There seems to be a major emphasis on killing an innumerable number of zombies in gaming today, but it’s important that we don’t ignore another threat: orcs. In Orcs Must Die!, you’re provided with the right tools to kill hundreds, if not thousands, of these grunting annoyances. Go ahead, paint the town green.
There are three levels of difficulty in Orcs Must Die!. Nightmare is unlocked once we beat the intermediate War Mage mode (equivalent to a normal difficulty mode). Nightmare difficulty is one very tough nut to crack. Orcs come in bigger numbers, are harder to kill, and we no longer have the luxury of time. The pause period between waves is removed and the game becomes a veritable race between orcs running towards the Rift and our frantic attempts at putting traps in their way as fast and efficiently as possible.
Melee combat becomes the norm at least during the first waves of each fortress. There’s some strategic component that gets lost and the Nightmare mode becomes more of an action-oriented experience. This falls in the face of one of the game biggest strengths, which is precisely the successful pairing of strategy and action.
That being said, Nightmare mode is necessarily only for those wishing exactly that type of experience (which yours truly tends not to). So it can be said Nightmare mode ends up producing an entire new game requiring a whole different approach to beating it. Two games in one sounds good to me. What probably is lacking is a difficulty ramp for those wishing to fully retain the strategic aspect of the game. I’d like play a harder War Mage mode, but still be given the ability to plan and execute my trap placement ahead.
During War Mage mode, every fortress level opens up a new trap, weapon or guardian that we can add to our arsenal. The actual placement of traps and guardians (as well as the purchase of Weaver skills) costs money. We have a small amount at the beginning and are awarded more as we kill orcs or at the end of every wave. Orc waves are composed of several orc invasions with small (a few seconds) respite periods in-between. At the end of each such wave we are given again the “Release the Horde” option and can take as much time as we want planning our next move for the, no doubt harder, wave that will follow. Every fortress level requires us to defend against 3 orc waves.
The game has no multiplayer option. And this is frustrating to say the least. The single-player element is absolutely brilliant and makes the game. But a multiplayer cooperative mode would probably turn the world on fire. The mixture between strategy and pure action is practically begging for cooperative mode. Unfortunately, that was not to happen. The best cooperative mode you can get in Orcs Must Die is having your friend over your shoulder telling you what to do. But if you are anything like me, a few moments later you are playing it alone again and there’s a dead body on the floor next to you.
Controls are good and the player character very responsive. Everything flows on screen as we command it. However the game comes with fixed control settings and we can’t change them. That is, if you are missing fingers, are left-handed, or otherwise don’t feel comfortable playing with a WASD keyboard setup, you are out of luck. This is unacceptable, and for the life of me I can’t understand why we weren’t given an option to change keyboard settings. No excuses!
At the end of each fortress we are awarded points and skulls according to our killing performance and whether any orcs managed to reach the Rift. Skulls are used to purchase upgrades to our traps and guardians in order to make them tougher, deadlier or cheaper. However, we are given only one upgrade possibility to each of the traps and guardians. There’s an odd feeling of something amiss here as this is one of those game features that are begging for more depth.
There must be something of beauty to the important task of riding the world of these creatures. Orcs Must Die! makes sure none of it is unpleasant, even though some of it may be qualified as merely interesting. Game graphics, user interface and cut scenes are expertly drawn, but orcs do feel less developed. Sure, they are to die soon and in big numbers.
Voice acting is what you would expect from a game in a tight budget; competent, not extraordinary. Our player character actor was well chosen. I can very easily connect the voice to the character and the acting to his general demeanor as it was described to us; not very bright, incompetent and boisterous.
Game sound is nothing short of excellent. It provides the player with all the right pops, plucks, whoshes, stomps, yarghs and vrooms to give anyone that hugely satisfying and emotional maddening sense of, “hmm”, connecting with your enemies. Robot Entertainment’s sound team left nothing to be desired and they deliver us proper walloping in good stereo sound quality.
The musical score for the game is also very good. The action theme (which is also the main theme) fits very nicely both with the game setting as with the sense of urgency delivered by an approaching wave of orcs. The credits piece is also worth listening to. It is a surprisingly good little tune, written by Brent Best, frontman of The Drams. The piece feels like a throwback to the catchy and joyful jazzy style of some of the Henry Mancini work. Listening to it is a delight, and it’s almost a crime that it’s brought to us only at the credits.