Orcs Must Die 2 suffers in some single-player levels, but co-op players may have their GOTY
Orcs Must Die 2
The first Orcs Must Die title brought cartoonish graphics and a goofy sense of humor to third-person tower defense, to great effect. Half of the game’s fun was found in learning how to mix and match the traps to create the perfect meat grinders, and you had to move your character from place to place and interact with the enemies directly to mop up what your traps might have missed.
The sequel doesn’t look, sound, or play much differently. The graphics remain bright and cheerful for a game about Orc murder, and the basic strategies remain the same. While the mechanics haven’t been adjusted in many ways, they have been expanded with more traps and a robust upgrade path for each of the many add-ons you can buy for your character. The addition of the Sorceress and co-op play add even more ripples that slide over the surface of the first game. Orcs Must Die 2 is a smart, well-designed sequel that doesn’t over reach or under deliver.
Bring a friend. Trust me
Robot Entertainment didn’t seem to add co-op to the game as much as they designed the game for co-op play. The game is accessible for a single player on the first maps, and the mine carts that zip through the level and bowl over enemies at regular intervals are a whimsical touch. However, once you reach the end of the game’s 15 levels, you’ll begin to see enemies streaming at you from multiple rifts, and in some cases on multiple levels.
The game features much larger maps this go around, with many more paths for the monsters to travel, and this can create a sense of being overwhelmed if you don’t place your traps just so. Simply running from rift to rift can take a long time, and that’s no fun when you’re watching Orcs run through the portal, decreasing your score.
These problems disappear in co-op play, when you can divide each level and defend your own choke points. The game always feels chaotic, an effective tower defense game is little more than a bloody battle to bring order to chaos, but the balance seems to favor players who jump in with a friend. While the included 15 levels more seem slight next to the original’s 24 maps, the game’s multiple difficulty levels, addition of an endless mode that continues to send wave after wave of Orcs until you succumb, and the ability to play through 10 of original maps from the first game if you own Orcs Must Die goes a long way to adding value to the $15 purchase. Besides, you need to collect skulls to unlock all that sweet loot.
There is much to buy, and enjoy
While the first game offered a decent array of basic traps, Orcs Must Die 2 increases the number of traps, weapons, items, and even character skins you can buy. You earn skulls by doing well in each mission, and then you use those skulls to unlock more traps and increase the effectiveness of the equipment you’re carrying. The War Mage has 11 possible weapons he can carry, along with 28 traps to use and upgrade. You can also equip Trinkets that feature both active and passive bonuses, and can be leveled up to be even more effective. Your progress is unique to each character, so even if you’ve unlocked damn near everything for the War Mage, you’ll need to start from scratch with the Sorceress. Her ability to charm characters into fighting for you changes things up significantly, and forces you to try new strategies. Both characters unlock the same items outside of a few unique traps and weapons, however.
If you’d like to read about the game’s upgrade system, we covered it in greater detail in our preview.
The game both invites and rewards experimentation. You can hit a single button at any time to have all your skulls refunded so you can re-spec your character and try something new. This is important, as you’ll want to bring different upgrades and weapons into each fight depending whether or not you’re playing the single- or multiplayer game.
Mastering a level by finishing without a single Orc slipping through your defenses is only step one: Can you now do it on a harder difficulty level? How long will your strategies last in Endless mode? Is there a way to set up your traps in different combinations? The replay value is high, due to the sense of accomplishment at setting up a perfect combination of traps to kill the maximum amount of Orcs in the shortest amount of time. You’re also given a score for each level, so you can compete against your friends on the Leaderboards, just in case you didn’t have enough reasons to perfect your tactics. I didn’t play the game as much as I crushed it into a fine powder and snorted it off my desk.
A few notes on this release
I had talked to the guys at Robot Entertainment about the first Orcs Must Die, and they told me that the PC version of the first game did remarkably well, while the Xbox Live version was a little bit of a disappointment; hence the PC-only release of the sequel. There is a possibility of a console version in the future, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
The launch of the sequel on Steam is also a textbook example of how to get people interested in your game. The first Orcs Must Die game was sold at a deep discount the weekend before the launch of Orcs Must Die 2, giving people an easy way to try the game to see if they like it. Not only that, but this boosts sales of the original game and allows everyone who bought the first game for a few bucks to play the 10 bonus missions in Orcs Must Die 2.
If you want to see the power of Steam, there you go. You could buy both games for $16 or so, including the expansion packs. Putting your previous game on sale before the sequel is released is an excellent way to get people excited about both games, boost sales of a product that is most likely languishing in Steam’s back catalog, and pad your own profits. I’ve heard from many people who are learning the mechanics in the first game to get ready for co-op play in the second, and that opportunity only cost a few dollars.
Orcs Must Die 2 may not be as balanced for single-player as the first game, but the rest of the expanded content makes up for the focus on two-player gaming, and the levels are still playable by yourself with some careful planning. This may be one of my favorite games of the year.