Oct 062011

These days, the phrase “tower defense” doesn’t necessarily mean the game involves even a single tower. This is a fact that the Robot Entertainment’s recent release, Orcs Must Die!, drives home with great ease. This unique game puts you in the strappy gladiator sandals of a cocky War Mage who has more cheesy one-liners than Joan Rivers has had nose jobs. War Mages are powerful guardians who use tons of supernatural goodies (and togas) to keep orcs and their slimy allies from entering rifts, which are portals that bridge the human and orc world. If that sounds intense, let me tell you: you don’t even know what intense means yet! Read on to see if this Xbox Live Arcade title is worth your precious Microsoft Points, or more importantly, your precious time.

One of the many things that makes Orcs Must Die! stand out among this relatively new genre of video games is the type of environment in which it takes place. The game’s events unfold in fully 3D environments, and you are controlling a single character who has full mobility. This is a stark contrast to games like Plants vs. Zombies or FFCC: My Life as a Dark Lord where you have a bird’s eye view of the playing field and are placing items from a safe distance. Each of the sprawling dark and dingy fortresses your War Mage tries to defend will present a whole new array of challenges for you to overcome. Aside from this, another gameplay element that sets this game apart from the staples in the tower defense genre is the option for actual combat – be it either third-person shooting with the automagical crossbow, or melee with the mage’s blade staff, which is sort of like a short spear with a sword attached to it. Each weapon has an alternate firing option which will drain the mana pool, which is represented by the pretty blue bar under the War Mage’s red health bar. There are incredibly useful alternate attacks such as the crossbow’s area-of-effect stun bolt or the bladestaff’s ability to knock back a swarm of the green menaces. Combat is a good option when things get hairy, however you will earn a much better score for killing the filthy orcs with traps instead of weapons.


Before the first wave of putrid orcs breaks in to your fortress, you will have some precious quiet time to set up as many traps as you can. There are 17 traps that will unlock as the game progresses, each one more different than the last. There are wall traps that smash, slice, or blast your enemies with a barrage of arrows. There are floor traps that impale the baddies with spikes, fling them in the direction of your choosing, or utilize sticky tar to slow down their advancement. There are even archers you can summon to rain arrow laden wrath down upon the droves of evil green guys as they try to enter your precious portal. Each trap costs a certain amount of money, and each level starts with a preset amount of coins which you will earn more for each successful kill. Once you initiate the first wave by pressing the back button on the controller, you can still set traps but at the risk of being maimed by an orc in the process. Occasionally you will get a short ten second break between waves, which is usually a good time to go pick up any health potions the orcs dropped, or sell any traps that are in bad places. Also these short breaks seem like an excellent time to run over to the rift if there are no health potions available, because it will regenerate your health and make your mana refill faster. The core mode of gameplay seems sound in the first few levels, but once you begin trying to quell sieges on fortresses with more than one entrance, or more than one rift, it becomes a guessing game that is centric on trial-and-errors tactics. It is entirely possible to spend most of your initial money fortifying one entrance, only to have the orc horde come in through a different entrance. This presented quite a bit of frustration at times, and easily could have been remedied by some sort of indicator marking which door would be hit first.

Unfortunately for the orcs, these particular wooden casks don't contain bourbon.

Do not think for one moment that you will be fighting a singular type of enemy. There are melee orcs, orcs with crossbows that shoot flaming arrows, tiny little critters that will seem to evade every trap, giant Ogres that have incredibly high endurance, and even flying creatures that lob great balls of fire at you. All of these creatures are trying to not only destroy you, but enter the aforementioned rift which grants them access to the human world. Each orc you allow into the rift will cost the rift one of its “rift points” (health points), and if the War Mage falls in battle you will be resurrected by the rift at the cost of five rift points. If your rift points reach zero, you’ll be seeing “GAME OVER” faster than the cast of Jersey Shore runs to the spray tan salon when their orange glow diminishes. There is no way to replenish rift points, so you will have to be extra careful to not let even one of those veridian scum bags into the portal or else the human world.

Orcs Must Die! presents a bare-bones story relayed through a series of still cutscenes which really show off the game’s cartoon feel. The main character’s design in particular is reminiscent of The Tick, with a huge square chin, a large torso, and limbs that seem to be too small for his body. The brightly colored characters provide a nice contrast to the otherwise dreary backdrops the fortresses provide. Effects used to display orcs’ mutilation were very satisfying; but squeamish gamers need not worry, because the developers offered the option to turn off the gore if you are so inclined.

Orcs aren't the only thing that must die.

Sound in the game was quite nice, and Robot Entertainment pulled out a fully orchestrated soundtrack, which is almost unheard of in a downloadable game. The tone of most of the game’s themes seems to be inspired by Danny Elfman’s music in movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas, and really helped to set a throughly orc-slaying mood for each session of the game. Voice acting was good too, with orcs delivering such menacing lines as “KILL THE HUMANS!” and the War Mage dropping hokey one-liners like it was his job. Saying such as “Set it and forget it!” and “WINNING!” may become a little loathsome after some time spent with the game, but they fit right in with the character the War Mage is portrayed to be, which is an arrogant guy who is too cocky for his own good. This, when considered alongside the copious amounts of blood and violence in this game give the entire game the tone of a well-done B-movie that is deliberately and expertly campy.

Orcs Must Die takes the young tower defense genre and gives it a refresh by means of actual combat and a plethora of adult, yet cartoony violence that will delight even the most reserved players. Never once did I get tired of seeing the orcs get pulverized, perforated by scores of arrows, or flung into a pit of acid by a spring board. The variety of ways in which you can lay waste to your foe means you will have fun with this game for unending hours, even as you are replaying levels you did poorly on for a better score. With musical and art styles that aim to please, this game is an addictive and instant hit that is sure to keep you crawling back for more punishment at the hands of the orc horde.

Orcs Must Die!

Rock-solid tower defense gameplay is spiced up with some real-time combat and a shed load of comedic value by means of silly dialogue or the cartoon violence of the game's many traps.Trial-and-error levels will grate on the nerves of some players.
VerdictJust one or two small changes would have made Orcs Must Die perfect, but it's damned near perfect as it is.

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