining the fusion between tower-defense and third-person shooter. Before the first demo level began I was instructed to assign various weapons and traps to my inventory. Turns out I had just enough slots for everything, so no omissions were necessary.

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Dropped into the level, the developer explained to me that the orcs would spawn from one location and run towards my rift, attempting to destroy it. Of course, that’s bad, and you have to defend it. Before triggering the first wave I laid a number of traps in the hallway leading up to the orc spawn point. I had a few tar pits, spear walls, arrow walls and the always classic exploding barrel.

Setting the first wave free yields a bang as the large wooden doors comes crashing down, letting the angry orcs through. As they pass through the traps their numbers are thinned, all the while I’m picking off the few stragglers managing to break through with my rapid-fire crossbow. Killing orcs nets you more money, which affords you the resources to continually build more and more traps for future waves.

Cruising through the first demo level’s ten waves, the developer invited me to try the most complex level they’d brought along for the demo. In addition to the normal orc grunts and archers I’d experienced in the first stage, the second level incorporated flying enemies, werewolf-like creatures that were more concerned with killing me than they were in reaching my rift, and the formidable ‘Heavy Armored Orc’.

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The new enemy types required the effective use of a number of different traps and tactics unnecessary in the easier stage. Each level is unique in its construction and it’s left to the player to decide where they want the fight to take place. I erected a number of barricades in the courtyard next to the orc spawn point in an attempt to create a choke point, funneling the orcs to my exploding barrels and spring boards.

As more enemies continued to arrive, the push advanced more and more easily through my initial trap placements; at this point, Orcs Must Die! transitioned from simply fun, to extremely fun – and exhilirating. In addition to the traps you equip you also have a few different weapons and spells at your disposal. I equipped an ice spell, which depletes your energy but allowed me to freeze the onslaught for a moment. These minor reprieves gave me the chance to quickly buy and deploy an exploding barrel next to a large enemy or within an aggressive group. Eventually though, despite me best efforts, the rift was destroyed, well before the twelfth and final wave.

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Struggling to survive it was evident how fun Orcs Must Die! truly is on the fly. Adapting to individual situations, building new traps and managing your own health requires your undivided attention. It also subtly clues you in to the inherent replayability of the title: there are no right solutions, or required tower-placements. Players are free to use the trap types they enjoy and to drop them where they want, when they want.

Dead, but not dejected, a few of the team members were impressed with my run. One of which confirmed the full version would have three difficulty settings to play with and feature an as yet unannounced upgrade tree, presumedly for the traps and weapons. For now Orcs Must Die! arrives later this year on PC and XBLA, with a PlayStation Network version for a later date not completely ruled out.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

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