The Games Of Christmas ’11: Day Six

By Alec Meer on December 6th, 2011 at 11:16 am.

It’s the season of giving. The season of giving SLAUGHTER SLAUGHTER SLAUGHTER SLAUGHTER SLAUGHTAHAHAHAAHAHAAHAHAHAH.

It’s Orcs Must Die!

In a year where so many big game releases – and even some of the indies – have arrived under hype and marketing that encourages us to think of them as epochal, it almost seems incongruous to celebrating a quiet middleman like Orcs Must Die. It’s a game that gets on with being a game, where others spend half their oxygen screaming about how important or moving or crazed they are.

It’s also a game that’s built around a single idea and then adds toys on top of that idea until the whole thing just starts to teeter ominously, at which point it steps back and leaves things to you. You can probably guess what that single idea is. It’s in the title, after all.

Orcs are there to die. In their legions. You know, your character knows it, even the orcs themselves – more resigned than murderous – know it. And so the game tells the same joke over and over, each time in a different party hat and another colour of oversized bow-tie. Stab, squish, sizzle, slam, skewer. It’s a joke that works, that despite its idiot simplicity is broad enough to keep on fuelling a full game. There is a plot, and it’s fine, but it’s just a structure there to provide you with what you really want: a steady stream of new ways to make orcs die, and the freedom to experiment with how to make them die even harder. There’s no artifice here, just the cheerful meeting of the titular promise.

OMD’s also genuinely strategic, thanks to the tower defence (and thus enemy path-shaping) roots that some denizens of this ol’ echo chamber mystifyingly refute, and in a year where we haven’t had quite so many grade-A heavy hitters from the strategy side of things, I’m pleased to see at least some of the values creep into another game. It reminds me of strategy while giving me the direct involvement of the carnage of an action game. Hell, it even offers me the choice of how I want to play, depending on if I pour my build points into my traps or my character’s in-the-fray biffability.

In the first major chunk of the game, you’re basically indulging yourself with whatever trap constructions prove most pleasing to thine sadistic eye – how would sir like his orcs served?

As the game canters towards its end (and the second, far harder take on things that’s unlocked come completion), it becomes about managing the horde, being exacting in trap placements, setting up defences for defences, sprinting about the map through portals to keep yourself and the gateway you’re protecting safe from streams of jabbering text-book fantasy monsters that increasingly know what they’re doing.

Something else that knows what it’s doing is Robot Entertainment – risen from the ashes of Ensemble and free from the po-faced rigidity of Age of Empires to combine deft, thoughtful strategy with open silliness and giggly hi-action. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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57 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    Seeing this described as “tower defence” is what put me off getting it. Alec expresses mystification about this, but it’s simply that most tower defence games I’ve tried have little of strategy, and a lot of merely whittling down the enemies that traverse a fixed path. And there have been too many of them.

    Edit: So I just watched TotalBiscuit’s WTF is Orcs Must Die, and that makes the game look quite a bit more fun than I imagined.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Have a look at the interactive trailer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4NyiUh8ChU). It’s rather enlightening.

    • Swanny says:

      reply fail.

    • glocks4interns says:

      frightlever, the real game IS better than the demo. That was my exact thought about an hour in. However it is still clearly the same game. If you find the demo awful then you won’t like the full game. If you’re lukewarm about the demo as I was, then I heartily recommend the full product.

    • Premium User Badge

      VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      And oh-so-conveniently, Orcs Must Die is just three pounds today on Steam. So I bought it!

  2. Meat Circus says:

    So, it’s the same as Sanctum? Not complaining as I bladdy loved Sanctum.

    • Cooper says:

      Think Sanctum but in third person and without towers but with WALLS OF SPIKES THAT SPIKE THINGS UNTIL THEY’RE SPIKED TO DEADED!

      Primarily the difference is between slowly whittling away health bars in Sanctum, whilst the orcs in OMD are incredibly fragile, so it’s more about having the capacity to squish them all. And they squish good.

