It’s not uncommon to have to double back in tower defense games where upgrades carry across levels. The first time through, you might eek by, earning only a couple of the possible five skulls. However, once investing those (and others awarded as bonuses), you can return later to improve your performance. This worked relatively well for the first six or seven of the 15 levels on the game’s default difficulty (War Mage). At that point, the difficulty spiked and I was left with no choice but to either drop down to Easy or play co-op. It was disappointing because I was moving along reasonably well, and I’m a stubborn gamer. I hate having to admit defeat.

I was able to go back later, with new and upgraded equipment, and redeem my honor. I would prefer some greater guidance, or even knowing that the developers intended players to have to play through easier challenges before tackling even the default difficulty.Depending on your mindset, this will either be a joy or a frustration. If the latter, I can only recommend that you swallow your pride. You’ll be able to cough it back up later, wipe it off and no one will be any the wiser. Don’t be afraid to experiment and respec your upgrades and purchases. If you are having trouble with a level, refund all of your skulls, reinvest and give it another go. You can do this as many times as you’d like, so there is no reason to be shy about it.

That is a healthy looking spell book.

The story mode isn’t where the game ends for devout orc-slayers. In addition to the Nightmare difficulty, each level is playable using the Endless setting. This offers a new set of skulls for each, with the maximum awarded only after reaching wave 40. This is no mean feat since the game weens you off Go Breaks, forcing you to adapt and build on the fly later on. For those that own the original title, you’ll also be treated to ten classic levels that can be played cooperatively. You’ll get the improved physics, Sorceress and fancy new traps while nostalgically upping your kill count.

The game’s presentation is top notch. Robot Entertainment has a knack for successfully blending a light, cartoony aesthetic with acid-melted flesh and exploded carcasses. The orcs are brutish, but not terrifyingly so. The Bilebats are bloated and disgusting, but they won’t give your children nightmares (I have scientific proof). The War Mage and Sorceress bear exaggerated archetypical designs and personalities, but manage to charm despite being brash and standoffish. If I had one complaint about the visuals is that the Guardians (the allies that you can summon like traps to assist) are bland. The dwarves and elves look like you would expect them to, but don’t share any of the quirky allure of the main characters. It feels like a missed opportunity.

His name is Mr. Moneybags. He is hard to kill... but worth murdering.

The sound is enchanting, with music ramping up as orcs break through the rifts, clever one liners and barbs passed between the protagonists and the return of the ridiculous dancing at the end of the levels. Given the perspective of the game, it’s impossible to see the whole field at once (despite having a handy mini-map that points out enemies and health/energy pickups). The voiceover does a great job of keeping players apprised of the situation. I found this exceedingly helpful when flying enemies were in the mix, as I frequently neglected to look up.

Orcs Must Die 2 is the tower defense game for people who either dislike or have grown tired of the genre. Watching the traps annihilate your enemies as you stand just a bit away laughing at them doesn’t cease to entertain (especially when they also get mowed down by a runaway mine cart). The frustration when you can’t seem to crack a difficult level is maddening, though. It’s something that is endemic of the genre, but because Robot Entertainment has done so much to differentiate its games from others, it’s a shame that this is one of the holdovers.  If you liked the first game in the series, this is easy to recommend. If you haven’t, start here. The sequel is so vastly improved (and the story practically nonexistent) that you won’t suffer from playing this first.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Fantastic aesthetic with great character and enemy design
+ Physics improvements make for some enjoyable trap interactions not possible in the first game
+ Co-op makes the experience so much more enjoyable
+ Two characters to upgrade independently
+ Active role in the game makes a huge difference compared to other tower defense titles
- Some frustrating difficulty spikes
- Retains trial and error approach of the genre

- Support characters are bland

8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.

Orcs Must Die 2 was developed and published by Robot Entertainment. The game was released on July 30, 2012 at the MSRP of $15. A copy was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.