Wot I Think: Orcs Must Die

By Alec Meer on October 12th, 2011 at 5:30 pm.

what am I supposed to do to these guys again?

Orcs Must Die is the first game from Robot Entertainment, the studio raised from the ashes of Age of Empires dev Ensemble, and it was released on PC (via Steam) yesterday. It is a tale of many, many, many Orcs, and of their very, very, very regular deaths. And this? This is what I think of it.

First and most important point: Orcs Must Die is not a victim of Space Marine Syndrome. The demo does not tell all its tales, and instead this grows and builds and changes as it should, even though you’re inherently doing the same thing throughout. You can probably guess what that thing is. No, it doesn’t involve hugs. Well, unless your kind of hug involves wall-mounted mechanised blades.

OMD is a synthpop group from the 1980s. It also, more or less, a tower defence game played from a frantic, all-action third-person perspective. There’s a reasonably critical difference from those turret-building strategy games, however, and that’s that you’re very rarely creating the path that you want to usher the endless legion of openly stupid orcs (and gnolls and kobolds and goblins and ogres) down, not doing that precise calculation of what goes exactly where and how to make them loop back on themselves and have your cannon stick a second round in their arses as they pass by again.

No, instead it’s about spending more or less wisely on as many traps, upgrades and defensive archers and paladins as you can, then unleashing as much on-the-spot hell as you can with what you’ve got. This is not about strategy, but about contained carnage. Most of all because you’re in the mix yourself, slaying the orcs that your traps don’t catch with crossbow, with blade and with assorted overpowered magic.

Every couple of levels, you’re granted a new type of trap: some simply more devestating than the last (and appropriately more expensive too), others aimed at trying to co-ordinate the endless green rush into massed groups all the better for efficient squishing/eviscerating. Really, though, there’s very little of the latter: there’s a couple of slow-down traps and few that can slam a group of orcs elsewhere in the map, but generally that slow-down will be so that you can hack them to pieces and that elsewhere will be a enormous lava pit. The only type of threat management that really matters here is killing, killing, killing and killing some more. Yes, while the stern mandate is that the orcs must die, perhaps a more accurate title is Orcs Must Die Because It Is Funny. This is a positively sadistic game in a positively cartoon vein, and not even the victims of all that murdering take it particularly seriously.

The wall-blades, the ceiling crushers, the auto-crossbow turrets, the floorspikes, the grinders, the magma pits… Sure, after a time it becomes a blur of red and green and comicbook bubbles showing how much cash the most recent mass slaying has netted you, but an effective configuration grants you a few seconds of respite, which you’ll spend simply watching the improbable scale of slaughter, listening to the grumpy, Grimlock-like moaning of the about-to-be-slain and planning what you can build next.

Such complacency rarely lasts long past the first few levels (presuming you opt for the ‘Warmage’ middle difficulty rather than the too-easy ‘Apprentice’ setting), because the orcs have just enough tricks up its sleeve to tear a short-term plan apart in moments. The everyday Orcs – stupid, cowlike things that known how to charge and attack but would clearly rather not have to – aren’t too much of a threat unless you’ve been a total moron, but a Kobold rush might prove too fast for your traps, a Gnoll Warrior will zero in frighteningly on your melee-helpless Archer Champions, an Armoured Ogre will rush straight to you and thump your brain out of your ears if you can’t get out of the way in time. And generally they’ll achieve this by rushing out from multiple entrances at the same time as you use the level’s fast-travel portals to desperately try and cover every approach, to stop them from reaching the Rift that will transport them to the realm of humanity where they’ll do, um, something.

Ach, what I’m trying to say is that OMD becomes really rather hard. Good hard, not bad hard – but it does mean that the impression you might have got from the demo, that it’s quite the cakewalk, is waaaaaay off. The game can throw so much at you and so fast, and if you don’t have the wherewithal or the tools to keep up, you’re going down. In fact, about halfway through I had to step down the difficultly – but I know I’ll be back to tackle those levels at a big-boy level of challenge, armed with more traps and more upgrades.

What I most celebrate about OMD is their 1980 single Enola Gay. And what I most celebrate about OMD the game is that it’s refreshingly non-didactic about which traps I should use. Find a preferred few traps, attacks or backup units and, presumingly you’re reasonably sensible about where and when you place them, they’ll stand you in good stead for most of the game, with your base strategy evolving as something you also fancy gets unlocked. There are traps and spells I pretty much didn’t bother with outside of initial experimentation, as the tech tree is far more about choice than about trap x being x percent more deadly than trap y.