      I love both games, they’re difficult to pick between. In anycase, love sanctum and love this (probably)

    • Vexing Vision says:

      I dislike Sanctum because of the slow whittling away of health. Towers never seem to have a real impact, I might as well just go solo.

      I love OMD. Your traps are powerful and fun. Your spells (Firewall!) are fun and powerful.

    • Premium User Badge

      Sinomatic says:

      I’d say the main difference is that, in OMD, I actually get to plan out traps. In Sanctum it really never felt like there was a lot of thought put into it – make longest path, fill with variety of stuff, upgrade as you go – job done. And it was all very clinical to play. OMD has me thinking out, planning trap set-ups – not just for maximum killing efficiency, but for the most points or purely the most killing funtimes – and I feel a direct, obvious feedback between how I’ve laid things out and how well the level goes.

      Oh and OMD is bucketloads of fun. That would probably be the main difference. Flipping groups of orcs into pits of lava just never gets old. Never.

    • Bhazor says:

      For me it was like a cross between Trapt and the good Dynasty Warriors style games (Kingdom Under Fire, Dead Rising). Which for me is a very good thing.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      No, Sanctum was a penis of a game, while Orcs Must Die is an anus of a game. I guess that makes Dungeon Defenders a pancreas of a game?

    • Swanny says:

      Sinomatic has a great point here.
      OMD is sloppy.
      If Sanctum is a gourmet meal, OMD is a pie-eating contest.
      You’ll be planning how you’re going to kill that ogre, and suddenly catch a spring trap out of the corner of your eye, flinging orcs ass-over-tits into lava.
      You smile to yourself, and jump back into the fray.
      It’s pure carnage, and it never seems to get old.

  3. sneetch says:

    Definitely one of my highlights of the year, it brings a joyful, gleeful, nay, sinful level of mayhem that few other games can match. I can’t wait to see where they go next (although I do wish they’d bring out a co-op mode either for this or a sequel).

  4. Fashigady says:

    Picked this up today based recommendation of a friend and the decent review it got on RPS, downloading right now :)

  5. PodX140 says:

    it’s a real shame that this came out at the same time as dungeon defenders, as I really don’t think it can hold up to the charm, polish, and mechanics of DD.

    • Metonymy says:

      Explain this to me. DD was so bad I just assumed it was a port from a phone game, and if I remember correctly it was. It’s a game for people who don’t play video games. Just spam and pick up numerical bonuses. No PC interface, either for the player control or the menu, no mob channeling, no tower or attack variety, no difficulty progression beyond inflating stats, no level variety. I mean don’t get me wrong, OMD was merely average, but DD was abysmal. What was redeeming about it?

    • Balm says:

      hold up to the charm, polish, and mechanics of DD.

      Would I be correct to assume that that was sarcasm?

    • Torgan says:

      I picked up both and thought OMD was far and away the better game. I found DD pretty boring to be honest, although that’s probably partly because I was playing coop with strangers, but there just didn’t seem that much to do.

    • Mike Wyatt says:

      I’d like to give counterpoint to all these negative Dungeon Defenders comments. I’ve only played the first level of OMD, but I was quite bored to be honest. Meanwhile, I’ve been having a huge amount of fun with DD over the last week.

      Just spam and pick up numerical bonuses. No PC interface, either for the player control or the menu, no mob channeling, no tower or attack variety, no difficulty progression beyond inflating stats, no level variety. I mean don’t get me wrong, OMD was merely average, but DD was abysmal. What was redeeming about it?

      I question if we’ve played the same game. There is quite a bit of strategy in the placement of towers and managing your time between the various streams of enemies.

      In addition to the middle mouse-driven build menu, there are keyboard shortcuts for everything you want to do. And I’ve been playing with mouse and keyboard the whole time and it works great. What’s more PC than that?

      The skill and difficulty progression definitely uses stats progression, but I’m fine with that. There’s enough variety in the levels and enemies that this doesn’t bother me at all.

