Review: Orcs Must Die!

Your fortress is under siege by hundreds of bloodthirsty orcs. You’ve got deadly traps, spells, and some beastly weapons at your disposal. What do you do? You strategically place spiked platforms, walls of spears, and break out your crossbow, of course! Orcs Must Die! is an effective my-castle-is-under-attack-by-these-enormous-monsters sim and one that serves up plenty of crafty good fun. As you step into the shoes of a War Mage, a member of the mystical Order, you’re tasked with defending your tower from the Mob, a faction comprised of orcs, ogres, hellbats, and other nasties who barge in any way they can to wreak havoc upon the world. It’s your job to keep them at bay using any means necessary. This quick-and-dirty tower defense game may be a little on the shallow side, but it’s certainly worth your time.

This War Mage annihilates orcs like nobody’s business and does so through a cavalcade of different defenses: blades, crossbows, elemental magic, archers, spike traps, and even fellow minions can be strategically placed throughout each fortress to thin out the advancing horde of orcs whose goal is to reach your safe zone (“rift”) in the fortress, where they can be transported to the world of the Order. Through 24 varied locations in Campaign mode, you’ll be charged with placing traps and aids at the beginning of each round within the level. As you spend points accrued through each subsequent kill (and a stash at the beginning of the level) you’ll build better and better defenses. The better you perform on each level, you’re awarded skull points, which allow you to upgrade your traps.

Each trap may be upgraded with said points, and if your spiked floors, exploding barrels, or spears fail to keep the advancing orcs at bay, you can always let loose with a melee weapon to fight back. At close range you’re in higher danger of falling (your health gauge will quickly diminish), so when faced with a pack of orcs and their more powerful leaders, it’s prudent to stay further back and let loose with your wicked crossbow. Racking up the kills feels satisfying, even if aiming is a little touchy. If you feel like you can take on the ridiculous amount of baddies breaking through at once, you’re welcome to do so as well, though placing traps at the beginning of each cycle is the only way you’re going to progress. Once you’ve cleared every single orc out of the area, at the end of each chapter War Mage will break into a touchdown-styled dance — congratulations, you made it!

Placing traps is extremely simple — choose which traps and weapons you have available in your spellbook (only a select few — you can’t use them all), select a location in third-person view, and place the trap as if you were firing a weapon. In this way you can layer wall traps and floor traps so that as soon as orcs break through the doors you can catch them with deadly spears and explosions to get a jump on your offensive. Of course, even though your fortresses start out as a straight line to the heart of your base, the fortresses quickly become more complicated and twisted, requiring you to think on your toes in the heat of each wave. You can pick up health from the fallen Orcs to ensure you stay in the game, but as much as Orcs Must Die feels like a third-person shooter at times, at its core it is strategic through and through, and I really enjoyed that about it.

So what if you let the odd orc through, though? Each one you let slip through the cracks will cost you a rift point, which will affect the skull rating at the end of each level and act as your lives — you get 5, so once you’re out, or you run out of HP, it’s game over. It’s lucky, then, that placing traps is a bit of a trial-and-error process without much risk, as you can re-sell previously placed traps for their full point value, which allows you to try out newer unlocks to see how they feel without committing to them for each wave.

Orcs Must Die! is bereft of co-op play and some of the cushier augments we’ve come to expect from our Xbox Live Arcade purchases, but it is a quirky and solid tower defense title that’ll keep you coming back for more, especially when you start stringing together combo kills and racking up the points. It’s a rapid-fire, enjoyable romp, affordably-priced for the value, and certainly worth a try if you’re a fan of the genre or want to give it a look.

Comments are closed.