XBLA Review: Orcs Must Die

Ever since I saw The Fellowship of the Ring, I have wondered what it would be like be trapped in a room with no way out, making my last stand. The door would be barred, as it rhythmically swells from the pounding of the foe outside. Eventually, the door would explode from the pounding outside, and a horde of Orcs and other beasties would flood into the room, initiating a fight to the death. Thanks to Orcs Must Die, the new release from Robot Entertainment, I have now had this experience dozens of times. And with a crossbow in one hand and my fire rune in the other, I found slaughtering Orcs by the bucket load to be a wonderfully entertaining and challenging experience. Killing Orcs is certainly worth your time, even if it’s hard to get their blood out of your shirt.

The order of War Mages has long been holding the Orcs at bay. As the game begins, one of the order falls in battle, leaving his apprentice (that would be you) to carry on the fight. The game tries to extend the premise with a paper thin narrative, but the core of the game is simple. A mass of Orcs is coming, and you must find a way to kill them all. In each level, the Orcs will bash their way into your hallway, corridor, temple or what have you, and attempt to make their way to the rift. If a certain number of Orcs make it into the rift (or rifts, if the level has more than one), you lose. And these Orcs come in huge numbers, from different directions, and in a variety of forms. From the standard, average, run of the mill Orc, to huge, lumbering ogres, deadly firebats, and lightning fast kobolds, you will have a variety of threats to meet. The massive numbers of foes can be intimidating if you’re not properly prepared.

Orcs Must Die is a hybrid third person action/tower defense game. Your first line of defense in any level is, well, you. You will begin armed with a “crossbow,” which comes off as less of the one shot medieval weapon and more of a machine gun that never requires reloading and has infinite ammo. You will also have a level-dependent number of spell slots to fill. These include runes that will allow your apprentice cast magic during the assault (big fan of the frost rune… freezing foes and then smashing them to bits is one of my favorite past times), and a variety of traps and tower guardians that you may purchase during the fight.

The fight begins paused, as you expend points to build up your defenses. The enemies then come in a massive wave, after which you get a 15 second break. You can build defenses at any time, but during waves it proves very difficult (since in most of the levels, you’ll need to slay a few of the enemies yourself with your trusty bow and magic). The frantic nature of many of the battle leads to an exciting experience, as you struggle to both beat back the Orcs and build defenses at the same time. One mild caveat switching between the various spell cards was awkward. When you have 7 or 8 cards, cycling through them with LB/RB is quite difficult, especially with a bunch of Orc crossbowmen taking potshots at you. Thankfully, after everything third round, the action pauses again, giving you all the time you need to put your traps in place.

The Orcs themselves are hilarious, constantly whining from them as they push forward (“how about you go first?” and “I don’t get paid enough for this” being among my favorites). They come in a variety of shape and sizes, some of the larger beasties being very difficult to take down. I actually had the most trouble with the kobolds, as they are fast and light and run straight through most of the traps without triggering them. The diverse nature of your foes force you to think hard when placing your traps, and require a good mix of types as a part of any good strategy.

There are a huge number of traps, and proceeding through the campaign unlocks even most. Games that eschew the “god view” in favor of a player on the battlefield often have issues with precision in their controls, but placing items in the environment is a breeze. Well-position traps allow you to push orcs into pits, fling them into lava, smash them from the ceiling, or simply trap them in sticky tar, giving you more time to fill them full of crossbow bolts. The game does a fantastic job of giving a wide variety of environments to defend, giving each trap a showcase, and require mastery of them all, and not a select few.

It’s been a long wait for Orcs Must Die, but that time has been well spent. The game is a polished effort, with many challenges to solve, demons to slay, and rifts to defend. It was immensely satisfying to design my obstacles in such a way to funnel the Orcs into a tiny rooms covered in traps, and just watch the massacre. As the Apprentice says, “Sometimes, I almost feel bad for the Orcs. Except, not really.” This is a fantastic game, and one that will stay on my hard drive for a long time. Now, if you’ll excuse me, some Orcs must die.

PROS: Frenetic actions, interesting traps, banter, orcs dying by the hundred, widely varying level design

CONS: Pretends to have story, spell selection difficult, ends

5 out of 5

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Author: Tony Odett View all posts by
A member of the Perfectly Sane Show crew and Vagary.tv's Features Editor, Tony brings the smart and funny (and the rapine and pillage...). Also known as The Strategy Gamer, Tony declares it his duty to get as much coverage as possible for what should be everyone's most loved genre.