      Would I be correct to assume that that was sarcasm?

      No?

    • elwood_p says:

      Got this and dungeon defenders at the same time.

      Tried this for a couple of hours and thought it was a pretty good game.
      Then tried dungeon defenders and I’ve hardly been back to OMD since.

      Personally, I just think there is more long-term appeal to DD.
      It seems to me that both developers started from a similar point, but Trendy were far more ambitious and took the idea a lot further.

      Granted DD may not appeal as much if you don’t want to play co-op, but if you can get a decent team together it’s miles ahead of OMD.

    • Thunderkor says:

      I picked up OMD a week or two before I got DD. I probably would have passed on DD altogether but some friends got it and I was looking forward to playing it with them. And honestly every time we’d play DD I was thinking “Well this is okay but I’d rather be playing Orcs Must Die.” The humor, the frantic pace, and the level design all came together a lot more for me than DD did. And I love things like loot drops and leveling characters, but despite its lack of these I find Orcs Must Die probably ten times more fun than DD.

      I’m not saying DD is a bad game by any means, just that I personally prefer OMD. The devs have said they are done with DLC for this title and there will be no co-op or multiplayer, which is a shame. I’m hoping for a full-on sequel with these things at some point. In the meantime I still have some Nightmare mode levels to beat and high scores to improve.

      Part of the replayability and fun of OMD for me is seeing what ways I can change up my tactics in order to improve performance, and also just the fun of finding different ways to murder all those hordes of orcs.

      Oh yeah and since Sanctum is always brought up, I enjoy that as well but it’s very different. Haven’t put in that much play time on it but I intend to and if anyone wants to give multiplayer Sanctum a go, look me up on Steam where I also go by the name Thunderkor.

    • PleasingFungus says:

      Huh, this thread is fascinating. I picked up Dungeon Defenders a few months (!) ago, and got Orcs Must Die! more recently, when it was on sale. I’ve put an alarming number of hours into DD (25, according to steam), and just beat OMD for the first time – going to start my second run shortly.

      They’re very similar games, in a lot of way – fantasy, tower defense with a third-person action-RPG mixed in – so it’s fascinating to see the different tradeoffs they made. Basically, at every turn, DD made the choices that moved it toward co-op grinding, and OMD went for single-player fun.

      DD splits its towers and traps across four classes, encouraging co-operation but giving the individual player far fewer options during play; OMD gives you all of them, of course, more towers total than there are across all of DD’s four classes. (And arguably more varied – DD has a ton of redundancy, with stuff like the inferno trap and the lightning aura, or the fireball tower and harpoon tower, or the explosive trap and ETHERICAL SPIKE trap – all of which do essentially the same thing, with small tweaks. OMD, on the other hand… )

      DD’s progression is based primarily on character ability – no matter how good a player you are, you need to level your character and gear up to beat the later / harder levels. OMD feeds you a steady stream of new traps and abilities, but none of them ever really ‘obsolete’ the old ones – you can keep using the starting ones until the end of the game, if you feel like it. The progression is primarily in player skill. I find that much more fun, myself, but I can understand how people would feel otherwise.

      The biggest difference, though, is visceral. Playing as a huntress recently – a few days ago, the first time playing DD after starting OMD – I found it took an entire magazine to kill one or two enemies. (And then I had to wait for the sloooow reload time to finish, unable to do anything but run and jump…) In OMD, you can kill most enemies with one well-aimed snap-shot.

      For some reason or another, I found it really hard to enjoy DD that night!

      (OMD is also infinitely more characterful and funny, but that’s a much more subjective impression, of course.)

      So the reason this thread is fascinating to me is that it’s so completely the opposite of my own impressions of the matter – after playing OMD, I wondered, “How can DD hold up to the charm, polish, and mechanics of OMD?”

