Tuesday, November 1, 2011

PC: Orcs must die!

I’m in a complicated relationship with Indie-games.
The right term might be; I’m in between relationships, and if you ask me why, you get a cynical reply about the disastrous attempts I’ve had in the past, and how it left my heart scarred for life. I’d also point out the fact that there are so many of them out there that I’m frankly discouraged from the start. After all, a single life with WoW is not too bad, right?

Speaking out of metaphor, it’s a strange thing with Indie-games. For me there seems to be no compromise; I either get fed up with them really, really fast or I fall instantly in love from the very first sight.  As you might’ve read in my earlier blogs, games such as Magicka and Dungeons of Dredmor tend to fall into the first category. Not because they’re downright bad, but I honestly don’t think I’ve booted them up more than two or three times. In the long run, I simply failed to connect with them.

Luckily, games of the latter category pop up from time to time, and today I want to present and recommend one of them. Namely – Orcs must die! (OMD) By Robot Entertainment.

Defending the Tower of Dorkness
If you have never done much in the tower defence department (like me) some basic explanation is in order.

Tower defence is actually quite an old term, one that I’m sure dates a very long way back. For me, the oldest example is obviously the PC/Saturn-Game by the original name ‘The Horde’ (1994). In this game you took on the role of Sir Chauncey, an aspiring squire who got control of his own land after saving the King from choking on his meal. There is a catch, however, as the cities and their respective cows are beset by the red menace known as The Horde. Unlike other games, it doesn’t consist of cows, orcs and undead, but red, impish creatures from the netherworld.

Each level began with a tactical layout of the city, in which you could place your defences. Initially these consisted of nothing more than some holes in the ground, which eventually evolved to spiked pits among others. You were, of course, limited by the amount of gold at your disposal so decisions had to be taken carefully.
Once the game began you were in control of Sir Chauncey with his trust sword, as The Horde started marching in. Slaying them wasn’t hard, but they had a nasty tendency to enter town from more than one side, and since your traps were limited you had to pretty much ping pong like a maniac, wildly swinging your blade. Of course, Sir Chauncey was no fighter. In fact he seemed to be very little in control of his swings, and if you went to eager he would eventually get dizzy and stunned from exhaustion. And in those valuable seconds The Horde ran unchecked.

The further you progressed, the more gold you achieved, and the royal court of defence shipped you their newest upgrades on a regular basis. You could suddenly hire mercenaries to cover your back or upgrade your weapons, for example to the dreaded magical ball and chain. A powerhouse of a weapon that would basically annihilate everything around you, but leave Sir Chauncey stunned for a while after use.

Of course. The Horde took lessons as well. Whereas you were besieged by nothing but imps during the first levels you suddenly saw towering brutes make their way through your lines. Against these, mercenaries often held the line like matches against and avalanche, so it was pretty much left to you to bring them down fast.
Should you fail (an all too common scenario) The Horde destroyed the city and you were left with a retry. It was quite a brutal game.

So yeah, there you have it. Tower defence. A tower is not necessarily required. Although it helps.

It ain’t easy being green
We’re speaking of a genre that has, not surprisingly, developed a lot since 1994 and let me be honest; it’s not a genre that I’ve spent too much time with. Perhaps because I got my knightly ass handed to me so many times in 1994. Perhaps I just never saw the appeal.

I can’t say why I suddenly decided to try OMD. I assume it was due to the comical, cartoony nature. It didn’t really seem to take itself all to seriously, and a lot my friends who play tower defence take it very, very seriously.

If you liked the black, immature humour of Magicka you will likely feel right at home in OMD. The story is quite basic, bordering the non-existent.
In a far and distant world an arcane order of War Mages act as the sole defenders of a series of portals known as Rifts. They weren’t the threat they hoped for against the world known as Warcraft, so one understands why they need defending. In fact, that green menace known as the orcs have already laid siege upon their keeps. Should the orcs manage to find their way through these portals, it would likely spell certain doom for whatever is on the other side.

An elderly war mages meets his untimely demise as he slips on a dead kobold and cracks his head against the stair. This is twice bad news because the only heir to the position is his moronic apprentice whose intellectual capacity has never been equalled (but surpassed many times).

