Updated Thu, Oct 13, 2011 by Stow
I had barely heard of Robot Entertainment before Orcs Must Die! They’re the driving force from the remains of Ensemble, who brought us the Age of Empires series, and are behind the current online/F2P version of that game. So they know what strategy is. But what happens when those guys remove the resource gathering, add a healthy dose of violence, and make it a third person tower defense game? You get one hell of a lot of fun, apparently.
The premise is simple. You’re an asshole reject of the order of Magi, and you’re the last one. The rest gave their lives defending the rifts, and it’s up to you defend them. Orcs and other assortments of monsters pour out from the gates in large waves, charging through the halls of your castle and attempting to reach the rift. They reach the rift, and you lose points. But in order to reach that, they have to not only get through you, but your traps.
You plant a variety of mutilating, debilitating, and more importantly, satisfying traps along the paths the minions take and tear them to shreds, crush them, light them ablaze, or shatter them to pieces. These cost money and can be planted on the fly as the hordes charge at you, but each kill nets you precious cash. So what if the monsters make it past your initial trap area? It’s up to you.
You are no slouch and can chop monsters down, fire crossbow bolts between the eyes, and summon gusts of wind to shove them off bridges and into lava or acid. You are not some sissy worker like most tower defenses, hell, you can be the ONLY defense sometimes. The fact you have a piece of all of the action makes the game a ton of frantic fun.
Gameplay is largely split into two phases—the oncoming hordes, and the calm before the storm. You start out able to roam the stage, check out the area and where you can deploy traps, then you can select the array of traps and weapons you want to equip yourself with for the stage. There is a limit, so picking the right traps for the job is essential.
You then place your death machines as you see fit, and hit a button signal you’re ready and bring it on. You fight multiple waves of various monsters at a time before you get another break. During these breaks, or very briefly in-between waves of enemies, you can sell your traps for full price and place others if you find a setup isn’t working.
Why not just show you what it's like, in up to 1080p style? Here's a taste of the hordes on one of the later stages on medium difficulty. My archer bombardment takes care of most of the creatures pouring in from the lower area of the tower, and I take it upon myself to thwart most of the upper entrance. Since my primary trap here was the Push Wall, which doesn't work on heavy units like Ogres, I had to resort to ice spells and precise shooting while retreating towards the rift to finish off the wave.
The controls are very intuitive and for the most part spot on, but you cannot reconfigure them at the moment in the game. Perhaps it’s a silly holdover from the console version, but unacceptable by PC standards today. At least the default is pretty damn good.
The enemies do not behave like your standard tower defense games, and will engage you, chase you, run by, ignore you, and even taunt you with various sound clips as they rumble on by. It’s pretty hard to exploit the AI in any way however, as even the most basic of orcs will say to hell with this and charge the rift eventually. There are flying enemies as well, and those will typically have to be dealt with by you and not your traps. That said, you can place two kinds of soldiers to help hold down areas. Archers are your best option for covering wide areas, but their overall damage is low and their durability is a joke. Paladins can take a huge beating and dish out a good amount, but are very slow, protect a tiny hallway at best, and enemies will sometimes get bored of fighting and move on!
The stage count is in the mid 20s, and there are three difficulty levels. The hardest setting is unlocked after you beat the game on medium, and really turns things up. Extremely tough enemies will show up in the first stage, the number of orcs on screen becomes staggering, and there are no break periods, not even at the beginning of the stage! I consider myself a fairly seasoned defense mastermind, and I wasn’t able to perfectly do most of the later stages on normal my first try, and Nightmare took several tries (and I’m still working on some!)
Just don’t get this for the story. Orcs are bashing down your gates and trying to make it to your awesome place. That’s all you need to know, and frankly, all you’ll care about.