      /wulfessay

    • PodX140 says:

      Honestly I did not expect these reactions. I played DD with my older brother who very rarely plays any video games (on account of time), yet DD had him hooked. I’m curious then as to whether everyone played solo or co-op? Because I will admit solo had me bored, but even a two player co-op with a known person was incredible.

    • PleasingFungus says:

      I played 3-4 player co-op, with friends online who I was voice-chatting with over Skype.

      Pretty much the only reason I had fun with DD, I think, is because I was playing with friends. When I tried the other day to play with a friend who didn’t have a mic, it was… well, “soul-killing” is probably an exaggeration, but not by much.

  6. Patches the Hyena says:

    I picked this up when it was 75% off on Steam. Best purchase I made this year (except maybe for Bastion. I’m near certain that will make an appearance in The Games of Christmas too :P ).

    • Premium User Badge

      Malcolm says:

      Likewise! It has provided a very nice antidote to the more considered strategising of Anno 2070 which I bought the previous week.

  7. Jumwa says:

    As a fan of orcs, even I must admit that the sublime brutalizing of their ilk was made rapturous in this title. Orcs must die? Sadly they must.

    A co-op mode would’ve done wonders for it though, my partner would’ve dove into it with me for many hours of entertainment, I’m sure.

  8. Vexing Vision says:

    Orcs Must Die is unbelievably rewarding fun.

    Yes, it’s a Tower Defense game in the sense that orcs move along a path through your twisted pre-designed fortress (which looks very stylish), and walk cheerfully through the beautifully animated traps.

    It’s Dungeon Keeper – the Tower Defense Game only without the heroes, and I can’t think of a greater compliment than that.

  9. julianbenson says:

    It’s a lot of fun but I thought the lack of ability to jump back a round was infuriating. So many times things would fall apart in the final round and I’d have to start the whole level again

  10. wccrawford says:

    “Tower defense” is a horrible description for this game, but the closest genre we have.

    It’s actually a LOT more like the old Playstation game “Tecmo’s Deception”. In fact, I was just wishing for a remake of that game this past year, and then OMD and Dungeon Defenders both came out.

    I like DD more, but I think it has to do with the loot, rather than the strategy. OMD definitely seems to have more strategy. (I haven’t gotten very far because I’ve been playing DD… For over 180 hours. OMD has like 5 hours.)

  11. Dominic White says:

    As others have said, ‘Tower Defense’ is a very poor description of this game. First and foremost as there are no towers, and ‘mazing’ doesn’t really happen beyond the occasional barricade put down. It’s much more like a hybrid of The Horde (from 1994) and Tecmo’s Deception (1996), both of which far predate the TD genre.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Znea says:

    Just wanted to say the kindness club is giving one of each of the Advent Calendar games away. Details hereabouts down at the bottom.

  13. Dominic White says:

    Grrr. Why is that that 80% of my posts here seem to get eaten by the spam-filter? It wouldn’t be nearly so bad if it just TOLD me that it thought the post was spam and asked me to change it, but it just disappears without a trace!

  14. bonjovi says:

    I got stuck at 7th level in OMD. I’d like to think the game is too hard but I might just be too thick for it:(

    • Balm says:

      Try switching to easy mode?

    • Chris D says:

      Twin halls? Try taking barricades and blocking off one pathway close to the rift, across the diagonal past the final corner works best. I’m trying to remember what you have unlocked by this point, but you should be able to make an effective killzone across the other corner using arrows and tar. The wind-belt is also quite efficient for blowing orcs into acid if you find your getting overwhelmed early, or for making them go back through that trap section they just passed. The fire secondary is also really effective on this level, not sure if you have that yet though.

    • bfandreas says:

      Barricades are the best thing to invest in. There’s nothing like funneling orcs down the same narrow deathtrap laden corridor. You can’t be everywhere at once and you will want to watch each and every sweat, sweat bit of orc slaughter. Each orc death is precious and must be watched. Bits of green and red flying into every direction.

      Barricades, man! That’s where it’s at!

