Orcs Must Die!
Tower defense games are like McDonald’s restaurants: they’re everywhere and are all fundamentally the same. Large groups of bad guys seek long convoluted ways to travel from the entrance to the exit, and only the proper placement of varying battlements will prevent that from happening. And, fundamentally, Orcs Must Die! doesn’t stray from the formula too far. The major difference between this game and many of the others lies with its intensity. Orcs is a fast and frenetically paced game that sends you deep into the thick of battle, forcing you to be quick and efficient as you hold back the orcs and their allies.
There is a story to the game, but like the title, it’s all about simplicity and provides just enough background for you to get to the killing of the orcs as quickly and efficiently as possible. You play as the apprentice, a wizard-in-training that is less like his fellow scholars and more like a jock. His personality is thin, but once again, simplicity is key. Spending time learning about the main character, or developing relationships or building up a plot can really distract from the orc genocide. And over the course of the game, you will kill thousands of orcs.
Orcs Must Die! plays out like a tower defense type of game, in which the orcs emerge from one door and make their way down various winding paths to rift gates. Let too many slip by and the level is over. Your perspective is that of the apprentice on the battlefield, and it is your job to lay an assortment of traps to slow down, destroy, or aide you in their destruction.
Placing the player amidst the carnage is not in itself a new thing. Double Fine had already done it with Trenched, not to mention indie developers that had already released their own titles featuring such. There is a difference here, and it’s not just in the style and humor of the game. Orcs Must Die! is an intense experience, one that forces you to be just as quick on your feet fighting off the orcs as you are efficient in laying out your defense.
In the beginning, you have a crossbow and spellbook, itself carrying only a few known traps. Lay out spikes across the floor and any passing orc will feel their sting, but they require a few moments to reset. Drop a few tiles of tar and their movements will slow, giving you plenty of time to aim a few headshots, or just let loose into the crowd. Every stage or so unlocks you a new spell in your book, and it’s not long at all before you’ve built up an arsenal big enough to provide you the tools to tactically decimate the encroaching horde.
And not every tactic will work on every enemy. The standard orc fair can be diced up simply enough by blades that shoot out from the wall, but a group of kobolds, fast on their feet, might manage to sneak a few on through. Flying creatures pay no attention to the spikes on the floor, and ogres barrel through, crushing all resistance. Switching tactics in this game isn’t as simple as just equipping a different weapon, but rather deals with preparation. Each stage, as you’re selecting the spells you plan on using within it, lists for you the types of enemies that will charge in. This allows you to plan out your defense accordingly. If you don’t plan ahead, there’s a high chance you won’t make it to defend the next rift gate.
There is one ball that this game dropped, one feature that is very missed from the whole experience: co-op. Vanquishing countless numbers of incoming evils is entertaining enough, but imagine doing so with a buddy! A co-op mode would have definitely added to the experience, and the lack of it detracts, but only slightly. Orcs Must Die! is still a fun game loaded with content to carry you on for quite a few hours, it’s just too bad you can only do it alone.