Monday, October 17, 2011


Orcs Must Die!
Released 10.5.11
XBLA & Windows

Developer: Robot Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Here is a bloody riot that takes no time at all to master. The challenge keeps you on your toes in this tower defense outing that has never been more fun. You'll plan, strategize, and hack and slash as you utilize dozens of means to keep the nasty foes at bay! "Orcs Must Die!" is a must play!

The other morning I played through the "Orcs Must Die!" demo for a second time. Anytime I play through a demo again is a good sign of a good game. My sister called during my play session and asked how I was. I told her it was a good morning and I had already killed a couple hundred orcs. "No, really!" I said, I then explained. (By the end of my session the tally was totaling near 1,000!)

An opening cutscene of graphic novel-esque pictures sets the stage. An aged warrior has spent 300 years fighting for the Order. In this time he has killed thousands of Orcs and defended dozens of Rifts. Then, after slipping on a puddle of blood (which, if you really think about it, was bound to happen sooner or later) and cracking his head on the gatehouse steps, he was put out of mortality and therefore out of the job. You were his apprentice and now it is up to you to defend the castle (and more specifically the Rifts). "The world is doomed,"your masters voice laments. Now is your chance to prove that prediction otherwise. Orcs must die! You are given the objective to defend the rifts at all costs, if a certain number of orcs make it through, the world is doomed indeed. You cannot prevent the orcs from breaching your castle, but you can stop them from reaching the Rift(s). In fact, you never leave the castle. It is your playing field for the entire game.

Tower defense is a specific subgenre of the realtime strategy (RTS) which in itself is a subgenre of sorts for the strategy game. A couple years ago tower defense was changed forever with the release of "Plants vs. Zombies," one of the greatest games I have ever played. Instead of holding out against an undead horde, you will be fending off lots and lots of orcs. The best part of the game is that you actually become your most valuable defense. Most tower defense games give managerial type duties and you have an almost god-like presence over the battle field being able to control units or in the very least determine where they ought to be placed. You can do that herein, but you are also a character yourself: a young medieval warrior with a red scarf.

Before each level you get to choose your load out from the Spell Book. This might not be the best name because all your weapons and all your traps are selected from there. You have a limited number of slots and so you must choose wisely. As far as traps go you've got the Boom Barrel, Spike Trap, Tar Trap, and Arrow Wall just to name a few. A strategical placed Boom Barrel on the battlefield can be triggered by a well placed arrow from a safe distance. This will make it boom and cause any orcs in its immediate vicinity to explode to limbs and so forth. The Tar Trap slows enemies down as they trudge through. The Spike Trap impales them from below while the Arrow Wall gets them from the side (a la that temple at the beginning of "Raiders of the Lost Ark"). You have a set amount a points at the beginning to spend on traps and earn more during play as you kill orc upon orc. You can actually build traps in the heat of battle, which is always an exciting move. They do say the best defense is a good offense (or is it the other way around?... either way, you will be defending against and offending the orcs.) Then there's your personal weapons. The Bladestaff is a must should you ever resort to close-quarters combat, which you most certainly will, and the weapon to end all weapons, your ever trusty crossbow (so you can fell the orcs before they even come within swinging range.)

Depending on how well you do in any given level you are rewarded skulls (out of a possible five skulls). You can use these to upgrade equipment from your Spell Book. I chose to improve the Spike Trap because I seemed to use it more than any other Orc-killing device. The upgrade added poison to the spikes and actually seemed to make the spikes longer. By the demo's end I had unlocked 7/30 of the possible weapons you can choose from the Spell Book. I've no doubt the other weapons will be just as detailed and useful as the ones I've been describing. I had finally unlocked the Wind Belt, which enables me to push and pickup enemies and objects. It works great to keep the foe at bay and even lets you push them back onto the traps you've set, thus putting them through the ringer again. Some levels have built in defenses, such as one corridor that had two large bubbling vats of acid. I waited until some orcs wore beneath it and the shot an arrow at the oversized bucket which dumped its contents on the ugly buggers below. Their skin, flesh, and blood vanished and their remaining skeletal structures fell to the floor! Sometimes other "good guys" will aid your cause, such as archers, which actually eventually end up in your Spell Book.

The orcs themselves are pretty foolish. They run in a predetermined path, solely fixated on reaching the Rift (which you will have to resort to yourself every now and again in order to heal). Many of them take corners nice and wide like humanoid tanks. This isn't adapting AI like some people have been experiencing with Id's latest, "Rage." Still, their numbers are relentless and they will certainly fight back when you are close enough. Besides the standard orc, their are ones with crossbows, and other creatures (though they do not appear in the demo). I've seen the Cobolts in a video, which are small and agile and are a particular threat when it comes to defending the Rift. Other creatures include Ogres, Helbats, and Gnoll Hunters (see the full Mob at the "Orcs Must Die!" wiki).

The game released a couple weeks ago for the Xbox Live Game Marketplace at $15. That is the upper tier price for XBLA games and is a more significant investment than say $5 for "Geometry War." Still, I feel this is an upper tier game and worth that and more (though in my current Benjamins-lacking state I will be likely waiting for a Deal of the Week purchase for this one). In today's world, where people are having to shell out $60 for new releases, this is a fair price for such a fine game.

Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the current age of digitally downloadable games. "Orcs Must Die!" is a worthy addition to any gamer's library and truly one of the best games I've played this year.


Content: blood and violence

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