Reviewer’s Rating: ★★★
“Orcs Must Die” fulfills the promise of its title. With an arsenal of spells and gruesome deathtraps at your disposal, there’s plenty of motivation to kill with style as Robot Entertainment jumps into the Tower Defense genre.
The storyline is as short and to the point as the title. When an old wizard slips on a puddle and cracks his head on the floor, his worst pupil, the War Mage, is the only one left who can defend the realm from a seemingly endless horde of invading orcs. The wizard’s low expectations for his pupil are never explained, though my hunch is that the War Mage’s habit of dropping cheesy one-liners like he’s in a ‘90s Schwarzenegger flick has something to do with it. Simply put, the story is that you’re a guy who has to kill a bunch of orcs. Fortunately, the actual act of killing said orcs is very, very fun.
Tower Defense is a genre of video game that involves positioning a series of traps, archers, etc. in a maze-like pattern to kill a wave of encroaching enemies before they make it past your defenses. Usually, the player is far removed from the action, but in “Orcs Must Die” you’re thrown right in the trenches with the War Mage as he struggles to survive. The War Mage can run, jump, sprint, attack with a sword or crossbow, cast magic spells, and most importantly, set traps for his enemies. Though you begin the game with only a few traps, more are unlocked as you beat each level. Eventually you’ll have access to tar pits that slow down enemies, Raiders of the Lost Ark-esque walls that shoot arrows, spring-loaded panels that send enemies flying and much more. The spells add even more variety—ranging from ice blasts that freeze enemies in place to gusts of wind that can be used to push oncoming orcs into a trap.
If you want to survive, you’ll need to know how to use all of the tools at your disposal. Hacking away with your sword will only get you an orc axe to the skull, so it’s recommended that you keep your distance and pick off enemies with headshots delivered by the crossbow. However, combining the traps to create an inescapable “killzone” is key to victory. For example, you can use barricades to force the orcs into a bottleneck, where the spring trap will launch them into the air where your archers can pick them off as they fall to the ground. Learning the right combinations of traps is the truly addictive heart of the game. There are 24 levels in all, and you’ll find yourself wanting to replay the earlier stages with your upgraded equipment and traps to see how much higher you can score.
Beating the game unlocks Nightmare Mode, which includes different waves of more powerful enemies. The regular mode is no cakewalk, but Nightmare Mode is just plain scary. Players looking for a difficult, but rewarding gaming experience that challenges their strategic mind as well as their button-pressing skills will do well to check out this game.
The cartoonish visuals contrast nicely with the grisly deaths the orcs will suffer from your traps, and players have the option of turning off the gore in case they have a younger gamer peeking over their shoulder. No such luck in deflecting moral questions like, “Why must all the orcs die, Daddy?”
The soundtrack is a zesty blend of rock music mixed with medieval elements that fit the tone of the game very well. Perhaps the only thing disappointing about “Orcs Must Die” is the lack of any sort of multiplayer mode, since certain levels seem tailored for it.
“Orcs Must Die” could have been just another cash in on the popularity of Tower Defense games, but a higher-than-average difficulty level forces the player to dig deep and use their noggin as much as their sword. The end result is a deeply satisfying experience that should slake the bloodlust of orc-hating gamers everywhere.