E3 2012: Of Orcs and Men preview

Oftentimes, in role-playing games, the lead character is a typical male human off on an adventure to save the world/planet/galaxy. You may have some alien sidekicks, but for the most part you play as this human character.

So you can imagine my excitement when Cyanide Studios showed me Of Orcs and Men, an upcoming fantasy RPG that allows you to play as not one, but two fantasy creatures whose stories often remain unexplored in fantasy RPGs. Think of the last fantasy themed RPG you played; you likely encountered some orcs or goblins which you were tasked to kill for no apparent reason.

Of Orcs and Men plays off of this typical gameplay, but turns it upside down and puts you in control of two non-human characters – an Orc named Arkill and a goblin named Styx – who are off on a mission to assassinate the human emperor who waged war against their race. It may not be the most original story concept, man vs orc, but the different viewpoint could offer a different take.

Playing as an orc or goblin isn't the big catch here, at least for me it wasn't. What really helped Of Orcs and Men stand out was it's combat system which has you control both characters in tandem. In combat you can switch between Arkill, the incredibly strong orc who relies on heavy melee attacks, and Styx, the goblin trickster who relies on sneaking, stealth and ranged attacks.

The trick to the combat is to constantly switch between the characters and assign combat actions to them so that you aren't stuck with a useless AI partner that serves as nothing more than a punching bag. In combat you can slow down time to select these actions for your partner to perform and then switch to the opposite one that you want to control.  Although it sounds like a difficult slow process to slow time, controlling two characters actually creates a fast-paced feel. It's a little difficult to master at first, but once you get the hang of it the game provides rewarding gameplay experience.

The key to successful combat in Of Orcs in Men is how you initiate. The game allows you to plan your actions before performing them creating a multitude of ways to play; so for instance, you can control the goblin and sneak up on unsuspecting guards to take them out one by one or you can simply run in there with Arkill and pulverize them. Each tactic is feasible depending on how well you can assign actions.

It's hard to comment on story based on a 15-minute demo, but we were told that it will include a branching path with a variety of choices that ultimately lead to the same conclusion.  Styx will grant you the more conniving, lying route while Arkill is provides a more blunt, straightforward approach to conversations. Like I said, they will ultimately lead to the same ending for the main story.

The PC demo featured impressive graphics that created a dark fantasy world. There were some animation hiccups that you'd expect in an early build of a game, but other than that the game looked and ran surprisingly smooth for a game still in development.

Of Orcs and Men provides a unique twist on what some would consider a stale genre. You wouldn't think Orcs vs Men would be an interesting concept, but providing a unique aspect with exciting gameplay creates a solid game that RPG fans should keep their eye on. Of Orcs and Men is set to release on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC this fall.