Orcs Must Die! 2
Tower defense games have become incredibly ubiquitous in recent years. That’s not a bad thing, by any means; it’s natural for people to see something cool and replicate it themselves - that’s how genres pop up in the first place. Even though they haven’t proliferated any more than, say, shooters or racing games have over the years, it’s easy to single the genre out as a fad bandwagon, probably because a huge number of tower defense games are available as Flash games, phone games, and downloadable arcade games. It’s a bite-sized genre with equally small development overheads when compared to other games. It’s also easy to write the whole thing off, as many have done with puzzle games and other common, simple kinds of games. Orcs Must Die!, however, stood out from the crowd last year. Alongside similar games like Dungeon Defenders and Trenc- - err, I mean Iron Brigade, it provided the same depth and addictive nature that all good tower defense games offer, but bigger. The inherent simplicity was there, but so was a thick coat of third-person shooter paint.
Orcs Must Die! 2, despite being released less than a year after the original, still does its best to feel like more than a sum of its parts. It features the same gameplay, but with more levels, more traps, more weapons, and online co-op for friends. These are all things that the original lacked, but wasn’t worse off without - a great case of a franchise adding to its foundations rather than just filling up holes.
For newcomers, the game is incredibly easy to pick up. Orcs (who must die) attack in waves, but before each wave the player sets up traps, things that slow down and/or hopefully kill the advancing horde. There are tons of traps, many of which work well in tandem - the spring trap and the spinning “haymaker” ceiling trap, for example, or the tar trap and practically anything. During each wave, the player can run around and shoot/zap/smash Orcs with their character, too, which makes the whole thing feel far less segmented than a typical tower defense game. It often feels more like an action games with an added layer of strategy, even though under the hood the importance of the traps vs. the effectiveness of your direct combat is probably the opposite.
There’s a good bit of progression to the game, too, as purchasing new traps and weapons (and upgrading both) are tied to Orc skulls, the points awarded at the end of each game. On a scoring basis, there is a maximum of 5 skulls to earn on each stage - however, good performance (or luck, as skulls sometimes appear in-game) can earn you bonus skulls, adding more replay value to each level. The extra skulls are necessary, too, given that between the two available characters, there are a lot of weapons and traps to upgrade, not to mention the extra costumes you can buy. If carrots on the end of sticks are your thing, Orcs Must Die 2 is practically a veggie forest - although if incremental upgrades aren’t very sexy to you, the high-score chase probably isn’t worth it. Either way, there’s a lot of content to see in the game.
The co-op doesn’t provide any radical changes, but Orcs Must Die!’s gameplay lends itself very well to multiplayer. The two characters, the War Mage and The Sorceress, aren’t too radically different, outside of a few unique traps and weapons each (and what do you know, The Sorceress is a scantily clad lady - ho hum). Orcs come from two different rifts, so a lot of the multiplayer involves covering separate areas, rather than working in tandem at all times. It’s not hugely complicated until later in the game, when the levels start getting devilish, but it’s a great addition to the overall package.
The presentation is the only aspect of the original that hasn’t really been expanded upon. The game still looks fine, in a style-over-substance way. The characters are very colorful, and the levels are mostly drab, which forgoes clutter but sometimes lacks personality. The characters are at least goofy and fun enough to offset the relatively dull environments. The same can’t be said of the soundtrack, though, which consists mostly of repeated one-liners and a rote Casio-keyboard-orchestral score. The game’s general presentation is better than its ugly-duckling cousin Dungeon Defenders, but not by much. It’s serviceable.
Orcs Must Die! 2 doesn’t rewrite the tower defense handbook, but the first one didn’t either. It provides a familiar formula wrapped in the guise of another familiar formula, and succeeds at picking the best parts of both. The game adds a lot for a quick sequel, although any attempts at Orcs Must Die! 3 will probably need to revisit the drawing board, considering this version adds multiplayer, an “endless” high score level, a ton of extra doohickeys, and the all-consuming cosmetic item hunt - not to mention the fact that almost-a-tower-defense-game-and-almost-a-shooter is becoming nearly as prolific a genre as tower defense. Right now, though, Orcs Must Die! 2 feels fun and fresh - even if the original game still did too.
Eight out of ten