Ensemble Studios was an influential video game developer throughout the 1990s and 2000s. They worked almost entirely on real-time strategy games and on the PC to boot, so I haven’t had any exposure to them. They were shuttered by Microsoft a few years ago and as is the case with many shuttered developers, a few smaller studios form afterwards. Robot Entertainment is one of those studios and they have a new game called Orcs Must Die!
If it’s not clear from the title, a lot of orcs die in the game, and the character I played as (the war mage) did let’s say ninety percent of the killing. The impression I got from the intro cutscene was the war mage was inept, but I found that to be far from the case. He had many tools at his disposal even in the demo and placing familiar booby traps and watching orcs run through them was entertaining.
I played the demo version of Orcs Must Die and found the setup funny. A powerful mage has been killing orcs for a long time, preventing them from entering rifts and causing much chaos. One day this mage slipped on blood and cracked his head open, leaving this very important task to his naïve apprentice. Naturally I play as his apprentice, who happens to be a war mage, one who can use magic, swords, and crossbows.
Once the intro cutscene ended I was given control and I filled up a hot bar for quick access to my weapons and traps. I had two weapons throughout the demo that allowed me to deal with the orcs directly, a crossbow and a sword. They were both easy to use and effective, but it’d be mighty hard to hold back the orcs with these weapons alone.
The most interesting aspect of the game was my ability to set traps. The stages I played on were very linear; all three were hallways in fact, so the orcs didn’t have much of a varying path. In fact, I could see the path the orcs would take via lines making it even easier to set traps. I believe a new trap is unlocked with the completion of each stage and I had access to a few in the demo.
The first two I had access to could be placed on the ground. One was a spike strip and the other a tar pit that would slow orcs down. Another I could place on walls and it shot arrows at orcs whenever they passed. The last one I unlocked was an exploding barrel that would explode when I shot it with my crossbow. I developed a strategy early on by placing tar pits and arrow walls in the same path thereby slowing enemies down to make sure they get shot full of arrows. These traps weren’t free however, but my income was easy to come by. Each orc killed would give me some money and I could place traps on the fly.
The intial setup for Orcs Must Die! was amusing, but I don’t think there’s going to be any depth to the plot, and that’s fine because the gameplay was fun. I found it monotonous at first, but after I developed my tar pit/arrow wall strategy, a light clicked and I began thinking of other combinations. There weren’t many traps in the demo though so my experimentation went unfulfilled. But, the full game promises many more traps and weapons to utilize on the game’s 24 stages. I don’t believe the game has co-op which seems shocking to me, but I found the gameplay to be a nice blend of mindless hack ‘n’ slash gameplay and strategy. Orcs Must Die! was released last week on Xbox Live Arcade and is being released this week on the PC. It was developed by Robot Entertainment and published by Microsoft Studios on XBLA.