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Hands-on: Orcs Must Die!

9:00 AM on 02.25.2011 // Colette Bennett

Just to be fair, I'm going to throw this out there before I go one word further: I LOVE tower defense games. With all my heart. As soon as I saw the first preview for Orcs Must Die! during my trip to Robot Entertainment last week, it hit me that while it looked a bit different from the 2D tower defense games I am used to playing, that was exactly what it was, with more action style gameplay thrown in. And I was absolutely thrilled.

Using a variety of traps and weapons to keep an endless wave of drooling orcs at bay may not be your idea of a good time, but I'm going to tell you right now, it definitely is mine. And since Orcs Must Die! features tons of traps, allowing you to do everything from piercing orcs with spikes to hurling them into nearby lava, you have no shortage of opportunities to kill them in any and every way you might like. And who doesn't love a little creative death dealing?

Orcs Must Die! (PC)

Developer: Robot Entertainment
Publisher: Robot Entertainment
To be released: 2011

My first thought when I sat down for my playthrough of Robot's first original IP was that it reminded me a bit of how it felt to sit in front of World of Warcraft (or any similarly-themed MMO for that matter). Orcs Must Die! is a single-player game, but everything from viewing your character in a third person perspective to the use of hotkeys for spells and traps reminded me of that MMO feeling. However, I prefer to play games that have finite endings, so already Orcs Must Die! featured something to please me that MMOs cannot offer.

Playing as an nameless main character who is rather brawny and looks a bit like a Dreamworks hero, I started on a dungeon-like map called The Hallway that was fairly simple. My job was to protect the Rift, a glowing source of power at the end of my map, from the oncoming waves of orcs. In my arsenal in this early level of the game, I had at my disposal several traps such as spikes I could lay on the floor and walls and a bog-like muck which causes slowdown. I also had a sword in hand, so for any orcs that managed to somehow make it past the traps I laid, I was able to go in and stop them with a few slashes. Take that, beasts!

The average brand of orc was slow, so they were really better to practice against in the early level I played -- I wouldn't call them a challenge. These early orcs are best for when you are trying to get a handle on how to use the traps you have and figure out what works best. 

Speaking of traps, there are going to be quite a few of them (and best of all, they can't hurt you -- I guess they only have it out for orcs). Robot has not confirmed a specific number, but in addition to the spikes and bog-muck, I also got to play with larger scale traps such as a swinging mace, which you can mount from the ceiling, and a spiked rolling log you can send down a flight of stairs. Pots of boiling acid were also mentioned, but we did not see them in the levels we played. I have to admit that there is something really absurdly rewarding about sending a pack of orcs flying with a spring trap and watching them drown in a nearby lava pit. I also like that your character makes smartass remarks as he sends the denizens of the underworld flying to meet their doom.

In the second level we got hands on time with, the Sorcerer's Tower, things got complex and we got a peek at the possibilities of the game in its middle stages. This level had a door at the bottom, with the aforementioned lava pit off to one side. The path the orcs can take spirals up the tower, with plenty of environmental goodies you can use (there's even a big gun on the highest level.) This level also introduces several new types of orcs (Robot tells us there will be eight types in total.) Some heavies ambled in, which I expected, but most annoying were some smaller, faster guys who make a kind of shrieking noise as they roll past. It's a shame you can't step on them.

This level also taught me that certain types of attacks with my melee bow were more useful than others. A headshot took an orc down faster, for instance, than body shots, and appeared to generate more total points for my score. I also had gained a new spell (fireballs!), and Orcs also dropped resources such as health and loot.

It was easy for me to see how the game could grow challenging as it progresses, as you only have ten slots for traps and your melee weapons combined. Once you have more than ten traps at your disposal, you're going to have choose which ones you want to take into each level, so there will be some trial and error involved there. You can also call for help and have an archer come in and shoot orcs in the face alongside you. Nothing like some teamwork to make a killing spree worthwhile!

Orcs Must Die! is still in development, so although it will be shown off at this year's PAX East, there are still many more developments in store. Robot tells us that DLC is definitely possible and that a Mac release has not yet been decided on, so if you want those things, be sure to give them your feedback if you play the game at PAX. I'm looking forward to more delicious orc slaughtering when this one hits later this year.

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Colette Bennett,
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