PAX East: Hands-on with Orcs Must Die

Robot Entertainment looks to liven up the tower defense genre with its frantic action-strategy title.

Orcs Must Die - Screen4

Tucked away in a corner of the PAX East exhibition hall and nestled between two other independent developer booths, Robot Entertainment had a booth showing off their latest title. Between the massive banner that hung in the entrance of the building to the strong word of mouth that seemed to be passed from attendee to attendee, there was always a crowd of at least a dozen people deep waiting to play Robot Entertainment’s upcoming tower defense title. After patiently waiting in line to play for little over half an hour, I was able to play a level of Robot Entertainment’s Orcs Must Die.

While waiting in line and curiously peering over the shoulder of the attendee playing ahead of me, one could see that Orcs Must Die had plenty of personality. Regarding graphics OMD does not compete with the huge blockbuster titles on the market, but it certainly has plenty of charm and a visually pleasing color palette. The shaders used on every surface and character in the game give it a slightly cartoonish appearance and the animations are lively and interesting. Although the design of the world and monsters in OMD stick to traditional fantasy aesthetics, the game manages to have a style of its own regardless.

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For the most part, Orcs Must Die is a standard tower defense game. Each level consists of several potential monster entrances and it is up to the player to wipe out all enemy forces before they can successfully cross the map. In order to achieve this goal, the player controls a hero who must lay down traps in the enemy’s path with which to dispatch them. A variety of different trap types can be selected ranging from spike traps that impale the orc invaders to spring traps that fling unsuspecting foes into bottomless pits. By eliminating enemy forces, the player accrues money with which to buy additional traps.

Although this premise isn’t radically different from any common tower defense game, Robot Entertainment has changed the formula a bit by having the player in control of a hero on the battlefield at all times. While tower defense games are usually played from a top-down perspective, the camera is always locked in third-person view behind the hero. In addition to the traps that can be laid down, players can also engage enemies with a variety of arms ranging from sword to crossbow or even a physics-based wind attack. However, like in Popcap Games’ ever-popular Plants Vs Zombies, the number of personal accoutrement and traps is limited to a handful of available slots before the start of the mission. Certain level layouts are better suited to particular trap types and a lot of the strategy in OMD comes from choosing the right tool for the job.

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Another aspect of Orcs Must Die that sets it apart from most tower defense titles is the pure frantic nature of combat itself. While most of the tower defense genre games are usually fairly laid back, OMD requires the player to be constantly aware of his surroundings at all times. Since the camera isn’t locked to a bird’s eye view of the battlefield, it can be incredibly easy to loose track of certain enemies or to find oneself letting flying enemies giving them the slip. Although there is the always handy mini-map on screen, there are always so many orcs and enemy monsters pouring into the level at any time that things constantly feel chaotic. Fortunately, Robot Entertainment has included a heatmap feature which allows players to see a breakdown of where traps are being useful or ineffective at all times. In addition to dispatching enemies in direct combat, it is up to players to always be aware of which traps should be sold or repositioned and that heatmap can be an invaluable tool to that end.

While the PAX East demo of Orcs Must Die took place on a single castle corridor, there will be over twenty levels in the final version of the game. According to the developer, OMD will be solely a single-player affair and multiple difficulty levels or extra modes should make the retail release a good value. Robot Entertainment is developing the game for PC and simultaneously for console as well. Gamers looking forward to laying down traps and facing down the enemy horde can expect OMD to have a Summer release.

Jason Wersits
Jason Wersits
Jason Wersits

MASH Veteran

Jason Wersits is a Senior Editor for Mash Those Buttons. A lifetime resident of New Jersey and a diehard Starcraft fan, Jason spends the bulk of his time on the site working with the review staff to cover the games you care oh so much about.

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