Orcs Must Die! - complete with exclamation mark - is an upcoming strategy game developed by Robot Entertainment - a bunch of guys that used to work at Ensemble Studios (the Age of Empires guys). The team had previously worked on Age of Empires Online, before handing that project over to Gas Powered Games.
It's probably best described as a mix of Tower Defense (TD) and Third Person Action, with your War Mage character (he has no name) tasked with defending his base against a rampaging army of stupid but determined Orcs. They don't deviate from their path much but there's a lot of 'em.
We recently had a chance to play an extensive hands-on session with the game, which turned out to be a valuable experience. Based on the description alone, we might have moved along to look at something else but, having played it, we're now very excited for its early October release.
It is, it turns out, a hell of a lot of fun. The premise, as explained above, is meted out in-game in a very intuitive way. You run around, much as you would in any third-person action game, and wield a combination of magical and weapons-based attacks directly against the invading Orc army. The army attacks in waves, like in most TD games, and defeating them earns you cash which you can use to upgrade your weapons and deploy a series of traps and turrets.
You're not restricted to laying out traps between waves, like in some TD games, however the gap between each group of enemies is a good opportunity to assess the state of your defences. The orcs, while stupid, will actually attack any of the defensive groups of characters you deploy (archers, etc), so it's important keep that in mind when deploying them - another layer of the strategy on offer, which is surprisingly deep.
There's a great range of traps available too, with each having their own strengths and weaknesses which are in turn considerably affected by the way in which you deploy them. Smart use of steam traps and spring traps, for example, can net you a rapidly despatched Orc and - apparently, although we had no way to test it - a high score on the game's heavily integrated leaderboard system.
The best way to show how the game works is to leverage Robot's clever interactive YouTube demo, which lets you decide how a game level (not one we've played on) plays out. Check it out:
The game oozes quality at every level, with simple but well-executed graphics, perfectly suited musical treatments, and a gameplay and control interface that you immediately feel at home with. At no point did we feel that any of our failures was a result of a shortcoming in the game; instead, it was clear that the tools were available to us and it was our strategy that was at fault.
There's loads of options and you're not really restricted in how you approach a problem, with the third-person and strategic elements both offering strengths and weaknesses that were also affected by the player's preference of play-style. We suspect some smart combination of these will be required as you advance in level (most of our play session was in the earlier levels) but what we saw of the game suggested an impressive balancing act has been enacted by the developers.
We're extremely enthusiastic about this title, and will be pursuing a review of the title as soon as we can get our digital mitts on it. Keep an eye on the site over the coming weeks for more information, including NZ release and pricing details.
Pros: Incredibly well executed
Cons: Might scare people off