Orcs Must Die! is an action tower defense game where you play as a recently slain warmage’s apprentice, charged with defending valuable castles and keeps. The apprentice both sets the towers and traps and engages in combat personally, in the midst of the fray. There are very few other games with this formula (like Lock’s Quest, Trenched and Sanctum) and there are a lot of things that can go wrong in a game like this. It’s difficult to find tower defense games that are appropriately balanced, challenging, and controlled. It seems most either have an unfriendly interface or towers that worthless and a handful that you can stick with consistently.
Orcs Must Die! does not have these problems and is remarkable in that the action and controls take literally about one minute to get the hang of. The introduction of new weapons, traps, and other game elements come quickly and smoothly. In fact, the traps are simply explained in simple, gory, humorous diagrams via each stage’s load screen, and when it comes to arrows, axes, springs, fire, gooey tar, barricades, that is all that is needed.
This makes Orcs Must Die! one of the most polished games we’ve ever played. It manages to forbid some strategies while providing ample wiggle room to give you style. This is especially apparent through the use of “weavers”, ladies that give you skills for money. These are basically talent trees, as you can only take skills from one of these at a time, but the interesting aspect is that the skills are not permanent and must be purchased level by level.
You can sprint smoothly and quickly through the levels, taking warps to get you back to the base to pick off the few stragglers that get through. You can buy a few expensive traps that take out large chunks in small intervals, lots of small traps, or very few at all and hammer at the orcs with just the help of you, some archers, and some paladin fighters. Most of the time it will be a mix, but how that mix happens is up to you, and the concocting of plans and setting of traps in the midst of chaos is just as much fun as surveying the landscape at the beginning of stages and in between waves. Map variety is pretty well spread too, encouraging and rewarding adjustable playstyles, making the playthrough not seem like a grind. This is very important, as there is little story to play for and the apprentice is obnoxious.
Instead of a good story, Orcs Must Die! is more about leaderboards and the pleasure of implementing the demise of hundreds of orcs. Even for someone who doesn’t like score-based games, Orcs Must Die! is enjoyable just for the sake of the playthrough, which takes about eight hours. If you really like competition or completion, there are separate boards for Nightmare difficulty, which is obtained by completing all levels on the basic difficulty level.
The story had potential for much better writing and the soundtrack is stale and can dampen the excitement. Still, what little story there is spells sequel and that is nothing but welcome news. Even if you play games mainly for stories or plot, Orcs Must Die! is a blast to slay through.
Pros: Lots of flexibility and style allowed, extremely easy to learn yet strategically deep
Cons: Main character is annoying and unfunny, no co-op or story