Orcs. Must. Die. That’s the premise for Robot Entertainment’s aptly-named Orcs Must Die!, a tower defense game with third-person action gameplay.
In this downloadable Xbox Live Arcade and PC title, you play as a cheeky, yet clumsy war mage apprentice who’s part of an Order. Unfortunately, said Order was wiped out by, you guessed it, orcs, and as such, you are the last and only hope in defeating the hordes of fortress-invading orcs (and other creatures) and protecting Rifts. These Rifts are basically portals, and if too many enemies enter them in a level, then it’s game over. To help protect the Rifts, you’ll get to lay down various offensive and defensive-based traps within the game’s 24 levels, which all have a fortress setting.
While playing, you control the aforementioned war mage in third-person view as you run around, place traps and fight enemies. Deploying traps cost money, which are earned by killing enemies. Besides the flood of both sword and bow and arrow-wielding orcs, you’ll be up against other creatures like Ogres (which have high amounts of health and armor), Kobold Runners (which are faster-than-normal critters that head straight towards Rifts), Gnoll Hunters (which are fast creatures with high amounts of health and armor that hunt down the player), Hobgoblin Shaman (which revive dead enemies back to life), and Hellbats (which are flying creatures that shoot fireballs and avoid floor traps).
Enemies come in finite number of waves (highest is 12), and they’ll pour in one group at a time or all at once through one or more entrances. After every wave you complete you’ll be given a few seconds to place traps before the next wave starts. There’s no time limit after every third or so wave, so you have all the time in the world to place traps and plan ahead at those points. The amount of traps you can equip is limited to the number of trap slots available to you in a level, and the level design and enemy types will dictate the traps you use.
There are 19 traps in all with some including spiked tiles, swinging maces, sticky tar pits (which slow down enemies), fiery brimstones (which burns and damages enemies over time), steam traps (which levitate and immobilize enemies), wall grinders (which sucks in and grinds up nearby enemies), and spore traps (which makes enemies temporarily fight for you). You can even drop in bow and arrow-toting archers and sword-bearing paladins who are able to shoot enemies from afar and deal damage in close-quarter combat, respectively.
In addition to traps, you can also engage directly in combat yourself and kill enemies with weapons and magic spells via the R trigger. You can wield a crossbow and bladestaff (which is essentially a sword), and can cast elemental-based magic spells like fire to burn enemies and wind to blow them away. All weapons and magic have secondary abilities (which is done via the L trigger) as the crossbow, for example, let’s you stun enemies, while the fire spell lets you create a wall of fire. However, casting magic requires mana, which recharge over time, and weapons and magic spells/equipment take up trap slots.
The combined third-person combat and tower defense elements make OMD! very fun to play. The gameplay is enjoyably quick and engaging, and it’s satisfying seeing your traps gorily slaughter hordes of enemies, especially when the traps are grouped together to create an awesomely diabolical and ridiculous ultimate defense system. Being able to place rows of floor spikes, tar pits and fiery brimstones one after another, and then adding projectile-based arrow walls above said floor traps while dozens of archers stand by is, needless to say, amusingly great.
And, really, that’s what’s most fun about this game (and in any tower defense game): being able to use any combination of traps and creating a super, impenetrable defense system. It’s feels great seeing enemies incapable of getting passed your traps — but not so when they actually do break through.
The biggest problem with OMD! is that it can sometimes get too chaotic and unmanageable when trying to fend off enemies who pour in from multiple entrances simultaneously. In a few certain levels, which are noticeably more difficult than the rest, you sometimes don’t have sufficient amount of money to place enough traps. Because of this, you’re forced to frantically scurry back and forth between entrances to deal with enemies, which can get out of control. In most cases, while you’re busy killing enemies at one entrance, there’s already a flood of enemies pouring in from another entrance to the point where killing everyone before they reach the Rift is just too difficult.
Even if you do have enough money to place traps to help you out, you likely won’t be deploying anything until after you defeat an entire wave of enemies since your main focus by then will be to just chase after everyone and kill them off as quickly as possible with your weapons and magic. Plus, not only is it too hectic and time-consuming to place traps while in the midst of combat, but you can’t actually attack while selecting and deploying traps (which is done via the controller’s shoulder buttons).
As a reminder, it’s only just a few levels that are difficult and frustrating (at first), but they are difficult and frustrating enough that they partially hamper the enjoyment of playing OMD!, especially when trying to get a high/perfect level completion rating. What would make things easier is if the game paused the action or slowed down time when selecting and placing traps; this would give you time to calm down and think. Alternatively, it would be nice if there wasn’t a time limit, or if you had more time to place traps after every wave, since it’s not fun being rushed. It would also be helpful if you earned a bit more money from kills and/or if there was an option to enter a top-down/isometric view of an entire level so traps could be immediately placed anywhere without having to physically run to a location.
Any of these implementations would make OMD! a lot less tense and frustrating. While the game’s challenge could diminish as a result, the game would still be fun regardless since the joy of OMD! is having time to build that ultimate defense system and utterly conquering, not rushing to place traps or chasing down enemies who break through your defense(s).
The good news, though, is that the majority of levels are enjoyable and manageable, and thankfully, they don’t get too difficult as you progress through the game. When you do complete a level you’ll almost always unlock a new trap, which is rewarding. It’s also fun playing around with different combination of traps and figuring out which work well together. For example, you’ll get good results placing tar pits under a swinging mace. Also, you’ll be influenced to use certain traps depending on both the layout of the level and enemy types. Spring traps, for instance, work well in levels with death pits, and archers and steam traps are good against levels with Hellbats.