There’s even a secondary per-level upgrade system, the Weavers, wherein you pick a temporary clutch of upgrades to optionally buy instead of/as well as your traps. If you’re all about killing the orcs yourself, then you’ll want the one that buffs your health and sets your weapons on fire; if you’re all about traps you can improve their recharge time and make ‘em work on the hulking ogres; if you’re all about spells then there’s mana-improving stuff; if you rely on archers and paladins, you can pour money into making them hardier and biff-ier. It’s not key in lock stuff: it’s about indulging your own sadistic interests.

It is repetitive, but not unhappily so, plus I know I can revisit it using different traps and upgrades to have a reasonably different time (particularly, I’ve not played with the traps that hurl orcs into the air/lava, instead favouring instant evisceration in some form). It’s got that dark, just-one-more-go alchemy to it, plus the pull of what trap you might be given next, as well as the guilty sense that you could have done better and perhaps you should. But it is pop, throwaway stuff that certainly won’t make you feel as though you’ve explored the darkest, most strategic reaches of your brain: it is as serious as its silly name clarion-calls.

What surprised me was how much I came to enjoy the dialogue, given the few repeated snippets of it in the demo seemed so irritating. Sure, your character has still spent far too much time worshipping at the Evil Dead shrine, but some neat one-liners creep in there, especially when he’s snarkily impersonating his hoary old master or bickering with the unseen orchestrator of the orc invasion. I could do with the cheesy, repeated fatality celebrations being turned off, but for the most part the voicework’s as likeable as the game itself. Which is how likeable? Very likeable. Despite its genocidal stylings, Orcs Must Die is about as good-natured a game as I’ve played this year: a one trick pony that makes the absolute best of what’s a very good trick indeed.

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85 Comments »

  1. Sp4rkR4t says:

    Indeed, very happy with my purchase and pleasantly surprised at how much “more” this game feels than the demo.

  2. Dominic White says:

    It’s a brill little game. It keeps building and building in terms of complexity right up until the final level.

    And then Nightmare mode unlocks, which is an expert-level second campaign (same maps, completely different challenges) with endgame enemies right from the start, but you have all three weavers available, all the traps, and all your equipment slots unlocked. That’s where the game really kicks off – you don’t even get to see the full scope of the gameplay until the credits roll. It’s a deceptively deep, complex and lengthy game.

    It sounds like Alec hasn’t tried Nightmare mode yet, which will seriously push your strategic buttons.

    Interestingly, it’s less related to modern tower defense, and more like a hybrid of Toys For Bob’s old classic The Horde, and Tecmo’s Deception series.

    • MrEvilGuy says:

      I am having a great time playing through the levels on regular difficulty, but I’m getting jittery – I want nightmare mode – I want to be able to use everything!

      One thing bothers me:
      1) The weaver bonus that gets you 25 gold per orc death when killed by a machine or guardian does not seem to apply for spring traps. Because of that, I’ve barely used spring traps at all. But I haven’t got the third weaver yet so perhaps that will help.

    • Thermal Ions says:

      I’ve seen some people comment about using the spring traps to throw orcs into other traps rather than into the acid/lava. Thus I imagine contributing to the bonuses.

    • MrEvilGuy says:

      Interesting! I’ll have to consider doing something like that. Perhaps throw some orcs into a ring of paladins or something.

  3. Tei says:

    I am finishing maybe too many levels with wall arrows + barricade + archers. Seems way more effectivelly than everything else. Somewhat like carnivore plants + potato + rapid fire peach in PvZ. Theres some synergia here that make all other traps not look at good. If at leats I where able to upgrade the other traps… but with what seems only one upgrade for the traps, I can’t make a bad trap into a good trap.
    But is a tiny great game, these are not even faults, more like how I play it.

    • Dominic White says:

      That works up to a point. Then they start throwing packs of gnolls at you which jump over barricades and hunt archers.

    • Tei says:

      Finished the game!.

      I added to the recipe walls that push (because are cheap), paladins (good to distract the gnols) and the sniper ceiling turrets that for his long range are precious.
      Good game :D

    • Dominic White says:

      Finished? You just beat the beginner campaign. Try Nightmare.

    • Tei says:

      I don’t like “score attack” things. I have finished these levels, now is time for other game, or different levels.

    • lightstriker says:

      Your avatar being a prinny makes this hilarious in the worst way possible :)

    • Dominic White says:

      Nightmare mode IS different levels. Sure, the layout is the same, but the enemies are all different, and it makes for a completely different set of challenges. Think you can defend level 1 against armored ogres?

