Orcs Must Die 2 preview: co-op, weapon and trap customization, and Orcs. Lots and lots of Orcs
Orcs Must Die was a pleasant change of pace from standard tower defense games. You played as a sarcastic mage who kept Orcs from overrunning fortresses by both laying down traps and using his own hand to hand and ranged weapons to fight off the hordes of enemies. It was enjoyable, but it was also lonely: Orcs Must Die was a game that cried out for co-op play, which is exactly the main draw of the upcoming $15 sequel. The game doesn’t just allow you to bring a friend into the fight, it introduces an original character who has less health, but more mana. The Sorceress begins the game with a scepter that allows for ranged attacks that can either be fired rapidly or charged for a more powerful attack, and the weapon also provides a secondary attack that charms enemies into fighting each other. Charming the largest enemy on the map and having him fight for you for a limited time is an effective way to turn the tide of battle. So what has changed since the first game outside of the addition of co-op play? Here are some thoughts after playing the first few levels with a friend and experimenting with the enhanced upgrade system.
Co-op is the way to play
You play as either the War Mage or Sorceress, and each character requires different strategies to use well; bringing both into battle and learning how to work together against the stream of enemies is half the fun. You’ll want to use voice chat when you play, as there is little time to stop and type a message to your partner as you’re being overrun by the armies of monsters that flood out of each rift. The strategies differ when you play each character individually, but they lock together as a team. The Sorceress needs to learn which enemies are the best to charm, and the War Mage needs to remember not to target the enemies that have the hearts floating about their heads. You become a whirring ball of destruction on the field once these strategies begin to click. The two characters complement each other well, and with the proper planning they can play to their respective strengths and weaknesses.This is where Orcs Must Die 2 differs from other games in this genre, although as I've said before it’s not exactly a tower defense game. Players have the ability to upgrade their turrets in games like Fieldrunners while interacting with the game world as an invisible General looking down on the battlefield and planning defensive strategy, but in the Orcs Must Die series you control your character directly in the third-person view, and have to physically move around each level to place traps. Not one does this give you a more immediate perspective on the battle, your traps will only do so much; you must directly attack the enemies with your melee or ranged weapons to come out ahead. Some levels feature warp gates that allow you to move around the large areas quickly, and using these effectively can be tricky. You're not looking down on a war from a distance, you're in the thick of things, swinging a sword or firing a weapon. This was thrilling in the first game, although the story was told in a light-hearted manner, but now you can rush to your partner's aid with a well-timed attack or special ability. You're not just trying to keep the running hordes of Orcs from getting to their goal, you're trying to keep each other alive in order to score the maximum amount of skulls for more upgrades.
The breadth of content is a good thing
While the first Orcs Must Die featured six weapons and 17 traps, the sequel brings “over” 50 traps, weapons and the newly introduced trinkets that give you both passive and active bonuses. While I haven’t had time to try even a good minority of these new items in the game, the amount of content is heartening. You can also use the skulls you earn by playing well to upgrade each weapon, trinket, trap, or guardian in a number of different ways, allowing you create what amounts to a custom loadout for certain situations. You must make many decisions about which items to buy and upgrade, but then also decide which of these things you should bring with you into each level. The upgrade system is deeper than it looks, and offers much more replay value than the first game. If you look at the original Spike Trap, which is one of the most basic traps that sends spikes up from the ground into the bad guys, you could only upgrade it once by spending 8 skulls to turn it into a “poisoned” spike trap. In the second game you can upgrade the basic trap up to three times, and add one unique modifier that either slows damaged enemies or cause them to bleed and take additional damage. The Arrow Wall is a trap that attaches to the walls of dungeons and automatically attacks passing enemies. The trap can now be upgraded up to three times, and you can add one of two modifiers that can set enemies on fire or “chill” enemies to slow their movement. A third upgrade allows you to place Arrow Walls on the ceiling. Each trap and weapon can be upgraded in similar ways, giving your arsenal a much larger sense of personalization than the first game. What traps you bring, what weapon you equip, and how you’ve chosen to level them up with your skulls can make your rounds vary wildly, and it’s fun to go into the spellbook with your co-op partner and talk about how you’re spending your skulls and how your respective upgrades will work well together. It’s all easy to use and fun to play with, but the strategy seems deep. When you play solo you have to create a sort of jack of all trades character, but you can develop each character to work as part of a team, and upgrade different traps and attacks to work together if you bring a friend. I've only had a chance to play a few missions and begin to dip my toe into the customization and upgrade system, but so far the game has been a welcome improvement over the first title. Co-op adds life to the game, and the asymmetrical powers of the two characters and the deepened weapon and trap system rewards experimentation. Look for a full review early next week, and you can pre-order the game on Steam right now for a 10 percent savings. If you pick up a two-pack so you can play co-op with a friend, you'll only pay $11 per person. I'm not going to take full responsibility for your purchasing decision until I've had more time to dig in, but I'd say your odds of enjoying the game are pretty good.