Orcs Must Die! Preview (PC)

The folks at Robot Entertainment, made up chiefly of ex-Ensemble Studios personnel, have known only one IP for the last 15 years: Age of Empires. They've eaten, drank and slept Age of Empires for years. They've gotten to work on Halo Wars, but it was someone else's IP. When they founded Robot Entertainment, their first project was Age of Empires Online.

So, you might imagine, they had a great deal of fun and catharsis when they developed the first original IP for Robot Entertainment: Orcs Must Die!, which not only is not even remotely related to Age of Empires - or Halo, for that matter - but isn't even a real-time strategy game. Rather, it's a fantasy-based third-person shooter and tower defense game in which you control a "War Mage" hero who is protecting a castle from a massive horde of orcs and other humanoid beasts who aim to jump into a glowing portal representing the heart of the fortress. If a certain number hop in, you lose.

The gameplay is fun and addictive. You are given a piece of cash to spend on setting up unique traps along a pathway. Traps include spikes jutting from the ground, a ceiling wrecking ball that swings back and forth, tar pits, and so forth. You can also summon allies like elven archers who will fire arrows automatically at passing enemies. The game is completely physics based, so a trap that catapults enemies can be arranged so that the orcs can be flung onto other traps, or into molten lava should the opportunity present itself. There are also one-shot environmental traps as well, such as chandeliers that can be shot down to topple onto unsuspecting enemies, or a giant spiked log that will roll down stairs, killing all in its path.

Spikes are one of the common and cheapest traps you can lay down.

Unlike many tower defense games, you are physically in the level yourself, and can attack orcs who manage to avoid traps with ranged attacks like a crossbow, a sword for up close-and-personal engagement, as well as offensive spells. Of course, they'll attack you as well, and if you run out of health, the number of orcs who can hop into the portal decreases. You earn gold for kills - and the more elaborate the kill, the bigger the gold reward. You can set traps on the fly during a heated battle, and ever so often, the game will pause, allowing you to set new traps at your leisure before letting the horde bust in with a new wave.

Naturally, there are a variety of beasts aside from orcs. Ogres, for instance, can take a pounding, shrugging off damage from traps and are immune to catapults. Small racing kobold-like creatures can dash past some traps before they can activate or reset. There are enemy archers who prevent the player from standing in plain sight and firing or slaying orcs. Every problem creature has a solution or a series of solutions that must be solved.

The game's best asset, though, is its sense of humor. These are cartoon orcs, and when they're killed, they explode into bloody, meaty giblets. The War Mage will make snarky commentary as he attacks and sets off traps. The game is intended to be light fantasy, and the non-seriousness makes the game more fun and allows it to go even further over the top in its cartoon gore.

This vantage point is a safe place to pick off orcs with summoned elven archers.

The game's campaign features over 20 fortresses to defend. As the player progresses, they earn more and more traps and personal offensive abilities such as learning spells and getting new weapons. The game is designed much like Plants Vs. Zombies in one aspect: you'll have more traps to choose from than slots available, so it's up to you to decide which traps to use in a specific level, adding another level of strategy.

After played three levels (a tutorial level, an early level and a mid-game level), the addictive quality was evident. There was a myriad of experimentation to get the best score for each level. There's something satisfying about building the perfect trap-laden path that weeds out almost all the enemies.

Orcs Must Die! has been worked on for the past six months, and represents a new philosophy from the ex-Ensemble developers. Why work three years making a single game, when you can work less than a year on a smaller scaled game, allowing the company to diversify its output while using less resources for each game. A third person shooter/tower defense game this time, a completely different genre the next time. Another level of flexibility is that Robot can develop a game without a publisher, using its own funds, and sell the distribution rights to whatever publisher pays the highest bid. Overall, the goal of Robot Entertainment is to have an autonomous company beholden to no one, and create the games they wish to make.

Note the taskbar showing three weapon types and six trap types.

Orcs Must Die! will be a digital download game for PC and next-gen consoles like Xbox Live Arcade. No price has been set, and when queried about downloadable content - which the game is supremely suited for - the devs stated that they will definitely support the game with regular DLC.

Keep an eye out for Orcs Must Die! It looks like a real winner.


By Kres (SI Elite) on Feb 25, 2011
Wow hehe that sure sounds like fun! And I don't mean the spam post above (please ignore the spam as we're leaving it live for now so our devs can rechew the bot assasin setup and adjust for this new wave of spams)
By JonahFalcon (SI Elite) on Feb 25, 2011
Don't worry, I wiped the spam out.
By fltatk (SI Veteran Member) on Feb 25, 2011
looks fun