  4. Syra says:

    yay!

    Does it have controller support? The demo gave me awful RSI!

    • magnus says:

      Awful RS? That’ll be from sitting down too much!

    • Jubaal says:

      @magnus I doff my cap to you Sir

    • Syra says:

      No indeed not sir, as you can clearly see I have written rsi (exclamation mark), specifically of the clicky hand.

      However if you did not see it, it may be from sitting too close to your monitor. Specsavers plx.

      Anyone know if this has gamepad support and/or a way to not have to SPAM CLICK xbow?

    • Tuan says:

      @Syra I too first played the demo and spammed like mad.

      But then I realized, your accuracy area really deteriorates if you keep spamming. If you keep it to short bursts (maybe half to 1 sec) then you are much more accurate and can do headshots to down the enemies quicker.

      Headshots are much more effective than spam shooting like mad.

    • monsterBlues says:

      Sorry about the RSI, I know that is very painful.

      Orcs Must Die! features support for the Xbox 360 controller plugged into your PC. Other controllers may work.

      Auto-fire is enabled with the controller. So you can hold down the right trigger to keep firing.

  5. Quinburger says:

    After playing the demo I think I’ll pick this up, seems fun. I’m surprised no mention of sanctum though? Seems a ready comparison (but in space-future)

    • Dominic White says:

      It’s really nothing like Sanctum. Sanctum is a straight generic TD game (very much like Defense Grid) but with a first-person perspective and a little shooting.

      OMD is halfway between The Horde (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEtaBfv8-9Y) and Deception (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6zehz6g23Y).

    • Keymonk says:

      Was about to say the same – Sanctum is a real tower defence, OMD is a third person action game where you defend. This is not a bad thing. I enjoy both of them quite a bit, but there isn’t a lot of tower in OMD tbh.

    • caesarbear says:

      The same concepts still apply though. I’d say OMD is a lot like Sanctum, just that there’s a lot more focus on the action part and much less on the strategic placement. Problem is there’s not enough variety in the action, not enough weapons and gear for it. I prefer Sanctum.

  6. TV-PressPass says:

    Waltz With Bashir has the most haunting sequence set to OMD’s Enola Gay.
    Soldiers on a yacht about to storm a beach.

  7. Demiath says:

    For genre- and art style-related reasons I have a very hard time distinguishing Orcs Must Die from Dungeon Defenders. The latter game (with its central co-op component) comes off as a bit more substantial, at least on paper.

    • Ergonomic Cat says:

      I say that OMD is tremendous fun. Dungeon Defenders sounds like fun. I see no reason I won’t play both…

    • Demiath says:

      Sure, fans of the subgenre should definitely check out both. The rest of us, well, I guess we will reserve the right to discriminate quite a bit more than that. Not even the deliciously retro-tinged Titan Attacks managed to grab my attention for more than a few rounds, so I’d say tower defense is not something that comes easily for me personally (…unless you count Dungeon Keeper, which I guess you could).

    • monsterBlues says:

      Dungeon Defenders does look like a great game. There is a free demo of Orcs Must Die on Steam and Xbox. Both games spill outside of the Tower Defense genre, but in different directions. I think there is room for both in any gamers library.

      (I work for Robot Entertainment.)

    • Tei says:

      Congrats for the game :D. Is a good TD/thing.

  8. HexagonalBolts says:

    Bought it then :) Hope it’s good! I wish there were more first person strategy games. Whhyyy is there not a proper zombie first person strategy game where you wall up the doors, control your team inside your fort, hunt for resources by day, build up the fort at night, etc… please please somebody one day make this. With a ridiculous amount of building options. Like, Dwarf Fortress levels of flexibility.

  9. Cyberpope says:

    im starting to feel guilty about enjoying space marine so much now

    back on topic did anyone preorder this? if so was that hammer just a reskin or something more? I figure the armour was just cosmetic

    • Dominic White says:

      Yeah, all the bonus stuff is just cosmetic. It’d mess up the scoreboards if it wasn’t.

    • magnus says:

      Someones bound to mess up the scoreboards anyway, they’ll be hacked by the weekend, I’m sure.

    • zino says:

      The Hammer is a reskin, and a glitchy one at that. Mine switches to the pike now and then in between swings. But I’m OK with that since the pike feels better anyway and the game is very enjoyable.

  10. loGi says:

    So no multiplayer?

