I won’t lie; tower defense has never been my cup of tea for the most part. I find the genre a little tedious for my tastes, but when I first got my hands on Orcs Must Die, I was sold. Taking the concept of tower defense and tossing in some action elements (mainly allowing me to move around the battlefield and slay the orcs myself) really struck a chord with me. After hours of devising traps, and thousands upon thousands of orcs slain, I can honestly say I am ready for more. Orcs Must Die is some of the most fun I have had on XBLA this year, and that is saying a lot.
There is a story going on here, but it is mostly so you can tell where Act 1 ends and Act 2 begins. For generations, the Order has been fighting off the mob of orcs that continue to attack. They built a series of fortresses to ensure that no orc would ever get through. You are the newest, and most reckless, apprentice that your War Mage has ever seen. The comedic stylings are appreciated, but again it is mostly to separate acts. I got a strong feeling of Dragon’s Lair with the characters, which is a good thing.
I don’t know whether to call OMD an action game with tower defense elements, or a tower defense game with action bits. Either way you slice it, the game is a blast to play. One of my biggest issues with the genre has always been that failure served as a brick wall for me. When I lost a round, I had very little initiative to go back and try again. With OMD I want to go back, not only if I fail, but because I want to try something new, and to me that speaks volumes.
What makes this game so addicting are the means of destruction. At the start, you are limited to your trusty crossbow and sword as well as floor spikes and tar pits. As you progress, you unlock more and more tools of destruction. Each one is unique and almost more fun than the last. I found wall arrows and archers as two of my favorites, although the wall grinders are definitely a blast if you can get the orcs to gib into them. I love the variety, and going back to earlier levels to see how your new tools fair is addicting.
Each level also awards you skulls based on the style of your kills. Headshots, combos and more decide how many coins you earn, and thus allow you to build more traps in between waves. I love that the game gives you a breather midway through each level to collect yourself and build up more defenses. There are also environmental hazards on each level, such as pre-placed exploding barrels and, of course, chandeliers to drop on unsuspecting foes. I found myself running the entire level over and over before each match to plan my route of attack. When something didn’t work, I was thrilled to jump right back in with a new strategy, and that is a sign of great game design.
The skulls you collect are used to level up your traps. Playing on the casual difficulty, you are limited to two per level, which really hinders your upgrades. On medium and above, you can earn up to five, but let one orc get past your defenses and you start to lose them. The game is no stranger to challenge, but if you just want to jump in and have fun, you can do that as well.
My biggest gripe is that the game never properly teaches you much about anything. You are basically thrown into the mix and required to figure it out on your own. Trap descriptions are done on the loading screen, and using things such as the Weavers, which allow you to upgrade your stats per level, are simply discovered through trial and error. It is not a huge deal, considering the game is so briskly paced, but a little explanation would have really been beneficial.
It is also worth noting that the game is sans any type of multiplayer at all. There are leaderboards to compare scores and kills with your friends, but a lack of co-op is disappointing. Of course, there is always a chance for future DLC, and planning routes and strategies with friends on the couch is still a blast. I don’t usually mark a game down for not having multiplayer when the single player is strong enough to stand on its own.
Orcs Must Die is an amazingly fun game that definitely causes hours to pass without you noticing. The mixture of action and tower defense should really please fans of both, and the casual difficulty makes experimenting with different strategies a lot of fun without consequence. If you even remotely enjoy these types of games I strongly recommend giving this one a go. I literally lost myself in the game for hours on end and hope to see some DLC in the future, plus I intend to eventually join the elite 30,000 orcs killed club.
Review copy provided by publisher.