REVIEW – Orcs Must Die!

An entertaining tower defense title hindered by a steep learning curve. 

Alex Keenby Alex Keen


What is the deal with all of these third-person tower defense games? Orcs Must Die! marks the fourth of this burgeoning new genre to see release on XBLA over the last 12 months (Iron Brigade, Toy Soldiers: Cold War, and Monday Night Combat). Unlike the other games, Orcs Must Die! takes place in a fantasy world with a lone war mage charged with protecting a variety of halls from invading orcs. You play through 23 levels of invading insanity, gaining new power-ups, new traps, and human warriors to defend the realm.  Orcs Must Die! presents a fun take on the popular genre but isn’t exactly breaking new ground when it comes to gameplay.

In case you haven’t played a tower defense game before, players are forced to defend multiple waves of attackers let loose on your castle.  It is up to you to plan defenses to keep them at bay. Most tower defense games are played from a removed perspective (high above in the clouds) and require an eye for resource management. As the waves progress you will be forced to take down a wide variety of enemies that will test your strategic brain and planning skills.  


What makes a third-person perspective different is that you have a character with weapons and powers to fend off individual enemies. In Orcs Must Die! you’ll have a crossbow, sword, traps, and magic powers to personally kill orcs trying to get past you. Unfortunately for you, there are more orcs than one man can kill; so, you will need to manage traps and other defenses while fending off orcs with your sword.  The experience is intentionally stressful and requires you to be actively thinking on your feet.

My experience with Orcs Must Die! is a mixed bag.  From a gameplay perspective, I didn’t have any issues with the control from the third-person perspective.  The different combat options were well mapped out and allowed for quick defensive variety on the fly.  I could drop a spike pit in front of a line of orcs with no hesitation or I could whip out my crossbow to headshot a punk into oblivion.  All of my defenses worked as advertised, it was the game’s difficulty that left me somewhat annoyed.

One of the issues I do have with Orcs Must Die! is the game’s high difficulty level early on in the game.  My issue wasn’t that I didn’t know how to play the game, it was that the tools at my disposal were vastly underpowered until I replayed levels over and over again to earn better upgrades. Because of this, I hit a brick wall by the third level of the game, leaving nearly 20 levels left to experience!  It would have been nice if the game ramped up the difficulty a bit slower early on… or, if the game started out on the easiest difficulty first.  I’m just not of the school of thought that I should play a game through three times to really experience the complete game.


Another issue, albeit a minor one, was that the game’s radar (an overhead map of the level) was far too small to be useful.  This map was designed to help me to see incoming enemies without having to run across the level.  Too bad that the icons are so small that utilizing this feature was pointless on the fly.

On a positive note, something I enjoyed quite a bit was that the orcs are more cartoonish than menacing, like the use of zombies as hilarious opponents in games like Plants vs. Zombies. Instead of trying to scare us with their strength and aggression, these baddies are designed to have you laughing… while scrambling to fight off multiple waves.  This light-hearted approach makes Orcs Must Die! a fun experience, even when handling repeated losses at the hands of the hordes.  It also makes up for the lack of story here.

In the end, Orcs Must Die! is a light-hearted tower defense title that will provide repeat players a solid gaming experience that they can enjoy for quite some time.  However, if you don’t have a ton of time to invest or you just have a pile of 10 other games that you are working on (like me), Orcs Must Die! may not be the game that you are looking for.


Full Disclosure: CraveOnline received 1 advanced copy of Orcs Must Die! for the Xbox 360 from Edelman. Before starting our review, we completed 60% of the game on medium and easy difficulty.

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