It’s great that the game nudges you to switch up traps since early on I was getting into the habit of just using floor spikes and arrow walls. I also ended up grouping traps together in specific spots instead of laying them out across a level. While this was effective, it was also a bit disappointing since a lot of levels weren’t being utilized, in terms of space. Also, some traps, like wall grinders and wall blades, seemed to be useless most of the time since they didn’t have long enough range.
Besides the aforementioned traps, there are also environmental traps/weapons in some levels including a mounted crossbow, chandeliers, spiked logs, and cauldrons full of boiling oil and acid. These traps are nice additions, but some aren’t as useful as they should be mainly because they don’t have a wide enough radius to kill a large number of enemies at once. Spiked logs worked well and mounted crossbows worked really well against Ogres, but the cauldrons full of oil and acid didn’t seem that helpful. To be fair though, I rarely took advantage of the environmental traps since they were easily forgotten during the heat of battle. Plus, you have to make sure traps like chandeliers hit enemies in time, which is a bit challenging when you’re, you know, busy battling a flood of enemies. Again, this is where a slo-mo/pause mechanic would have helped.
Aside from environmental traps, there are also upgrades available for your standard traps. Upgrading a tar pit, for example, will give you an extra sticky tar pit that slows enemies even more, while enhancing a fiery brimstone will make enemies burn longer. However, it’s disappointing that most upgrades just reduce purchase cost and it takes a while to upgrade just a single trap (in one playthrough I was only able to upgrade around eight out of 19 traps). Also, you can’t upgrade traps while you’re in a level; instead, you have to either complete the level or go back to the level selection screen, which is a tad bit inconvenient. And speaking of the level selection screen, it would have been helpful if it included screenshots of levels for memory sake.
Interestingly, the game features another upgrade system that allows you to gain player and trap augmentations via “weaver” cards. There are three card types — “Steel,” “Elemental” and “Knowledge” — and each offers different enhancements; Steel focuses on traps and “guardians” (i.e., archers, paladins), Elemental focuses on the player and magic, and Knowledge combines both Steel and Elemental upgrades. Depending on which path of a card’s skill tree you choose, you’ll end up specializing in one area for that level only, assuming you have enough money to purchase an upgrade. So, for example, choosing the traps’ path via the Steel card can make all of your timed traps reset 20% faster or can make all of your piercing/cutting traps cause a bleeding effect. On the other hand, selecting the guardians’ path via the Steel card can add a stun ability for paladins, or can grant guardians both increased health and health regeneration. As for the Elemental card, you can earn things like a flame crossbow and “holy” sword/bladestaff, while the Knowledge card can grant things like increased running speed or provide Rifts a defensive lightning strike ability.
Overall, the weaver augmentation system is a great addition that helps make OMD! more fun and interesting. However, you may not take advantage of the weaver upgrades that much since they’re expensive and require money that could otherwise be spent on traps that actually kill enemies. Furthermore, by the time you get enough money to place a ton of traps, weaver upgrades don’t become that useful since your traps will be taking care of everything by then. Still, though, it’s hard to complain, and the weaver system is appreciated.
With that last bit in mind, there are some elements to the game that feel smart and thoughtful. For example, you can distract enemies who are too close to a Rift by getting near them, which is helpful. You can also pick up health potions and coins from dead enemies at times, place traps far away, and take shortcuts in levels via portals. It’s also great that downed archers and paladins come back to life after every few waves so you don’t waste money replacing them. And then there are small blue orbs that float between Rifts and entrances that seemingly provide visual guidance. It’s these small things that make a big difference, and it feels like the game’s developers really took the time to test and play their game.
On the other hand, it would have been nice if the game included more level variety. As much fun as the levels were, some could at least have taken place somewhere else other than inside a fortress (like maybe in a courtyard?). Also, adding co-op would make OMD! much more fun and could definitely fit into the game.
Other gripes, though minor, include the inability to re-access the trap selection menu after you’ve placed traps in a level prior to the start of the first wave. So if you already set up traps but want to swap out and equip different ones, you’ll have to restart a level, which is a bit inconvenient. The trap selection menu also provides a list of enemies that are in a level, so you have an idea of what traps to use. The only slight downside is that you can’t access the enemy list once the first wave begins, so you’ll have to rely on memorizing what types of enemies there are. Another gripe is that attacking enemies can get physically tiring since you have to rapidly press the R trigger to constantly attack; it would have been nice if you could just hold the R trigger, instead.
Additionally, there’s a problem with Ogres. Every time one hits you you’ll get stunned, but the stun effect lasts way too long, which means an Ogre will keep whaling on you as you stand there helplessly. Fortunately, you can escape and run away the very second you’re OK — I mean, the very second you’re OK — but if you have multiple Ogres hitting you, then it almost always means death. This, as you can imagine, is unfair and annoying.
With all the flaws though, none of them are deal breakers, and OMD! is still a fun game that contains a pleasant sprinkle of humor, as well as charming and cartoony visuals and art style. The game also offers incentives to keep you playing more than once. There are three difficulty settings that can be tackled, and you can retry a level to get a better level completion rating and, thus, earn more skulls to upgrade traps. Also, you’re able to retry a level with traps that weren’t available at the time, which is great.
OMD! is a surprisingly fun game that offers high replay value, and the third-person tower defense gameplay is a blast. Setting up a combination of traps and then seeing enemies getting pulverized by those traps is fun and satisfying. What isn’t fun is dealing with an overwhelming flood of enemies with insufficient amount of traps. It can get too chaotic and unmanageable at times, but thankfully, this isn’t the case most of the time. Overall, OMD! is highly recommended, and hopefully there will be a sequel since a lot could be added like co-op, more diverse environments, and more spells and over-the-top traps.