Orcs Must Die: Unchained and Off the Hook - Our PS4 Review
Orcs Must Die as a franchise has, over the years, broken some pretty important ground in the areas of tower defense and horde mode. Their snap on approach to tower placement, on the fly construction and tight combat systems have become more and more polished with each new title in the series. Orcs Must Die! Unchained, the latest title from Robot Entertainment, continues the tradition of bringing a refined and polished experience to the hands of gamers.
Half tower defense, half action adventure Orcs Must Die! Unchained offers a unique and actioned packed take on both genres. The question that has been burning on my mind as the PS4 free to play release of this title has dawned on the horizon is whether these tried and true approaches will be enough to keep gamers interested? Over the past week I have set out to answer that question. So grab that coffee, it back and get ready for our review of Orcs Must Die! Unchained.
There are many areas that we could spend time unpacking for this review but as mentioned above my primary focus here is to evaluate whether this latest title from Robot Entertainment has enough to keep gamers interested in the long term. To that end I want to highlight and evaluate three major areas: Art and Style, Combat and Classes and finally Progression. Note that I can count that these are in fact five areas but we will be coupling a few of these together along the way.
Art and Style
Visually Orcs Must Die! Unchained looks much like its predecessors, a larger than life stylized experience with vibrant colors and unique character designs. This may be a bit of a turnoff to some gamers but historically we have seen that this approach to art and style tends to age much better than more traditional, realistic approaches to design. Such games as Legend of Zelda Wind Waker or World of Warcraft tend to support this idea and although both have seen graphical updates over the years both still maintain their original Stylized art design.
This stylized approach works quite well for Orcs as it does tend to not only age well but allows designers a freedom of expression that could potentially be limiting otherwise. Each set piece and character is wonderfully thought out and presented and it really does create a visually exciting experience for the gamer. The humor that has been injected into the art is reason enough to take a look at OMDU but it also helps answer the focus question of this review. Orcs brings a visual style that gamers will not easily tire of and allows the developer to adapt easily as new graphical advances are made.
Combat and Classes
The reason for the pairing of these two concepts is that the character classes really do change up the combat systems in the game. On the surface each character in OMDU brings a host of unique abilities and combat styles to the table. From your fire throwing hot head to the duel wielding Rampager, each character really takes on a unique role in the meta (more on this later) and offers a new and fresh play style for the player. Underneath the surface this vast array of characters fall into one of the holy trinity archetypes, Tank, support, DPS; what is nice is that each character takes a dramatically different approach to filling their role. This provides for some great experimentation and can lead to some really interesting character synergies. It will be up to the players to work together to find the best character combinations.
Combat itself is tight and is a further polishing of some already well developed systems that have carried over from previous Orcs Must die! Titles. As a Third Person Shooter at its core, OMDU plays well, with excellent control layout and feeling; simply put the game is a lot of fun to play. Throughout my play through combat was always tight, quick and fun and as someone who spends most of their time playing multiple titles across a plethora of systems finding a game that does combat well is high praise as I tend to compare each game to a long list of games that have come before it.
Along with the polished combat are a few different modes to try out. At the time of writing I have spent time in the main three modes available at launch. Survival mode, a three player round based horde mode where your team works together to place traps and defend your core from an onslaught of minions, is a great co-op experience and fun for a Friday game night with a couple of buddies. As mentioned earlier with a vast array of characters to choose from you and your buddies can spend hours finding the characters that work best for you.
Sabatosh is an interesting PVE...VP mode that basically takes the concepts from survival mode and adds another team (also trying to defend their core in a separate game) with cards and loadouts that they can use to bolster the minions in your match or hinder you as a player and vice versa. That seems like a lot to keep track of but when you boil it down Sabatosh is a game of seeing who can hold their core the longest while trolling (pun totally intended) the other team with preset cards that contain buffs and debuffs.
I haven’t spent as much time in this mode but found out quickly that although conceptually they have the same objectives the gameplay and even character choices varies dramatically between the two modes. Characters that work well in one mode don’t always tend to work as well in the other mostly due to the added character trolling that can empower minions, debuff your character and really just throw a wrench in your typical PVE experience. This does create a lot of varied gameplay and forces the player to think quick as new challenges are being thrown their way but I worry about long term character balance. As these two modes really do offer much different play experiences I am concerned at how Robot Entertainment is going to maintain the metagame. However as it's really only one week into full release time will tell.
The final mode is Endless and is basically what it sounds like, think original Zombies mode from Call of Duty but with towers and orcs and stuff… okay so admittedly not very much like Zombies except that they just keep coming. This mode is for the leaderboard chasers and really helps you develop the best strategies fending off the hordes.
In any game that hopes to have any type of longevity in today’s gaming culture there has to be great care taken with its progression systems. Some great games conceptually have fallen apart with poorly executed progression systems. Throw into the mix that Orc Must Die! Unchained is a free to play title and you have the challenge of a micro-transaction system to contend with as well. Robot Entertainment has worked hard to find that balance and for the most part it seems like they are headed in the right direction.
Progression in OMDU comes in a few different varieties. Traps, gear and skulls (the soft currency for the title) can all be collected by completed matches and work to upgrade and unlock new versions of Traps and to purchase items, consumables and Heroes. I can confirm that as of the time of writing all characters can be unlocked with in game currency and from my week of play I found that the ratio of skulls collected to skulls needed for heroes was actually pretty solid. I was able to purchase my first hero within only a couple of days of play. That being said I would also mention that as skulls are needed for all unlocks and upgrades I can see there being potential for some grind. However as my time with OMDU has been quite enjoyable I really don’t see it being the type of grind that is bothersome.
Another area of progression is in the deck builder system which is used primarily for the Sabatosh game mode. This system really allows you to cater a set of cards that can be devastating to the enemy team. Admittedly I haven’t spent as much time with the system as I would like but it looks to be a solid offering for the PVP minded among us.
Orcs Must Die! Unchained brings with it a history of progressive polish and solid combat that has made the earlier offerings in the franchise stand out. It specifically brings both a unique new PVEVP mode as well as a diverse cast of characters with unique traits and skills. All of these things put together really to offer a gaming experience that can keep gamers interested for quite some time. If you’re on PS4 or PC I would recommend trying out Orcs Must Die! Unchained.
PS4 Orcs Must Die: Unchained Score - 8/10