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October 5, 2011

Orcs Must Die! XBLA Review

So the date is finally upon us – October 5th the release date of Orcs Must Die! (OMD) on Xbox Live Arcade. I have been playing OMD! over the last few days and have been extremely impressed with the game. OMD is the first original IP game to be launched by Robot Entertainment. For a number of people at the studio who worked previously at Ensemble this is the first game outside of the traditional RTS field. For those people this game is a breath of fresh air allowing for a new type creativity to flourish, and it certainly has done. OMD is a third person action strategy game. The goal of the game is simple – kill Orcs, kill them in any way you can. Players can choose between weapons, traps and magic to do the job. The Orcs must be killed before a certain number reach the rifts at the other end of the level. Otherwise its game over!

Story

Robot have spent some time creating a decent back story to the game. They have even come up with a whole comic book edition to detail the back story which acts as a prequel comic book to the game. There is no slouch on effort here, the digital comic book is brilliantly designed and of a quality of traditional printed comics. The art quality is fantastic and the comic even features exclusive community art as well. The comic describes how for many years in history “rifts” have existed which acted as a primary source of magic for the Mages who used this magic to help solve problems such as summoning rain storms when there was drought. However “ages” ago some stupid explorers decided to foolishly venture into the rifts and cross to the other side. On the other side they found a land destroyed and ravaged. The ugly creates on the other side, the Orcs then began to step through the rift into the world and thats when doom and gloom fell on the world as death and villages burned as the Orcs began to tear up the land.

The Mages travelled to each rift and began to push the Orcs back to their own world. Huge fortresses and castles were then built in the Orcs world to stop them from reaching the rifts and prevent them from entering the world. In order to keep the world safe in the future the Mages were given apprentices and thats where the main character comes in for OMD. The War Mage we play as is the apprentice of one of the elder Mages, unfortunetly though he wasn’t quite the sharpest tool in the shed. However as the armies of Orcs got bigger and bigger the Mages began to fall. The time has come for the War Mage to step up the plate the prepare to defend the fortresses – and thats where you come in.

The story is sound and reasonable for an Xbox Arcade game. The comic book does an awesome job at presenting the prequel and readers should definitely check out the comic before playing the game. Why not take a break out of this review and catch up on the comic now on the link below?

Orcs Must Die! Prequel Comic book

Gameplay

I know what you must be thinking, enough about story and more about the gameplay. Well, I can tell you straight off that OMD is fast, exciting and extremely addicting. At the start of the game you begin with a limited set of traps and weapons, the first few levels are a breeze but they help players get familiar with the controls. Similar to Ensemble’s Halo Wars, Robot has also managed to create a very easy to learn control scheme for the Xbox 360 controller. You’ll be surprised just how easy and fluid it really is. The only slight downside with the control scheme is that you have to cycle through your load out to get to the weapon or trap that you want. On PC players can simply press a number on the keyboard to go to the item they want, but Xbox players need to cycle through. It’s not a major problem, just a slight delay compared to the PC platform. I don’t see how they could have done it any differently though.

With the controls a breeze to pick up, its also super easy to pick up the concept. Yes, I know it says it in the title, but the name of the game is indeed to kill Orcs, the biggest question though is how. As players move past the first four levels or so things start to toughen up very quickly. It was that I first noticed a quite sharp difficulty increase, I suddenly found myself having to think very carefully about which traps I was going to put where. This is where the strategy element comes in. At the beginning of each level players are given their spell book which they can use to select traps and weapons that they think would be best at keeping the Orcs at bay. Depending on the layout of the level will have a huge impact on the effectiveness of a trap/weapon combination. Later on in the game things are spiced up even more with the weavers, these allow players to select certain upgrades which boost health, weapon strength or reduce cooldowns. These upgrades come at a cost of points which could be used to spend on traps. The system provides a whole extra layer of depth which is most welcome and very well thought out.

The number of enemies is also very good – from standard Orcs, to Orcs with cross bows and a whole bunch of other creatures like massive Ogres which can take some serious damage to kill and really makes you think about priorities on the battlefield. The flying creatures are truly a huge pain in the bum – you’ll have to keep your wits about you dealing with both ground based and airborne nasties! Plus there are the Gnoll Hunters which can once again shake up your priorities, these fast paced enemies will target guardian units (like your archers) first. Do you sacrifice your archers to fend off the mob? Or rescue them in hopes they can turn the tide in battle? Choices are plentiful in OMD.

As you start to progress through the levels players will soon start to realist that OMD is fastexhilarating and most of all extremely fun. Seriously, when playing OMD, you cannot stand still. You’ll constantly be dashing from one end of the map to the other rushing to horde off the Orcs whilst at the same time frantically trying to place down traps in the best locations. Sure, after a few rounds you get a break to place traps how you see fit, but when you acquire points in battle you’ll be looking to plant traps at the same time as holding off against the horde. Be prepared for a huge adrenaline rush for those times when Orcs are getting hairly close to the rift, shuffling through your load out to find the Wind belt to push them back.

There is a ton of action packed fun to find here and the gameplay I’m sure will appeal to a large audience of gamers. Robot have really pulled out all the stops to ensure the game is painless to play and offers a huge amount of exciting on-edge game play. The only pain in the game, is the pain you’ll be unleashing on orcs, ogres and other foul creatures!

