PAX East 2014: Orcs Must Die: Unchained is a MOBA transition done right
In the world of successful, colorful, fantasy tower defense hybrids, two games come to mind: Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die. The two games always fell into the same spot in my mind, so it’s ironic that both games drifted toward the MOBA genre in the development of their sequels. But whereas Dungeon Defenders II backed off of that concept in order to craft a stronger co-op game, Orcs Must Die: Unchained is actually going for it. This new game is very much Orcs Must Die with a MOBA twist.
The result is a massive expansion of the scope for the series. Unchained is a 5v5 multiplayer combat game where each player not only uses skills MOBA-style, but can also lay down traps just like previous Orcs Must Die games.
Maps are split up into offensive and defensive lanes. In the demo I played our team had to deal with two lanes of our opponent’s creeps while pushing our own creeps down the other two lanes. Doing things like killing your opponents or creating skillful trap combos to defeat their creeps will rack up points to send larger forces down your offensive lanes. The goal is to eventually get your team and creeps into the enemy stronghold.
On just that level, Orcs Must Die: Unchained is twice the game that the previous entries are. You’re more or less responsible for mastering the original defense game, while simultaneously mastering a new offensive game on the same maps with nine other players. Adding to that newfound depth is a collectible card upgrade system that allows you to develop your character.
Going even deeper, each character has their own specialties. My hero was Smolder, a fiery sorcerer who specialized in defense. Her role is to run into a crowd of creeps, ignite them, and sprint away before dealing even more damage. She isn’t a capable-enough fighter to go toe-to-toe with most offensive heroes, but she wipes the floor with creeps.
Design Director Ian Fischer guided me through the demo and explained some of the possible combinations. Players can build their characters toward producing creeps that fight better alongside their offensive teammates, building upon skills and combos for more effective teamwork. It’s all a little mind-boggling, but Fischer assured me that the team at Robot Entertainment is taking the lessons learned from other MOBAs like Dota 2 into account. The last thing they want is to alienate players, but they also want to craft something with a ton of depth.
The crazy result of all this genre-bending is that Orcs Must Die: Unchained is a more compelling product to me than any MOBA I’ve heard about thus far. The blend of roles, offense, defense, and traps bring something new, and the third-person perspective gives the game an immediate feeling that top-down MOBAs lack.
If you’re a die-hard Orcs Must Die fan and you’re not a fan of these sweeping changes, you’re not entirely out of luck. A single-player campaign isn’t out of the cards for Unchained, though the focus now is on the 5v5 gameplay. I got the impression that Robot wants Unchained to be a platform that they can build over a long time. At the same time, they specifically left room to call something Orcs Must Die 3 if the studio ever decides to go in that direction.
Speaking of other directions, I asked Fischer about a console release for Orcs Must Die: Unchained and while he couldn’t say anything concrete, it seemed like something they want to do. Controller support is something they want in the PC version, and from playing the game it seems like a good fit.
Orcs Must Die: Unchained is taking the series in a smart direction. I don’t want every game to become a MOBA overnight (and I’m glad Dungeon Defenders II backed off from the idea), but unlike something like Dead Island, the genre shift actually makes a lot of sense. I can’t wait to play it more.
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