Aside from PvP, Orcs Must Die!: Unchained differs from previous games in the series in a number of ways. First, rather than choosing between War Mage or Sorceress, you can become one of thirteen different heroes, all of whom have interesting active and passive abilities. Second, you now have the ability to spawn a whole gaggle of different minions at once, rather than one at a time. This adds another layer of strategy to the game as Ian Fischer, Design Director, explains:
“[Previously] you never had to organize your own attackers or figure out how to get them through enemy traps and defenders. There’s a good bit of depth behind selecting the correct minions too. For example, Bloodspike (an orc hero) has an ability that only works with ogres, so if you want to play this hero, you probably want some ogres. There’s also a hero called Ball and Chain and she has several abilities that work with orcs.”
Third on the list of new features is a new category of traps called “glyphs.” These special traps provide bonuses to your minions and can only be put in certain areas of the map. Again Fischer explains:
“If you want to be aggressive early, you might build a deck around weaker but cheaper glyphs that give your minions additional damage. If you want to build up to a later push, you might take a more expensive health glyph. Once you start to consider some of the team options, different heroes taking different things but using them in concert as a team, things really get going.”
In addition to significant new mechanics, Robot's thrown in a slew of new traps, minions, items and weavers. (As of the start of the June 27 beta, there will be 100 or so. By the time the game launches, there will be more than 200.)
During the demo, five journalists faced off with five Robot Entertainment guys. In preparation for the battle, I chose one of the new playable heroes—the aforementioned Ball and Chain. A hulking, horned-helm-wearing female orc, she carries a huge morning star and boasts a skill called “Motherly” that enables her to share damage with her orc minions. Once everyone else had selected their heroes (there's no hero stacking in Unchained) and accepted a default starter deck (of cards representing minion types and traps), the two-way siege began.
Things were chaotic from the get-go. New players will have the advantage of a tutorial, but we hapless journos were tossed immediately into the deep end. The first thing to do when the fight starts is hoof it to your team's war camp and spawn some minions. That's done by opening up the minion menu and selecting a minion card. We were given 1,000 Leadership Points to spend on minion upgrades, so I did that, and then with my own personal dev coach barking directions over my shoulder, headed out to hunt some heroes. Or...not.
After setting some minions to spawn, I was told to go set some traps. I blew a chunk of my starter gold slapping some nasty, spiky things on the walls and floor of my team's fortress, looked for the go-ahead from my personal dev coach, then at long last lumbered off - TO BATTLE!
Ball and Chain is an interesting hero and not just because she wears a human skull as a chastity belt. Mistaking physical bulk for fortitude, I ran her right into the thick of things and got her killed almost instantly. Playing her takes finesse and requires appropriate use of her two attacks: a damage-dealing Bash and an overhead Slam that sends enemies flying. It also requires the timely activation of her two main abilities (disabling traps and motivating her minions to move faster) I learned the hard way that unless you master these things, she can easily be squashed into orc-flavored jelly.
Despite the learning curve, my first experience with a two-way siege was a good amount of fun. And once I'd latched my fortunes onto those of Orc hero Blood Spike, things began to look up. After a couple of battles, it dawned on me that the important thing to remember about PvP in Unchained is that it's not about killing heroes. In fact, doing so is a sure way to get your gauntlets knocked off. It's about teamwork—that, and the strategic use of minions and might.
Battle in Unchained is kind of like tennis. (Provided there are five players on each side of the net and the balls are explosive.) Each team has a Keep, and teams alternate playing offense and defense. On a surprisingly small map, teams run back and forth through two main lanes, each doing the best they can to batter down their opponents' defenses. This involves bouts of running, minion-spawning, and dodging separated by brief, generally deadly, scuffles.
It was all very exciting, but the most memorable moment for me was unlocking a second avenue of attack, using it to sneak into enemy territory, and smashing two of the enemy's gates. Of course, this brave infiltration happened entirely on accident because I couldn't tell where the heck I was going.
Small as it was, the two-Keep map was made up of stone corridors that all looked the same, with the same stairs, arches, and gates. And though the minimap icons showed clearly where the action was, I was often guided the wrong way due to the map's color-coding. I'm guessing color was meant to indicate differences in elevation but all it did for me was make it hard to tell which paths were connected. Ah well, perhaps if one were to ease into the game more slowly, this would be a non-issue.
Newbie navigation issues aside, the Unchained demo clearly indicated the potential for staging heroic-poem-worthy fights among expert-level teams. Once our matches were done (we won one and lost one) Robot reps said that upon release, Unchained will have all the madness we'd just experienced, plus boosts, enchanted armor versions of herores, and some form of collection (details TBD).
During my time with Orcs Must Die!: Unchained I realized two key things: female orc warriors rock, and my sense of direction...doesn't. Of course, players interested in taking other heroes for a spin and trying the map out themselves should check out the beta which incidentally, started yesterday.
To register for the beta, visit the official Orcs Must Die!: Unchained website.