    • Keymonk says:

      None. But the devs have said that they might possibly maybe make it someday. So tentatively hopeful.

  11. Freud says:

    The trailer looked great and this WoT made me buy this without hesitation. Orcs are downloading and then they will die.

  12. The_B says:

    Amusingly the game I think this most reminds me of so far isn’t a Tower Defence game, but Codies Overlord series. With the traps as an expy for that game’s ‘minions’.

    • Wulf says:

      And potentially sans the levels of humour of Overlord? Part of the joy of Overlord, and especially II, was how much the people reacted to the various ways in which one screwed with them. Overlord II was terribly entertaining in regards to gathering up mind controlled hordes of peasants and tossing them at things.

      I did love Overlord (especially II).

    • The_B says:

      Oh yeah, don’t get me wrong, I was making that comparison in a positive light – I too loved both Overlords, so my comparison is nothing but praise. It was just in the way that they’re both light hearted revels within sadomasochism that give a great feeling of accomplishment when you manage to to get down the various nuances and most effective ways to let the various traps compliment each other with a level of personal investment by being a more hands-on manager rather than the usual detachedness you have from being a disembodied ghost above the battlefield.

      TL:DR Me like making hurty.

  13. Zyrocz says:

    I love how the game is fast paced. Way to many tower defence-like games are just to slow.

    • Syra says:

      +1

    • Wulf says:

      Well. First of all, this isn’t really Tower Defence. From the sounds of it it’s more along the lines of ‘Overlord clone.’ Secondly, I don’t know if I’d define Defence Grid as slow, I remember that game being as frantic as hell on some of the levels, with me scrambling to destroy and rebuild towers as quickly as I could.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Of course this is tower defence, lets not be genre Nazis.

    • Dominic White says:

      It’s nothing like Overlord in the slightest. Also, it’s not tower defense – there are no towers. The games this is like predate the entire concept of tower defense.

    • Nemrod says:

      And that’s a Godwin winner!

      Sounds really good with all these comments, I’ll get the demo!

    • caesarbear says:

      Also, it’s not tower defense – there are no towers.

      What are the archers then?

      It’s in the tower defence genre.

    • Dominic White says:

      The archers are archers. They get stabbed and fall over, unlike towers, which tend to be larger and made of stone.

  14. Danarchist says:

    I don’t know how many times I have played through the 3 demo maps, I can barely wait for payday on Friday =P I think the reason im loving this game so much is it doesn’t somehow magically have both it’s nose in the air and its head up its own arse like so many strategy games do these days. I really miss simple and fun, seems like everything now is designed to satiate the “Hardcore” gamers for fear of what they will say in interwebz forums.

    Was Space Marine really that bad? I heard it gets boring after a bit but I really enjoyed the demo and never seemed to get bored with slaughtering orcs in that either.

    Maybe I just really hate orcs?

    • Syra says:

      Space marine was a satisfying ork massacre simulator indeed, nothing to be ashamed of… get your thunderhammer out, coop dlc soon!

    • Dominic White says:

      Space Marine wasn’t bad – it just played all its cards in the first 15 minutes and didn’t learn a single new trick after that. OMD doesn’t even finish adding new gameplay elements until the credits roll.

  15. MrMud says:

    Its a shame you cant rebind the controls.

    • arqueturus says:

      Yep, it’s this fact that prevents me from buying it as I know I won’t be able to handle to the complexity of the more advanced levels that are sure to come.

      Not being able to rebind the controls is unforgivable in this modern age of PC games.

    • Bremze says:

      Then you have no reason not to buy it because you CAN rebind the controls, there is a thread on the games forum that shows how to do it.

    • Urthman says:

      I had that problem with Transformers War for Cybertron, and the Steam forums put me onto this fantastic little freeware program for rebinding your keyboard and mouse controls:

      http://www.autohotkey.com/download/

      With autohotkey running politely in my system tray, I had a great time with Transformers WFC (the last two chapters of the Decepticon campaign especially).

      (Although please tell me OMD lets you invert your mouse? I still don’t know of any good 3rd party programs that will do that for you if a game leaves the option out.)

    • monsterBlues says:

      There are instructions here if you are using an AZERTY, QWERTY, or QWERTZ keyboard layout.
      http://www.robotentertainment.com/OMDSteamTechFAQ

      Also, there is a community tutorial on remapping keys using a third party utility.
      http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2156103

      (I work at Robot Entertainment.)

    • arqueturus says:

      @Bremze

      A thread like this one?

      http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2156103

      The one I already posted in? Where it doesn’t work?

