The original Orcs Must Die!, released only last year, was a game that perpetually fell short of greatness. It was tons of fun, challenging at every well-designed level, funny in a Disney sort of way, and the combination of tower defence and third person shooter went together like indie developers and Kickstarter. It had a few things missing that stopped it from becoming a runaway hit, and Orcs Must Die! 2 is a concerted effort to address those flaws. But with only a year’s turnaround, is this game really going to be the hit it could be?
If you’re new to the series so far, here’s what you need to know. You play as a War Mage or the newly added Sorceress, who both specialize in different methods of Orc slaughter. The War Mage is geared towards spike pits and Indiana Jones-style arrow walls, whilst his feminine counterpart prefers acid traps and freezing tiles paired with the power to charm Orcs into her service. At the beginning of a level you’re given as long as you need to scout the area on foot, discovering weaknesses you might need to barricade, or choke points where you’ll be able to bottleneck Orcs into killing boxes and rack up huge combos in the process. Usually, you get a couple of breaks like this in the longer levels, but for the most part, you’re given a few precious moments to sell and redeploy traps as you see fit. You can add new traps whenever you have the money, but you can only sell them during the breaks between waves, so if you misplace something, you just have to live with it and hang in there. Thankfully, both characters thrive on adaptability, so even if you mess up, all is not lost.
If you’re thinking it sounds identical to the original, then you’re right. There are some random environmental hazards scattered throughout levels making life more difficult for the greenskins, but it’s still not enough to substantially separate it. It feels more like an expansion than a sequel, mainly because most of the effects, the War Mage’s arrogant quipping, and in-game music are still exactly the same. Once you finish Act 1, even the maps all start to look like they’re on loan from the first game. Thankfully the Orcs themselves have received a big overhaul, looking feral and tribal as opposed to the LOTR-esque armour you mulched your way through before, and there’s a huge new injection of enemy types which is probably one of the biggest reasons it distinguishes itself from its predecessor. Some are just reskinned variants of previous enemies but others are totally new, like the colossal Earth Lord who breaks into smaller, faster enemies the more damage he takes, and the regenerating, Warcraft inspired Troll who can soak up all of your traps with ease and allow hordes of Orcs or Kobolds to run straight through them. The game seems madly intent on random acts of chaos throughout, ensuring that no two levels will ever be the same.
The other big change is of course the addition of multiplayer, which is a bit of a no-brainer. The original game screamed out for it, and the new Sorceress character is just different enough in her traps and abilities to make her worth playing, even in the single player campaign. The two characters obviously work together perfectly, with the Sorceress clearly designed with the War Mage’s weaknesses in mind, and her ability to sow dissent in the ranks of the horde by controlling and confusing approaching Orcs gives the War Mage’s murder – based traps time to reset after giving a particularly troublesome ogre a razor enema. When it works, the co-op is fantastic, but it creates another problem that can be frustrating, and at times, ruin the game entirely.
Because the story mode is ten levels smaller than the original, weighing in at a limited fifteen maps, about 90% of these levels seem to be designed with multiplayer exclusively in mind, and it puts a huge cramp on your freedom of choice when it comes to tactics. As the game progresses, maximising your cash/traps becomes all the more difficult and important simultaneously and without having another player handy to tackle the map with you it just becomes overwhelming rather than challenging. It’s not so much to do with the difficulty itself but the layout of the fortresses you’ll be defending, they often have three different streams of enemies running towards three different Rifts, and without some seriously fast on your feet trap redeployment in the short breaks between waves, it stops being fun and just becomes mindlessly overwhelming. The game’s greatest strengths can become just plain annoying flaws on the flip of a coin, but the truth is you’ll probably have enough fun during the good times to make the odd map that’s not quite optimised for single player here and there irrelevant.
Perhaps in spite of the rollercoaster difficulty level, it’s easily one of the most playable games of the year. Replaying earlier levels to collect extra skulls for those all important trap upgrades never becomes tiresome because there’s countless different approaches to each one. The upgrade system in general is a titanic improvement over the tough-luck of the original, instead of one upgrade for each trap, there are now a plethora of different trees within them to expand, allowing you to truly customise your arsenal and have a hell of a lot of fun along the way. The best way to improve your array of traps and learn the monster-slaying ropes is easily the brand new ‘Endless Mode’, which pits you up against a never-ending series of waves to tackle.
It’s easy to spend hours on this alone, because it gives your traps the chance to stack up like they never would in the core game. Walls and corridors will be packed completely with arrows, spike pits, turrets, lava, swinging maces, and even wall-mounted black holes until you genuinely begin to wonder how anything is making it through towards the objective in one piece, let alone still willing to brave the gauntlet. It’s difficult not to get some twisted form of pleasure out of seeing your contraptions burn, impale, and shoot the horde before a hidden spring trap you’d packed somewhere just flings the load of them back to the very beginning.
In the end, the game is still very much the same. All of the new content contributes towards a much more complete one, but the same game regardless. If you loved Orcs Must Die, the sequel builds on what you loved in the first place, but if you weren’t completely sold, it’s not about to change your mind. It still has bucketloads of potential left to explore, a quirky cartoon world to expand upon, and characters to develop past ‘Arrogant Jackass’, ‘Slightly Evil But Sexy Love Interest’, and ‘Sarcastic Gandalf’. The multiplayer, Endless Mode, and new maps are definitely welcome, but all they ultimately achieve is making Orcs Must Die! 2 seem more like Orcs Must Die! 1.5.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.