Review: Orcs Must Die! (XBLA)

Review: Orcs Must Die! (XBLA)

There are fantasy worlds in which orcs are noble creatures. Valiant, peaceful, and in harmony with nature, these orcs are worthy of respect and admiration. While I do appreciate the effort that has gone in to bringing a modicum of civility and gentility to a stereotypically barbarous and bloodthirsty race, my orcs of choice have always been, and always will be, Tolkien orcs. Orcs Must Die!, as you may be able to extrapolate from the name, pits you against the best of orcs, Tolkien orcs. They’re vile, bloodthirsty, and overwhelmingly numerous…and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Orcs Must Die! puts you in the brash, arrogant, and supposedly incompetent boots of the last of the Warmages. The Warmages were powerful warriors charged with the task of guarding Rifts, magical portals that lead to the human world, from the rampaging orc hordes. The best and brightest of the Warmages have been defeated, leaving the fate of their wards in your hands as you travel from fortress to fortress to repel the oncoming waves of orc masses.

The game looks good. It looks like an XBLA game, but that is becoming more and more of a compliment with each visually wonderful XBLA game that comes out. Orcs Must Die! has more of a cartoony, almost Torchlight inspired design in certain places than something like From Dust, but within its own visual category, it is highly successful and polished. The animations are incredibly smooth. Be it a flying imp dive-bombing your rift, a wall trap pushing a kobold into a giant pit of acid, a spring trap launching an orc archer (with arms and legs flailing as you would expect) through the air, or the death throes of an orc on fire, the animations are never clunky, and always fit within the physics of the game world. The sound…ah, the sound. The first time I turned on Orcs Must Die! and reached the title screen, I sat for a few minutes and just listened to the title music before turning to my wife and commenting, “It’s like Lord of the Rings meets Danny Elfman. It’s Oingo Gloingo.” The trend continues throughout the rest of the game. Listening to this all day would make work a lot more fun.

Being able to set spring traps for my co-workers whenever they try to enter my office would make work even more fun, but I don’t suppose there’s anything Robot Entertainment can do about that…right?

If you’ve been keeping up with our coverage, you’ll know how Orcs Must Die! plays. Everyone loves tower defense games, obviously, since the market is absolutely inundated with them. I used to enjoy this fantastic web-based tower defense game, the name of which I can no longer recall, back in the early days of Miniclip and other such sites. The problem with them was that I eventually got bored with the lack of interaction, which has remained my problem with every tower defense game I’ve touched since the early days of this millennium. There was never any way of supporting your tower defense if it was insufficient, and it ended up being too much sitting, not enough doing. Orcs Must Die! has deftly solved that flaw in the tower defense mechanic by including a third-person action mechanic to let you get up close and personal with those damn dirty orcs. Both mechanics, tower defense and action, are very well implemented, and very full-featured.

As with most tower defense games, there is a need for strategy. With Orcs Must Die!’s wonderful (and at times, damnable) level design increasing the challenge as you progress, you need to use your limited funds and limited trap slots to take advantage of your environment. Is there a giant pit of acid in the middle of a split walkway? Place wall push traps on the outer walls to simply shove orcs into the acid pit for instant deaths. Better yet, pair those with tar pits to slow the orcs down, allowing the wall push traps time to reset and shove even more orcs off the edge. Place barriers in front of alternate paths so that orcs are herded and shuffled into a path of your choosing, laden with traps, archers, and a guy with a sword (you). With each level that you successfully complete, a new item is unlocked. More often than not, it is a new trap. On occasion, however, you are graced with magical items, new units, new abilities, and more. Along with item unlocks, each level earns you skulls, depending on your performance. These skulls can be used in the menu to upgrade your items (traps, units, etc.), increasing their power and performance.

The rounds are long, and scored based on time, success rate in preventing orcs from reaching the rift, and more. There’s a short time between most of the waves to prepare, with one untimed break. At least, untimed in every respect except for the scored time. You can take as long as you want during this one break, but the longer you take, the more likely it is that you’re going to go over the par time of the level. The only problem I had with Orcs Must Die! is that each level is an exhausting endurance trial. You are constantly on edge, especially in later levels when you have multiple sources of orcs on opposing sides of the fortress. That kind of constant adrenaline rush, sometimes lasting up to ten minutes, can really bring a guy to his knees.

For the length, the polish, and the sheer unadulterated fun and joy of killing every orc, kobold, and ogre that comes within your reach, 1200MSP is an absolutely reasonable and acceptable price. Robot Entertainment has put forward a fantastic effort for their first game, and off the strength of Orcs Must Die!, I’m definitely excited to see what they come up with next.


Excellent mix of tower defense, strategy, and action.
Thrilling gameplay.
Wonderful sound and design.
95 out of 100

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