Orcs Must Die! by Robot Entertainment was one of the most successful indie games of 2011, receiving the accolade Game of the Year and being one of the most fun games I’ve personally played in a long time. The anecdote you can oft catch me telling is that I picked it up about three days before PAX East this year and ended up resenting having to leave for Boston just because it meant I had to put Orcs Must Die! down.
Scarcely 8 months later we now have Orcs Must Die! 2. Historically, even the benevolent titans Valve have caught flak for such a fast turnaround on a sequel, so is it up to scratch?
To bring everyone up to speed, Orcs Must Die! is an Action Tower Defence game. You are given resources to buy traps and said traps are instrumental in stopping waves of baddies – in this case the titular orcs – from making it down a gauntlet. That flavour of game gets stale after a while and you end up just resting on the fast-forward button until everything stops, so these days the kids want action. Now you get to run around on foot with a selection of interesting weapons mixing it up in the midst of your carefully lain traps.
Orcs Must Die! tasks you, a War Mage, with the role of defending your world from the barbarism of the orcs. They will break through rifts from the savage orc homelands and charge through a mine or castle or whatever locale the narrative presents you with, intent on breaking forth into your world and wreaking destruction upon it. Armed with arrays of spikes, blades and maces ready to spring forth from the walls, ceilings and floors, as well as jets of acid, ice and flame, a variety of guardian allies and a whole periodic table of elemental fury to throw forth, you’ll get to tackle thousands of the brutes. Performing well earns you skulls which function as currency to buy new weapons and traps and upgrade your existing ones.
There’s no depth to the story, just a host of interestingly shaped rooms and gratuitous violence. One might comfortably argue that you don’t need anything else. And I will. I made the comparison last week talking about Shoot Many Robots: The one thing Orcs Must Die! does better than any other game is that it’s so visceral. When a crowd of oblivious orcs stampedes onto your spike trap while axe blades swing from the wall in unison the sense of satisfaction delivered is unparalleled. It’s a difficult thing to convey using mere words. There’s endless fun to be had setting up combinations of traps and watching the savages blunder into the literal meat grinder. And then the ones that do slip the net you can shoot in the face with a crossbow. It’s good enough to stand alone without anything else to the game.
What the sequel brings to the table over its predecessor is sadly not extensive. The game provides only 15 new levels, 4 new weapons and 6 new traps and could comfortably have been marketed as an expansion were it not for the inclusion of a Co-op Mode. Teaming up with a friend, you can each take control of one of the two different War Mages, one the Apprentice of the first game and one the new Sorceress, the Sorceress having access to more primarily magic based attacks and traps than the more physical Apprentice.
Robot are clearly banking on longevity being derived from wanting to play through the story as both characters on both normal and hard mode, and then probably the new endless mode, too, which as the name suggests pits you against ever tougher waves of foes until you inevitably succumb vying for a place on the high score board and extra bonus skulls to spend upgrading your character. While it’s no bad thing, and there’s plenty of lifespan and fun to be had with the game, the original stood well by itself in a single play-through and I fear this sequel may be found lacking.
If of course you haven’t touched the original then disregard the above. It’ll all be fresh, exciting and above all else unequivocally fun. At the end of the day it’s still quite reasonably priced at £12, which is a hard price point to argue with at any time and I’m certain thrifty gamers will be able to pick it up for less with a little patience. It’s excellent entertainment for the entry fee asked and well worth investing in, even if it isn’t revolutionary.