The tower defense genre has had a number of takes on the formula, but Orcs Must Die! was a hit that added a new dimension to the equation. Playing the defender in a third-person view, your goal is to build up defenses, but also defend the objective yourself, in third-person shooter style, using a variety of weapons and trinkets that you power up over time.
Orcs Must Die! 2 takes place after the events of the first game. You learn that defeating your character’s nemesis has had some unfortunate side effects for the world, and now it’s your job to remedy the situation. It’s a thin shell over a tower defense game, but it functions well enough, and the dialogue is light and amusing enough to make it easily forgivable.
Controls are standard for third-person shooters, and extra keystrokes are minimal. Most functions are accessible easily with the mouse or from the home WASD keyboard hand position.
Selecting your defenses is handled through a spellbook interface where you choose which items to buy or upgrade, and is straightforward to use. Building is also very simple: Selecting an object from your inventory to use presents a translucent representation of the object in bright glowing red or green. Red means you can’t place the object there, green means you can. Directional defenses can be rotated by hitting a key.
Once you hit the button to unleash the waves of attackers, it is time to play as a third-person shooter. Mostly. While you lose the ability to sell (reclaim) placed defenses at this point, you can still place new ones as you gain more cash to spend. There are also environmental hazards which can be triggered once to bolster your defenses as a last stand maneuver (dumping molten iron, dropping a net full of boulders, etc.)
The action can get quite frantic at times, and on higher levels of difficulty, your time to reorganize your defenses between waves is greatly reduced.
Orcs Must Die! 2 has a great feel to its art, and the graphics hold up at very high resolution, both visually and performance-wise. It has a style reminiscent of World of Warcraft in many ways. Effects are thankfully kept to a minimum with the large numbers of enemies on screen at once, so the framerate doesn’t get bogged down by visuals when reaction time is key.
The audio is very well done. Sound effects are distinct and recognizable, which is important when you are trying to sort out notifications in the heat of the battle. Positional audio works well, alerting you when something is right next to you, or halfway across the map.
Of particular note is the voiceover work. Over-the-top and campy, but in a good way, the protagonist is full of one-liners to make you cringe and laugh, usually at the same time. The combat barks of the orcs (and their allies) during the battle scenes are subtle, but amusing.
One of the things that this points out well is that the priority system for the audio was implemented well, as I never ran into an instance where a witty comment caused a critical warning to get blocked.
The biggest change to the sequel is the addition of cooperative multiplayer. Significantly increasing the replayability of the game, it also ramps up the number of tools at your disposal and allows for an alternate play style as well.
Orcs Must Die! 2 may be a sequel, but it is a good example of how to improve on the first, without feeling like it is just more of the same. The balance feels good, gameplay is solid, and most of all, it’s fun to play.