Graphics

In terms of eye candy the art style of OMD helps make it enjoyable to play. Although the game play takes place inside a fortress there is a good colour palette and bright colours. Textures and detail on traps are very good. One of the best things about the graphics though are the physics effects when slicing and dicing Orcs.  Each trap has its own way of killing each Orc and these extravagant ways are presented with some humorously over the top deaths.

SPLAT! You can’t say that doesn’t look good!

Frame-rates on the XBLA version are super slick and I havent spotted any lag anywhere in the game. There is some odd lag at the Orcs Must Die logo screen right at the beginning - but that’s about it. Robot i’m sure have spent a lot of time ensure the game ran as fluidly on Xbox and indeed the PC version too.

Sound & Music

I love the music. Lets get that out there straight away! As soon as those doors burst open the music really adds to the adrenaline rush to push back the Orcs. There are a number of different tracks which helps to keep things fresh. Sound effects on traps etc are equally as good. The best thing of all is the added humour and voice overs for the Orcs. You may remember back in April 2011 Robot Entertainment reached out to the community to provide some one-liners for the Orcs as they met their doom. This resulted in a number of exciting entries including the winning entry “Don’t crossbow me, bro!” A whole bunch of the community one-liners plus some genius lines from Robot have made their way into the game. I’m definitely pleased with the humours angle Robot are taking with the game.

Any thoughts on a one-liner for the Orcs here?

Multiplayer

Ok, so this really is the only stinger. There is no co-op coming at launch with Orcs Must Die! This is a real shame as Orcs would be a great co-op experience. This is not to say the single player game isn’t awesome, it certainly it is. I think after a few games of playing Orcs single player it wont be long until players start thinking about co-op. The problem with co-op is that adding a whole multi player experience would have resulted in a huge amount of additional development time and we almost certainly wouldn’t be playing Orcs until 2012.  So its swings and roundabouts. Robot’s objectives as a studio is to try and get high quality, fun games out of the door more often. When Remember ES went on location to Robot earlier this year the message was that they wanted to do away with those long laborious development cycles like Halo Wars, and move to much more agile development process, shipping smaller games at a faster rate. With Robot committed to new IP this is going to mean lots more exciting original games being pumped out the factory and we might see 2 or perhaps even more games coming out next year. I think this is a fair trade for the missing co-op in Orcs Must Die for now :) .

Re-playability & Value

Replayability is always something to important to consider with games – the amount of re-playability is often used to help judge how much value for money a title represents. OMD well be on the Xbox Marketplace for 1200MSP. So lets take a look at what you get with that:

  • 24 unique fortresses to defend. Each fortress is totally unique and will need different strategies in terms of trap placement, weapon selection and upgrade selection in order to get the top scores.
  • 7 weapons & magic plus 17 unique traps. Again, we are looking at unique traps here each with different cost and effectiveness depending on the environment. There are potentially hundreds of combinations of traps, magic and weapons players could try out on any given level!
  • A weapon upgrade system. Strategy goes deeper than just on the battlefield – players can choose to spend experience points on upgrades to their traps. Players gain experience relatively slowly so there is a lot to think about before choosing upgrades.
  • A full leader-board system. There may not be multi-player but this hasn’t stopped Robot from crafting a fully featured leader-board system. Compare high scores with your friends and other players in the world and aim for the best.
  • Nightmare mode. For those seriously addicted gamers, nightmare mode offers a whole new mode of intense difficulty for those who manage to fly through the medium difficulty settings. Its not over until the Orcs say its over.
All this and more for just 1200MSP. Am I having a giraffe? No that’s right – just 1200MSP. Orcs Must Die offers incredible value for money. Especially when you consider DLC for some titles can start at 800MSP for just a few hours worth of content! It’s a great price point and players get a huge return in terms of outstandingly fun game-play and entertainment.
Robot have also updated their website for the occasion with some seriously impressive integration features. Players registered on RobotEntertainment.com can now connect their Xbox Live account and Steam Account to access their own personal stats which include numbers of Orcs killed plus  the score on each level and extra information like par times etc. Its some outstanding integration! Initially the full set of integration features will be available for Steam players but there is hope the full features will come for the XBLA version too. Robot has experience in this sector, with stats for Halo Wars in the past. Go check out these awesome features on the Robot Entertainment website!
Soon these online stats pages will be full of information for players to check back on their Orc slaying stats at a glance!

Final thoughts

Overall Orcs Must Die makes for a fantastic first original title to come out of the factory at Robot Entertainment. For many of those at Robot who came from Ensemble, Orcs does a great job at taking the strategy genre talent at the studio and combining this with an exciting, fast-paced action game. With a polished art style and fluid game play its easy for many to pick up and play. The game offers an exciting experience right from the get go, there’s no complicated control scheme to try and follow. The game is available at an excellent price point and offers superb value for money with a vast potential for re-playability and certainly room for DLC down the line! As a huge fan of Ex Ensemble and Robot Entertainment I am extremely pleased to award this game 5 Orc skulls out of 5!

But don’t just take my word for it…

Check out these other positive reviews for Orcs Must Die which include a 9/10 from IGN, RTS Guru and SplitKick!

http://uk.xboxlive.ign.com/articles/119/1198295p1.html

http://www.rtsguru.com/game/384/features/218/Orcs-Must-Die-Review-Action-Packed-Orcicide.html

http://splitkick.com/orcs-must-die-review/

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Related posts:

  1. Microsoft Studios to publish Orcs Must Die on PC and XBLA this Summer
  2. Orcs Must Die prequel comic available for download!
  3. Orcs Must Die! launching October 5th on XBLA and October 12th on PC/Steam!

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