Orcs Must Die! [5 Minute Review]

They gotta go; it can’t be helped.

I’m not a big fan of tower defense games. I find them repetitive and formulaic. It was good fun back when I played it as a Warcraft 3 mod, and that was probably because I preferred going to the local LAN centre instead of my Chemistry class in high school. (Teenage rebellion – I did it when computer mice still used rubber balls.)

Orcs Must Die! replaces the towers with traps and (like in Sanctum) lets the player enter the fray in 3rd-person. You play the role of an apprentice War Mage who is charged with defending Rift gates from hordes of orcs, using traps and support personnel that you can cast in to and out of existence. Traps cost currency, which is derived from killing enemies: the more enemies you kill, the more currency you get and the more traps you can deploy. You also have a magic crossbow as a base weapon, and other mana-consuming war gear in case things go badly. New traps and war gear are drip fed to you after every completed level. Your performance on each level is measured using a series of metrics (completion time, total Rift points, kill streaks, and so on); good performance is rewarded with orc skulls, which are subsequently used to augment the abilities of your traps.

So far, so good – there are incentives to continue playing, and the involvement is beyond simply watching enemies willingly walk into rotating blades of death. It’s even more encouraging to see that Orcs Must Die! is also a smooth, fluid experience that just plays well.

There never seems to be a moment where the game responds in an unexpected manner. Headshots kill, traps impale, and orcs run at a reasonable speed. The crossbow is highly accurate and allows for headshot streaks…if you can control your shot output to reduce the recoil. If you find a mass of red dots on your radar heading for your Rift gate, there’s little excuse other than a poorly planned trap configuration and a poor use of war gear.

There is some variety in the trap selection – floor spikes for basic damage and stun; tar pits for slowing; wall spikes for greater coverage; and some anti-air traps to catch rogue flyers. There is also some opportunity to have some fun, too – springboard traps launch enemies into pits of acid, and wall blades turn orcs into bloody chunks. Configurations can be changed easily to adapt to changing situations, since there is no penalty cost for selling a trap. Later levels allow unlocking of passive buffs to your traps and enhancements to your war gear, all of which can be purchased using currency.

The main problem with Orcs Must Die! is that it simply didn’t hold my attention for very long. I found that I was unable to play the game for more than a couple of levels at a time. It certainly wasn’t due to difficulty or frustration (I enjoyed the various ways I could turn orcs into chunky kibble); I just didn’t find the idea of watching enemies walk into my traps very satisfying after an hour or so. The levels are meant to spice things up by throwing some challenges at you (path forks, multiple gates, and so on), and the unlocking of new traps and war gear should act as a hook to experiment and have fun. It just so happened that I had better games to play. The game’s leaderboard compared my scores to other people on my Steam friends list for each level, and I noticed a gradual drop off in names as I progressed through the levels. My leaderboard was almost empty after the 7th or 8th level. Anecdotal evidence, yes, but it’s worth mentioning.

Overall, despite it’s lack of lasting appeal, Orcs Must Die! isn’t bad. It’s well executed; it looks great; and it’s fun to play. A solid title to fill in some downtime between major releases.

Reviewed for PC.

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