      And ask yourself, honestly, can you really rebind keys in the game? no you can fucking not. Lets not exscuse the only evidence of lazy port-i-tess that the game has and I care not which direction the port is, it’s fucking lazy.

      @Urthman

      I haven’t tried Autokey although there’s already a thread on it on the Steam forums but from what I can glean I’ll have the same problem with it as I did with the one I used. So read as above (but without any of the wankiness, as your comment was far more civil). I’m fairly gutted as I really like the game and would buy it but I know that I just wouldn’t enjoy it as it’s no fun fighting a strange (to me) key mapping.

      For those that are curious I, for some unknown reason have been using A,S,Z,X since Quake so there’s no way I can adjust my muscle memory to W,A,S,D and yes, I rue the day but there it is.

      What a shame.

    • arqueturus says:

      @monsterBlues

      Thanks for the suggestion but as I mentioned before I’ve tried one already. I do appreciate you chipping in though and your own forums are full of helpful chaps much like yourself.

      I’m an old school pc gamer, I’ll dredge forums and try stuff, I’ll happily edit configs and even at a push try a third party programs but I’m also old and it irritates me to invest time into stuff that I feel should be there, like a key remapping.

    • Urthman says:

      arqueturus, I agree that it’s ridiculous and insulting that you have to do this, but looking at your post in the Steam thread I can almost guarantee that autohotkey will do what you need.

      A::W
      Z::A
      X::D

      Would be the syntax to change a standard WADS layout so that A=forward, S=back, Z=left, X=right

    • arqueturus says:

      Cheers Urthman, I downloaded and had a look at autohotkey as per your suggestion but I realised it more complex than glovepie so began to read up on it when I realised that I’ve spent more time looking at how to rebind the controls than playing the demo.

      Sadly, that’s it for me. I’ve uninstalled it. If they ever patch in key rebinds I’ll look at it again but till then i’ll pass on it.

      There’s a reply in that Steam thread i linked from someone with no arms that plays with their feet, now this might be a piss take aping that time when the quadriplegic player petitioned for rebindable keys (in deadspace 2 I think it was?) or it may be true but it reinforces the point that there are more than ‘just for convenience’ reasons to allow key rebinding in your game.

    • Urthman says:

      Makes sense to me, arqueturus. Shoddy PC porting is one of the reasons I waited until I could get a cheap copy of Transformers WFC for $5 instead of buying it new. I’ll probably do the same for OMD.

  16. Eddy9000 says:

    I hope the control system isn’t too orcward.

  17. Freud says:

    Wonder if the name is inspired by the Troma movie Surf Nazis Must Die?

  18. wiper says:

    Pfft. Enola Gay. Real Men prefer Genetic Engineering. Unless they’re Real Men who also like Pretty in Pink (as many Real Men are wont to do), in which they may be forgiven for choosing If You Leave.

    Still, despite the questionable taste in OMD-the-music-makers, I’m willing to give your taste in OMD-the-orc-mashers a chance. To the download-o-car!

    • BeamSplashX says:

      “Bunker Soldiers” all the way. Though I like those songs, too. New album’s also pretty dandy.

    • wiper says:

      They… they have a new album out? Blimey. I’ve clearly not been paying enough attention.

  19. MiniMatt says:

    It worries me that journos must now explain that OMD once meant something different.

    Age.

    It’s a bitch.

    • Thermal Ions says:

      You can say that again. I was reading an article the other day that referred to a game with a 1980′s setting as a “period piece” – What The …. ?

  20. Freud says:

    Is there a way to make it so your crossbow is firing when you hold the mouse button instead of having to press it for each shot?

    edit: found a Autohotkey macro that does the job decently enough http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2169397

    • Koozer says:

      Would’nt’ve thought so; you accuracy deteriorates with each shot. Slow shots for long-range headshots, spam when there’s loads about to eat your various organs.

    • Syra says:

      Well I wish control schemes would have an autofire button like the old 8/16bit console controllers ;>

  21. MrEvilGuy says:

    Strange. Alec made no mention of flying creatures.

  22. MaXimillion says:

    I found the warmage difficulty really did mostly end up with you sitting behind your traps and just waiting for a new wave of orcs once you got access to barricades, wall blades and ceiling-mounted traps. The only things you need to deal with personally after the first couple of waves on most maps are fliers, ogres and gnolls.

  23. limnio says:

    Gr8 game :)

  24. ccmccmcc says:

    http://www.cc2biz.com

    very good