The Tower Defense genre is getting a bit stale. Let's be honest, how many times can we play the same type of game, where our main objective is to lay down offensive and defensive towers in hopes of clearing any monsters that come our way? That's where Robot Entertainment's Orcs Must Die! differs. It throws out familiar tower defense mechanics in favor of a more action oriented game that still relies on strategy to keep things challenging.
You take on the role of the War Mage, a member of the Order with an extremely chiseled chin and a brawny build that looks like something out of a pixar movie. He also has extreme prejudice to Orcs, and with good reason. Orcs are big, dumb creatures that crave destruction, so it's only natural that he wants to dispose of them as inhumanely as he can. The goal is simple; stop any invading Orc from reaching the Rift at the end of each level by any means necessary.
Each stage has various layouts that will first have to be scouted out to see which traps will work best in what areas. To aid you in your strategies is a thin, blue line that shows the trail that the Orcs will take from the initial door (or multiple doors) that they bust open from, all the way to the rift. This lets you scout narrow walkways which can be utilized effectively to maximize damage, or even more open areas that your Archers can unleash their arrows at, not to mention various other level hazards that you can use to your advantage. See a chandelier hanging above the walkway? Shoot it down to squish the Orcs below it. How about a cauldron filled with acid? Shoot it over to melt your green enemies away.
Much like Plants vs. Zombies, you need to pick the traps and defenses you want to use from your Spellbook before the Orcs come barging in, meaning you can't just take them all into battle. Each Orc kill nets you points which you can then use to lay down even more traps and do some more damage.
You'll start with only a few traps in the beginning, only to keep unlocking more and more devastating traps as you go. There is an underlying strategy to laying down traps as well, such as placing a Tar trap right before a Spike trap, which will slow down Orcs, maximizing the damage once they set off the spikes. Barricades will force the horde to squeeze through narrow passages, well-placed Boom Barrels can take out a whole crowd, and Dart Walls shoot out deadly darts of death.
Traps and defenses alone won't do the job, however. Armed with various weaponry, you can get right into the action and dispose of Orcs yourself. A few well placed crossbow shots to the head will take down enemies from afar, while a slice from your trusty sword keeps the Orcs at bay when they're a little too close for comfort. A word of caution: The War Mage doesn't have the best defense, so don't expect to dive into a group of Orcs and expect to get out of it alive. These weapons should mostly be utilized to take out any stragglers. However, a quick sprint to the Rift will replenish any lost health.
The War Mage has some nifty magical items aside from his standard weaponry. These items work off the War Mage's mana bar, so constant use is impossible. However, when timed right, these items can make all the difference. The Wind Gauntlet, for instance, pushes the Orcs back or sends them flying off ledges to their doom, and the Ice Gauntlet shoots bursts of icicles that are great for slowing Orcs down or taking out pesky flying enemies in an instant.
Speaking of flying enemies, the game does throw a slew of different Orcs at you to keep things interesting and most of all challenging. You have the standard, easy-to-take-down Orcs, the archer Orcs that keep their distance and try to damage you from afar, swift little Kobolds quickly run through the level, and various flying enemies bypass most of your traps and need to be dealt with personally. To further increase the challenge, various boss Orcs make an appearance that tend to be tougher to take down as they have increased health and damage.
Each of the various traps and defenses can be upgraded using skulls that are awarded after each level depending on how you do, of which there are five skulls per level to attain. Some of the upgrades include having your Spike traps do poison damage, your Dart Wall have increased range, or defenses costing less amount of required points to purchase.
In a genre that's becoming all too crowded, Orcs Must Die! is a refreshing take on it. Its perfect blend of action and strategy make it a game that's worthy of playing over just to see how many more ways you can mangle those green beasts.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]