While my initial introduction to Robot Entertainment was the delightfully addictive mobile (and soon to be Steam) title Hero Academy, it wasn’t until I went to visit the developer’s booth at PAX East that I found out what I had been missing. As I sat there with a colleague, speaking with effusive and energetic designer Jerome Jones about Orcs Must Die 2, I could feel the color in my cheeks growing. How could I not have played Orcs Must Die?
Of course, as soon as I got home, I ran to my computer to purchase the game… only to find out that I already owned it. That’s what happens when you’ve got a credit card, a Steam sale and no self-control. I knew the title was a twist on tower defense, putting players in the shoes of a cocky hero with a couple of cool weapons for putting holes in orcs. The third-person view and intimate involvement in how each level plays out definitely separate it from the flood of titles clogging up my iPad, but something still wasn’t quite right.
The physics were a little off, enemy types were limited and every time I shouted, “did you see that?!” no one answered. Then I remembered our chat with Jerome and smiled. Those things are better—oh, so much better–the second time out. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Orcs Must Die 2 is cut from the same cloth of the multitude of tower defense games on the market. When it arrived at that first design for in the road, it clapped it’s compatriots on the shoulder with a big grin and chuckled, “see ya!” The third-person view and fluid movement set the game apart from others of its ilk. The traps aren’t large structures dispensing justice from above. Rather, they are an assortment of spike traps, sludge pits, acid sprayers and comical springs that skewer, hinder, melt and fling the oncoming horde into oblivion.
While there are significant deviations from the genre tropes, anyone who has ever played a game of this type will find familiar elements. Enemies move from their point of origin while players work to prevent the baddies from escaping through the gates at the far side, but Robot Entertainment has made the player a combatant rather than a god-like deity planting and upgrading structures. Should they make their way through, your limited supply of what I like to call “oops points” (so named because “oops” is the safest thing I can say within earshot of my children when this happens) is depleted. There are planning phases and battle phases, but in Orcs Must Die 2, there are a couple of ”Go Breaks” sprinkled into each level. Each orc killed and wave defeated earns more points that can be spent on traps and, later, allies.
You can still throw down new traps during the heat of battle, but it’s a tricky proposition, especially if there are tiny, fast-moving kobolds in the wave. Those little buggers have a knack for avoiding traps, requiring a more personal touch. In addition to those purple menaces, you’ll encounter orcs (shocking, I know) in light, medium and heavy flavors (worst Bertie Botts beans ever). There are also trolls that will stun you with their clubs, crossbow wielding orcs, Earth Elementals that split into smaller versions of themselves when defeated and more. The enemy variety has definitely seen a vast improvement from the series’ initial outing.
Laying traps is even more fulfilling than ever given how much of a tune-up the physics have received. In Orcs Must Die, falling (or fallen) foes might not trigger a floor trap or even get injured if another enemy set it off. It was a bit frustrating and led to some head-scratching moments. That issue is almost entirely resolved. Jerome described to us a setting in which one member of the sequel’s team set up a series of spring traps that bounced one orc back and forth down a long corridor. That would never have been possible in the first title. In my experience, that isn’t terribly easy to accomplish in game, but using an arrow wall trap to push an orc through a series of spikes and, finally, onto a spring trap seemed to work just fine.
Of course, none of that has a significant impact without the most important advancement present in Orcs Must Die 2: online cooperative play. Make no mistake this is the best way to experience the game. Whether you choose to play as the returning, brash War Mage or the haughty Sorceress, having a friend by your side makes things more enjoyable. You’ll need to choose which character to focus on each time you play, though.
The War Mage and Sorceress have unique traps and distinct play styles to explore. The War Mage starts out with a blunderbuss that also shoots grenades to knock down and damage a large group. The Sorceress shoots bolts that do less damage than the War Mage’s default shot, but she can also charm foes. When bewitched enemies die, they explode and stun those around them. While the two share many of the traps, each has access to a few unique devices. I’m partial to the Sorceress’ ice traps, which freeze enemies in place and the acid sprayers that melt orcs into a thick green paste.
The War Mage has tar traps and arrow traps that are a bit more mundane, but still get the job done. Each weapon, trap and magical trinket can be upgraded to enhance damage or provide other beneficial effects like damage over time or a temporary slowdown. Each of the items you can equipped has a passive effect, but can be cycled on for a more powerful bonus.