As the unnamed apprentice, it’s your responsibility to tackle a series of maps in which you must make sure as few orcs as possible get to the rift. The game presents you with three levels of difficulty. As you advance through the levels you are rewarded with orc slaying toys that make those of The Horde seem like nerf-guns.
Initially you’ll have to do with spike-traps on the floor and arrowslits. You then get to play with tarpits to slow the enemy down, catapults that will hurl them through the room (often into a pool of lava) and burning embers to incinerate them. It’s the big traps that really make OMD shine, in my opinion. Giant hammers from the ceiling, choppers on the wall and naturally the notorious ‘grinder’ all come with a delightfully gory effect that will leave you giggling with sadistic glee. Add the desperate, whiny outcries from the orcs (‘Not again!’, ‘I should’ve stayed in bed…’) and you’re pretty much set for a marvellous experience. One could argue that some of the traps are indeed much more useful than others, and you might quickly realize that some are just too situational to rely on.

If traps aren’t really your thing there are plenty of alternatives. You’re able to hire ranged elves or brutish paladins to assist you in your struggles, and if you simply wish to go commando with your crossbow and sword it’s also viable. OMD provides you with a series of artefacts that are all quite capable of bringing swift death to the orcs. Items such as the burning bracers enable you to toss balls of fire or summon an inferno wall at strategic places. A telekinetic belt, on the other hand, lets you do force: push or grab individual foes and throw them into acid pits. Your reserve of mana is (not surprisingly) limited, however, so making the best of these is imperative. Luckily, your faithful crossbow is always at your side. It also proved to me that there is in fact a crossbow that outshoots the one of Van Helsing.

Sticking to what works
Along the way your personal play style can be further emphasized by choosing between three talent-trees. You either reinforce your traps and henchmen, your artefacts and personal capabilities, or a synthetic hybrid. The impact on the game isn’t huge but still big enough to influence your approach to each level. Your gold reserves are improved by slaying enemies and a lof ot time, you will likely notice that the hardest part of a level is the first one, in which your economy is tight. Once you progress and start plastering walls with arrowslits things lighten up immensely. In some cases it’s even possible to let your traps do all the work for you.

Experimentation is encouraged, however, especially once you start playing on the more difficult levels. Striving to achieve a perfect score not only relies on precision but also on time. And while you race against the clock, you must make sure none of the greenskins make it through the rift. A task easier said than done. Compared to Horde that featured relatively few enemies, OMD happily throws some variety at you. In fact, the ordinary orcs are often an insignificant threat, even when they start using crossbows and retaliate. It gets dicey once the ogres appear (and some of the meaner ogres can take a LOT of hits) and don’t be surprised to see flying enemies, who’ll gladly soar over your busy head, straight for the rift. Extremely fast moving kobolds and resurrecting shamans are additional examples, not to mention the grieving gnolls, whose sole purpose is to hunt and harass you and your henchmen.

Long live the replay ability.

‘Can you ever have too many traps? I’m thinking NO!’
OMD comes with an acceptable amount of maps but there is always room for more. Sadly, the recent DLC only featured a couple more traps, some of the quite lacklustre and not all that powerful.  The new alchemical bottles are a load of fun, but I’ll happily admit I mostly bought it to support initiatives like this. In the end we likely shouldn’t worry too much, as more maps is such an obvious addition that it will inevitably see its way through.

Whether people love or hate the protagonist (for the scarce amount of personality he has) seems to vary on an individual basis. Personally, I love him. I didn’t end up caring much for the story in the end. It’s barely there, truth to be told. Instead, I can still spend a lot of time getting those five-skulls scores and for the same reason, I imagine that I will spend a lot more time with OMD than I did with, say, Magicka.

It’s a shame the game doesn’t feature any multiplayer, though.
Bear in mind that I’m a tower defence-noob. I’ve met seasoned players who scoff at the very description of this game. In that case, I can’ really advice you that much. But, if you’re like me and looking to expand your game-horizon with a new genre, OMD is certainly not a bad way to spend some time!


Addictive gameplay, black over-the-top humour, fun weapons and devious traps. Gruesomely delightful death effects and splattering orcs.

Tends to get repetitive. Too few maps. No multiplayer.

Is it worth the money?
For meager 13,99€ for the basic game and 1,99€ for the DLC, it's a clear yes. Maybe not as much for the DLC as it doesn't really add anything that will blow you away.

Will I play it again?

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