Developer Robot Entertainment’s first effort, Orcs Must Die, was an excellent game based on a simple premise; the Orcs are trying to get to the Rifts, and you must employ traps and magic to stop them. It was fun, challenging, and overflowing with personality. The Apprentice War Mage character was hilarious, with his tongue-in-cheek sarcastic wit combining with just the right amount of stupidity. Still, it was a single player experience, and I am not surprised to see Robot return to the same setting one year later with an emphasis on their new cooperative element.
The Sorceress, the villainess from the last game, with her hold on the orcs broken, teams up with the Apprentice War Mage to stop the Orcs. Much like last time, each player (or the player, if you’re playing single player) has a stock of points to use to build traps and place AI allies. You gain more points by slaying orcs. In cooperative play, each player gains half the points for each orc killed, so while you don’t share points, you gain them from the same source.
There’s only one campaign in Orcs Must Die 2. This was an interesting decision for a number of reasons. First, it means that when you create a character, you can switch up playing single or cooperative in the same campaign. It also means that when you gain skulls -which you use to upgrade weapons and buy traps- in cooperative, they also apply to single player (and vice versa). The unfortunate thing about there being only one campaign is the level design. It’s very difficult, in this sort of game, to design levels that are well suited to both single player and cooperative modes. Since both modes occur on the same maps, Robot decided that the difference between single and co-op would be the amount and type of enemies; in co-op, you’ll face a LOT more enemies, and they will tend toward the bigger end of the orc spectrum.
That’s all well and good, but it seems that some of the levels were designed with two players in mind. In the original game, there would be levels with enemies approaching from several directions, but there would be well-placed teleporters allowing you to bounce back and forth, or you could funnel the enemy into just one approach with the use of barricades. That isn’t the case here, with teleporters absent and enemy AI altered to allow them to attack a barricade instead of finding an open path. It seems that it’s expected to have a player to cover each approach. Too often playing alone I found myself backed up against the rift simply because that was the only way I had any hope of stopping the orcish hordes. Playing the same levels cooperatively was amazing fun, as defeating the massive number of enemies in tag team was immensely satisfying.
You have the option of playing as either the Sorceress or the War Mage, and they play very differently. They both have a couple of unique traps, the War Mage with his tar and arrow wall, and the Sorceress with acid spitters and freeze plates. They still select from the same, ever growing variety of traps. Their base combat styles are also very different. The War Mage, instead of using the crossbow (which is still available, if you really want it) is armed with a blunderbuss. The blunderbuss is basically a shotgun and is very satisfying to use. It also has an alternate fire that allows the War Mage to toss a grenade. The sorceress was armed with a staff, its basic fire approximating the crossbow from the last game (which was basically a machine gun). Her alternate fire allows her to charm orcs, causing them to fight on her side until they die and explode, stunning and damaging other enemies.
The upgrade system from the last game has been vastly expanded. You can use the aforementioned skulls to buy new weapons or even change your character’s appearance, though I’d rather have more traps. Skulls are much easier to acquire this time around, and can be gained for kill streaks and even with the occasional random skull just popping out from dead enemies. I love the depth in the new system, and it really allows you to focus on upgrading only the traps that you frequently use, making them extremely powerful. There are still a few upgrades that you must complete levels to achieve, however, so don’t think you can buy your way into everything. You will have to work and progress in the game to get everything.
In addition to the campaign, there’s a new gameplay mode called “endless mode.” Basically, you battle the orcish horde on one level until you either die too many times, or too many orcs exit the rift. The orcs still come in waves, with the occasional break so you can actually have time to think about where your traps should go, but they come in massive numbers and increase in difficulty with each wave. You’ll also occasionally see “Mr. Moneybags.” I don’t know if you can actually kill him, but hitting him gains you additional points with each blow and he doesn’t count against you if he exits the rift. It’s an excellent mode that I’m glad to see included.
Orcs Must Die 2 offers a compelling cooperative mode, and the addition of a second, very different playable character really expands the experience. The changes to the formerly simplistic upgrade system are very welcome, and endless mode is a fine, new and interesting way to play the game. Still, all that said, I think they sacrificed some of the fun of single player by making levels that were clearly designed with two players in mind. Even with less orcs to kill, I can’t face two directions simultaneously, and without infinite traps to defend the second approach, it’s only a matter of time before I meet a frustrating end. Still, that criticism only applied to a few of the levels, and Orcs Must Die 2 is a fine addition to the tower defense library. If you love the genre, this is a must buy.
- Co-op is a great change, as is having two characters that play differently
- Vastly improved upgrade system
- Endless mode provides new challenges
- Some level seem to be designed for co-op, not single player
- Mining theme is nice, but could use some variety
- So many orcs… why won’t they all die?