Greenskins. Orcs. Ogres, goblins, and trolls.
Anyone who knows the works of Tolkien, loves Warhammer, or is just a fantasy fan in general will know all about these creatures. Dumb, brutal, and viciously violent, the greenskin hordes must be handled in one way and one way only.
No negotiation, no cooperation, there's only one solution. Because the thing about Orcs?
Well, it's that Orcs Must Die...
Which is the focus of Robot Entertainment’s new game! Now before we get started it's possible that given it has been 9 years since the last mainline entry in the franchise, that many of you (and especially our younger gamers) don't actually know much about this series. Genre-wise, it takes the form of a tower defense game with a 3rd person shooter element thrown in. Every round follows the same formula, where you'll find yourself placed on a map with a "rift" located somewhere that must be guarded at all costs. Around the edges are spawn points, giant doors where the Horde will break in, and begin their relentless journey towards the goal.
Before this happens though, you're given time to set up, spending your gold supply on constructing traps to place around the multi-pathed arena. Once satisfied with your placements, you give the signal to begin the wave and, using a mixture of said traps and your character's fighting skills, must try to wipe out every member of the horde before they can reach the rift. If too many make it through, it's game over and you must start again from the beginning of the level.
Basically, it's the standard tower defense mechanic you'd see in other titles and is very fun, with it requiring some thought if you want to be effective. The waves of enemies start of smallish but as things progress will quickly end up with massive armies, consisting of hundreds and hundreds of different enemies, rushing towards the rift at any time. You need to place your traps effectively, as not only do they all have different cooldown times before they reset, but you also must make sure you choose the correct type for the situation. Tarpits on the ground will slow down fast-moving opponents for instance, while electrical coils on the walls will do extra damage to armored enemies. Fire Imps are, surprise surprise, immune to fire-based traps but weak to ice style ones, while heavy enemies won't be launched across the map by springboards. Each trap type has its pros and cons, what it's effective against, it's cooldown time, where it can be placed, etc but that isn't the only tactical decision you need to make.
You see, the more traps an opponent gets hurt by and the more distance it travels towards the rift, the more gold it'll give you to spend on traps when it's killed. This leaves you with a decision to make, do you go for expensive heavy-hitting traps and take out the enemies quickly, making sure they never reach the rift or do you go for cheap low damage traps and increase the gold you have coming in while also running the risk of being overwhelmed? These decisions are easy enough in the early stages but as you advance you'll be dealing with more spawn points to cover and more routes the enemies can take. They might even split up and come from many paths at once, making the placement of traps even more important. You can counter this though by plonking down barricades around the place, blocking off shortcuts, forcing the wave to go where you want, and hopefully making them go through your most heavily trapped locations. These barriers are however expensive to buy, costing a small pile of gold, leaving you with less cash available for the placement of traps. Choosing what to place and where to place it is important, the different traps and barricades giving plenty to think about, but these alone won't be enough. The sheer amount of enemies in each wave can easily overwhelm even the best thought out plans...
But thankfully they aren't the only tactics you have at your disposal. You'll also need to physically get involved, jumping into combat to do some damage yourself.
And luckily you're well equipped to do so.
You see, you take the role of an apprentice warrior wizard, new to the task of rift protecting, and part of an order dedicated to protecting the realm from Orc invasion. The main story campaign takes you through the history and founding of the order and, while referencing events from the previous games, actually works as a standalone story. Don't worry if you haven't played the series before, you'll be able to jump in and understand everything that is going on.
Unfortunately, the story isn't very deep or particularly good: amounting to a cutscene before each fight. It's the usual clichés you'd expect from a fantasy game. It does however introduce you to the playable characters that you (and your optional co-op partner) can take control of. You begin with a couple of characters available, with more being unlockable later, and each one is a powerhouse in combat with their unique weapon, secondary attack, and special skill. Crossbows, Blunderbusses, wands, swords, and more are available with quite a collection being unlocked eventually. Do you prefer the pinpoint accuracy of the longbow? Or the short-range destruction of the blunderbuss? Maybe the electrical bolt launching wand is more your bag? Or would you prefer the freezing abilities of the ice pendant? Whatever you go with, each has its strengths and weaknesses, leading to you experimenting with them to uncover which best suits your style and the situation.
And you'll want to experiment because the better you do in a mission the more rewards you'll get at the end. Each level is ranked out of 5 "Skulls" with more being given for certain actions like not being hit, getting a high score, getting a record millstream, and so on. Between missions, you can spend these skulls, unlocking new weapons or traps, upgrading your favorite ones, or even adding new effects to them like bleeding or fire. This leads to a lot of replayability as you go back to earlier levels with new traps and more powerful equipment, trying to get a better overall ranking. Not only do you get skulls for every campaign level you complete but you get them from the other modes too. Completing weekly challenges, or playing through the Endless mode, also rewards you with skulls that you can take back into the 2 story campaigns available.
Orcs Must Die 3 is a solid tower defense/3rd person shooter hybrid where the central gameplay hook is both fun and challenging. Those new to the series, or fans of TD games, will definitely find something to enjoy here especially if they can rope in a buddy to play with. The placing of traps, the putting up of barricades and the creation of choke points play like a fine puzzle, feeling great when you find an excellent strategy. Add in the 3rd person shooting and combat you get involved in and you end up with a game that will certainly hold your attention for a few hours.
But then it starts to get a bit samey and predictable.
It doesn't do anything new or surprising, with those familiar with the franchise probably left feeling like they've seen it all before. Many of the weapons and traps begin to feel repetitive and too similar to each other, while the appearance of new enemies doesn't lead to a need to change tactics. Still a decent experience, and a solid distraction, it's a fun setup for the most part. Just don't expect to be blown away and you'll find an experience worth a look.
Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review
Final Score: 7/10
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