Orcs Must Die! Review

By Matt Cabral - Posted Oct 11, 2011

An action infused take on tower defense gaming, Orcs Must Die! demands both a sharp mind and lightning-fast trigger finger. Whether you're a seasoned strategist or brand new to the genre, this fresh take on the enduring formula is a cobblestone-staining blast.

The Pros
  • Addictive mix of fast action and tower defense-style strategy
  • Over-the-top cartoon violence
  • Cathartic revenge for those punished by Dark Souls
The Cons
  • Annoying protagonist
  • No story to speak of

Orcs Must Die! Review:

Following a stellar summer of Xbox Live Arcade offerings, you’d think the digital download service would take a breather and allow the holiday blockbusters to bask in the spotlight for awhile. Sorry, retail releases, but with the recent release of tower-defense-meets-third-person-action title Orcs Must Die!, it looks like there’s one more XBLA title to tackle before we can crack you from your shrink-wrap prisons.


Tower Defense Redux

At this point, the tower defense genre’s not only been done to death, but even those entries that have tweaked the cerebral strategizing with a little thumb-blistering action feel staler than day-old cornbread. Somehow, though, Robot Entertainment’s inspired take on the aging genre recalls a freshness we haven’t experienced since first thwarting the zombie apocalypse from behind an army of angry plants.

Orcs Must Die’s concept is as simple and straightforward as its to-the-point title. Players must protect magical passages by slaughtering the swarms of baddies trying to reach them; allow too many to pass through the portals and it’s game over, dude. What happens between the enemies’ entry point into the level and their intended exit, however, is slightly more complex.

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Unfolding in a medieval-ish castle, the action sees the player--as a generic high-fantasy hero type--using a variety of traps and weapons to stop rampaging orcs from reaching their goal. Much like a typical tower defense game, players first prepare for the coming horde by surveying the map and laying down defenses. In Orcs Must Die! these include swinging axes, tar traps, floor spikes, wall arrows, springboards, steam vents and a variety of other menace-massacring means.

Once set, it’s time to unleash the unsuspecting uglies and watch them get sliced, diced, and generally ground into green hamburger. You’re not just a spectator, though, as you have full control of your character during the attacks. So, while your torturous devices will do most of the dirty work, you can also satisfy your sinister side in real-time with a sword, crossbow, and magic spells. Better still, you can continue to lay down orc-eviscerating toys as the action unfolds.

Orcs Must Die

Think Fast, Kill Faster

Rather than utilizing the standard top-down style, everything plays out from a third-person perspective, yielding a far more arcadey feel than the brains-over-brawn genre usually allows. That’s not to say, however, your mind isn’t taxed as much as your trigger finger.

On the contrary, Orcs Must Die!’s as much about thoughtful strategizing as it is stacking monster corpses like cord wood. The maps--while initially simple point-A-to-point-B corridors--steadily grow more challenging, adding more paths, portals, and entry points for the meat-bags to sneak through. Additionally, it’s not long before you’re fighting more than just endless armies of Shrek’s evil siblings; towering trolls--whose size is only matched by their hit point pools--flying enemies, and even speedy littler buggers that can sneak by some traps soon join the enemy ranks.

The game does a great job getting you comfortable with the concept and mechanics early on, but it really hits its stride when the pace picks up. As the levels grow more complex and the combinations of enemies more varied, balancing smarts and button-mashing becomes an intoxicating experience. Managing your trap-purchasing currency, upgrading your death-dealers, and deciding what gear to begin each map with also adds a modest but addicting level of RPG depth.

Orcs Must Die

Buckets of Cartoon Blood

Complementing the gameplay is a charming presentation, mixing cartoony visuals with epic amounts of gore. Whether flinging a baddie into a river of lava, skewering it with a spear, or witnessing a square of floor spikes turn it into a pulpy red puddle, you’ll never tire of the blood-soaked animations. In fact, half the fun of testing new traps is discovering how they will rip targets from brain to belly with entrails-spilling style to spare--wall axes, which butcher baddies into big chunks of green meat, are a favorite.

My only complaint regarding the presentation, and the game as a whole for that matter, is the painfully generic protagonist and his equally bland story. The former spews dumb one-liners too frequently and does an irritating victory dance, while the latter is pretty much summed up in the game’s title. Given the genre, we ordinarily wouldn’t expect much from either, but Orcs Must Die! is otherwise so entertaining, not supporting it with a more interesting main character and narrative seems like a missed opportunity.

Orcs Must Die

These Orcs Must Die . . .And We’re Just The Guys To Do It

Whether you’ve never played a tower defense game before in your life or you’re a veteran of the strategy-focused genre craving a new take, Orcs Must Die! is a baddie-eviscerating blast that equally tests brains and reflexes. If you’ve still got some spare cash in the wake of this Microsoft Points-siphoning summer, we suggest investing in just one more XBLA game before diving into the season’s big-budget blockbusters. Besides, few things are more cathartic than sending thousands of orcs to meet their maker, especially if you’ve been spending too much time on the receiving end of that equation since Dark Souls’s arrival.