Born on the PC and finally making its way to PlayStation 4, Orcs Must Die! Unchained is an interesting game for a console platform, though its original traits can be seen extensively.
I’m generally not a huge fan of free-to-play games because of the microtransaction aspect of their design, but I’m intrigued about Orcs Must Die! Unchained. Essentially, it’s a strategy game mixed together with an action game, where your intelligent and methodical ability to plan your defense and offense against hordes of Orcs as they just come in wave after wave as they desire to invade/raid/destroy your ‘rift’ by entering it. Protecting the rift and fighting off the hordes of Orcs is the sole purpose this game exists. That’s a fun purpose, folks.
The crux of this gameplay lies within three elements: Your character/abilities, your weapons/traps and the level design where you live and breathe. Those three aspects of the game are the crux of the gameplay and the three items you MUST pay attention to as you go through this F2P game. So, without further delay, let’s break this down.
Your character’s abilities help in your success/failure within the game. You have certain abilities you gain and learn about at the beginning and ones that will come into play throughout your stint in Orcs Must Die! Unchained. As you build your successful resume in the game, your character begins to gain abilities that will help you out. For example, I went into the game as Maximilian, a crossbow touting son-of-a-gun. His mouth might have been more effective as the weapon he brandished, as he is a sassy and hilarious personality. Anyway, armed with a crossbow, Maximilian will slowly start to gain powers to keep him more offensively powerful as the game gets harder. For example, the first level I ran into during the tutorial of the game was having the ability to surround Maximilian with an electric. Any enemy that tries to penetrate the bubble would be electrocuted. The downside to this bubble is that the enemy would have to be close. The next ability given to Max was a massive amount of electric arrows shot into oncoming hordes of Orcs. This ability would cause a lot of damage and/or wipe out a tremendous amount of baddies in the process.The downside? You have to aim straight or you get little to no damage done on the Orcs.
Outside of direct abilities, the player also has the choice to have traits that have temporary effect on them. For example, you have a trait called ‘Bear Hugs’, which causes +8.0% damage to minions near the hero. You also have a trait bonus called ‘Natural Born Sprinter’, which allows for +50% movement speed while unchained, which is something that comes in handy with bigger maps. These types of abilities come together on a deck loadout. The deck loadout houses your temporary abilities, consumables (you’ll need these to survive matches – health/abilities/etc), charms, guardians (you can place giant characters on certain spots on the map to help protect your rift and/or dispose of Orcs) and traps (getting into this next). The loadouts are in the same vein as what you would find in a first-person shooter loadout, though the concept is closer to a card deck in something like The Elder Scrolls: Legends. Regardless, this all fits under abilities of the player.
Now, the next major element of this game is the bevy of weapons and traps you can get as you progress. From simple pits of tar you can lay on the floor to hinder the progress of the oncoming Orcs, to spikes in the floor that shove violently upward dispatching Orcs into a mess of gobly good and parts/bits, and all the way to arrows from wall traps/smashing devices and swinging spikes; there’s enough here to love when it comes to methodically planning strategy against hordes of Orcs. There are even more weapons/traps in the game that are more powerful including a fiery walkway, a trap that acts as a spiked door and a scalding place of vicious tar, which all can be purchased through coin (microtransactions) and success within missions. As it stands the concept of how this game works and how it requests you evenly strategize the best way to dispatch baddies is why people will be addicted to its gameplay. It’s amazingly complicated when it comes to strategizing the best method of keeping the Orcs at bay. Sometimes it works well, but sometimes it doesn’t. All of this strategy decision-making depends solely on the map you’re dealt. Before we move on to said maps, we should talk about different ways to play the game. Here’s what you’re looking at:
Survival – When I play this portion of the game I always compare it mentally to Call of Duty’s Zombies game. You’re given a certain space to lie in and you simply strategize your defensive/offensive game plan. You’re graded on how much of the rift remains and how well you did to survive during the match. There is a limited amount of waves of Orcs in the game, so it’s just pure survival (as the name states). This is my favorite mode of the bunch.
Sabotage — It’s a team vs. team battle to see who can garnish the most points in an alternate dimensional battle. It’s a strange online game that’s simply seeing who can defend their rift the best. I like the concept, as it’s a less nasty version of the usual PvP experience.
Endless — Endless amounts of Orcs storm the rift until all rift points are depleted. The rewards are quite nice, but the difficulty is high. This might be the best place to test out new loadouts when you get them together, as it will not cost you anything to survive the match.
Weekly Challenges — These are weekly challenges for players (as the name states, duh), so they will change time to time. This week I played a physics challenge, where I could only use traps and magic that revolved around physics. It was rather fun seeing Orcs flying around off of spring traps, but it was also tough as nails, as I died pretty darn quickly.
Anyway, these are the main modes of the game and they certainly will give you a run for your money. They will also encourage you to come back and do better, which is a great sign of a good game. Anytime you can become motivated to improve, even after a defeat, is good gameplay design.
Modes aside, none of the above would work without a good map. The last of the trio of important gameplay elements of this title comes with the design of the maps. Strategy-based games, such as Orcs Must Die! Unchained, must be perfect in its execution of maps for the game to hold water. The good folks at Robot Entertainment must know this, as you’ll see in the first few levels of the game, where they will challenge gamers with first tightly knit quarters, for multiple paths of Orcs to raid your portal, then the maps will start to widen the game quite a bit causing you to really think about your surroundings. Making you go back and forth on a widened map is maddening at best, but a cerebral rush of sorts. As you progress in the game and begin to try out new ways to play on different maps, you’ll find more complicated landscape to work with and less friendly designs for traps to be laid out onto. Again, it is quite the challenge, which makes it quite impressive. Robot Entertainment did a superb job of putting together great examples of good level design. They put some heavy thought into it and it only gets more challenging as you progress.
All the loveliness aside, you can survive the game quite well with or without microtransactions, but there is an obvious advantage to purchasing more coin to gain characters, abilities, traps and upgrades quickly. I’m not a huge fan of microtransactions, but they make sense here and the developers did enough and gave you enough good gameplay to warrant your hard earned cash, so don’t be shy.
In terms of presentation, the game is a cross between Team Fortress with a sprinkle of Borderlands humor (just a pinch). The textures and models are cartoony at best, with some good lighting to accompany the darker environments (and for the most part, they are dark). All of this combined equals out to some solid looks with not a lot of effort (at least visually) in comparison to other games of this type. You’re certainly not going to see the likes of Paragon or Middle-earth graphics in this game, but what you do get fits the mold when it comes to the written script, which is quite good.