  15. Drake Sigar says:

    I love waking up to these. Keep em comin’.

  16. Gozuu says:

    It will keep you entertained for a couple of hours, then it gets dull. They no longer seem to support the game, neither have they given any word on CO-OP or Multiplayer. They got a few quick bucks from DLC and probably moved on to a new project.

    It’s damn cheap though, if you enjoy a humoristic Tower Defense that can be defeated with both Towers alone or Spellcasting Alone(The Builder/Main character) or a mix of both, then it will give you 5-6 hours filled with joy.

    There is a custom wave generator (Build your own waves, not entire levels) that grants you some customization to add a few extra level playthroughs.

    robotentertainment.com/Forums/Orcs-Must-Die/Orcs-Must-Die-PC-Discussion

  17. Mike Wyatt says:

    Can’t delete comments, huh?

  18. theleif says:

    ” I can’t wait to see what they do next.”
    Add a co-op mode. This game seems like it’s made for it.

    • wu wei says:

      Apparently, there won’t be any more DLC for OMD. Maybe OMD 2.

  19. Tams80 says:

    While Orcs Must Die is a great game and I’m glad such a great company made it. htis comment: “free from the po-faced rigidity of Age of Empires” angers me as is not true either.

  20. lfwam says:

    I agree, OMD is fantastic. What I loved most is how much strategy they managed to fit into simple mechanics, it’s masterful. From the fact that every weapon has two attacks that interface differently with different traps, to the way you can use yourself to goad monsters around the maze, there’s a huge amount of thinking that emerges from the game play. Recently I started using paladins to protect my archers from the fast hunter guys, and it just works, in a really clever and satisfying way. Brilliant.

  21. Heliocentric says:

    All this and no grinding oh, sure you upgrade traps but your favourites will be upgraded well before you finish the story.

    I want more content or an eventual sequel. Love the high scores table, getting in the top 1000 players added a whole new level of difficulty.

    My favourite is the basic pusher, so much potential for kettling.

  22. Doodier says:

    I like the part where the Orcs must die. Also just downloading the demo because it looks like fun. Now I regret not picking it up on the Steam sale few days back..

  23. Baf says:

    In OMD, you’re not whittling individual orcs to death. You’re whittling the entire horde to death, orc by orc. The reason you need multiple layers of traps isn’t because the orcs need to be hit by multiple traps before they die, but because each trap takes a little while to reset after springing, so you need a second layer of traps to take care of the orcs who got past the first layer unscathed and so on.

  24. Premium User Badge

    sonofsanta says:

    So basically, having thought “I’ll not get that, I have enough of a backlog already” when it was on Steam for 75% off last month, I’d be an idiot not to take them up on the offer second time around?

    • Thants says:

      Yes.

    • Shouldbeworking says:

      Dammit, I have no idea when I will get around to playing this, but…bought. Curse/praise you impulse buy prices!

  25. Premium User Badge

    Arathain says:

    The thing I like best about OMD is how physical it is. Orcs get hurled sideways by the force of your wall-mounted arrow traps. Orcs get hurled every which way by your spring and push traps. When they get skewered, crushed or sliced there’s a visible impact to the whole thing. Your only slightly irritating character gets it right when he says “Sometimes I almost feel sory for the orcs, except not really.”

    I tried the Dungeon Defenders demo, which seemed to have some nice ideas, but having the enemies be big sacks of numbers which bleed numbers when you hit them with your number-based weapons until the numbers run out and they fall over was disheartening. Plus, I’ll take new toys for each new map over leveling up slowly any day.

    That said, as someone who likes a spot of tower defense it’s pretty great to have such high quality choices.

  26. InternetBatman says:

    I bought it today and absolutely love it. This is the first game I’ve bought DLC for. It just has that fast paced carnival of death feeling, like UT, Kiss Psycho Circus, or Serious Sam. Besides a lack of multi, it’s a definite improvement over Sanctum.