Friday, October 25, 2013

The Friday Review: Orcs Must Die 2

Sequels are a mixed bag. Sometimes the games improve over time, either incrementally or fundamentally. Other times, not so much. Thankfully, I can say the Orcs Must Die 2 has taken everyone’s favorite Orcish genocide-machine building game and kicked almost every dial and widget up to 11.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the franchise, Orcs Must Die places players in the role of a War Mage. The last War Mage, to be precise. The order that protects our world from the blasted and overrun world of monstrous Orcs and Trolls, defending the rifts between worlds and safeguarding the magic crucial to the “happily ever after” kingdom beyond the fortress walls, has fallen on hard times. In fact, after the last game, the order was defunct. Magic had ceased after the player closed the portals and cut the worlds apart, stranding the evil enchantress (who may have done evil dances) with her newly freed subjects and no powers.

But neatly wrapped up endings are boring, so Orcs Must Die 2 brings it all back and makes it co-op. The enchantress is back! But not as a villain. Instead, she and the protagonist of the original must team up and defend the newly-formed rifts from an even greater Orcish terror. The War Mage character plays on the worst football jock dude-bro stereotypes for plenty of laughs, complete with end-zone dances at the completion of each level. The Enchantress, meanwhile, is made out to be a morally unhinged cougar. The two characters play off each other well, and the dialogue continues to be vapid and humorous. They also play well stylistically. The War Mage brings a heavier array of traps and explodey weapons and boasts a beefy health bar to offset his terrible magic skills, while the Enchantress is equipped with a wide array of tricky spells and neat gizmos that help her control the flow of battle with a large mana pool. When played with a friend, their variable strengths mesh to create the ultimate greenskin-mulching sociopathic buddy-game duo!

In my campaign of comical mass-bloodshed, I played as the War Mage to my wife’s Enchantress. We both quickly developed a stable set of tools we defaulted to, choosing an array of traps, minions, trinkets, spells, and weapons that worked best for us. The sequel’s new skull system allowed us to specialize fairly early with our favorites. In addition to upgrading the base stats of each entry, we were able to choose specializations that complemented the devious combos we favored. My wife, for instance, took an upgrade to the ceiling dart trap that sometimes charmed enemies while I grabbed an addition to the void wall that kept us swimming in potions and coins. She primarily wielded the Stone Staff, while I felt naked without my crossbow. I felt like there were enough options to make dozens of different combos work. I personally favor two rows of tar traps backed by two rows of floor scorchers repeated down long corridors, but some call me unimaginative.

There is literally more of everything in Orcs Must Die 2. More monsters, more traps, more upgrades, more outfits, more levels, more, more, more! And yet, none of it ever felt tacked on. While there are a couple of traps or items I would never use, I am sure there are other War Mages out there that balk at my preferred load-out.  Some might prefer sprawling death-mazes where I favor compact kill-boxes. Either way, every player should find a method for brutally dismembering Orcs that satisfies without feeling compelled to take certain options.

It is hard for me to say enough good about Orcs Must Die 2. I find every element of the game satisfying. I like the graphical stylings, the exaggerated animations, the satisfying squelch of exploding kobolds, the arcade satisfaction of the combo and killing spree pop-ups, the tight control, the flow of money and progression of upgrades, everything. I am compelled to continue playing, to achieve just one more ludicrous victory dance. I am hooked. And yet, the game does have flaws. The number of skulls you can sink into each individual trap makes me wary to try a new style. I default to my proven strategy and avoid going too far out of the box. The upgrade system can be reset at any time, but spending all of my skulls again is too tedious for me to regularly shake up my style. When played solo it becomes obvious that the game was designed for two, not one. There are levels that are easily bested in co-op but require so much frantic bouncing around in solo play that I felt like I was being actively punished for trying a level before bringing my wife along.

Still, those are minor quibbles. If you are the sort of gamer who can get silly, who wants to inflict every conceivable form of death on an endless tide of humanoid grunts, please get this game. But get it with a friend. You can play alone, but it is really a two-player game. It is easily among my favorite games of the last few years, and I am sure it will be an enduring classic in my library. You will not be disappointed.

As a final addendum, I find the cartoony violence to be appropriate for my young sons. Your mileage may vary, but my two small children find the game uproariously hilarious, and insist on sitting in our laps while we mow down baddies. Watching mommy and daddy play “Morcus Die” is among their favorite things to do. That is quality family entertainment, right there!

1 comment:

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