If asked to think about the tower defence genre, your mind is most likely to drift towards memories of slow paced flash games that offered nothing thrilling beyond the prospect of placing more towers. They were rarely exciting, they didn’t offer anything all that stimulating and it’s arguable as to whether you could call them fun. Thankfully, Orcs Must Die! 2 avoids entertaining any idea of being slow paced and mixes up a combination of tower defence and third person action to create a compelling title that, at times, flirts very dangerously between the lines of difficult and utterly frustrating.
While still technically a tower defence title at heart, Orcs Must Die! 2 feels so much more like a third person action game with tacked on tower defence mechanics instead of the other way around. Neither of the genres’ conventions conflict either and it actually ends up becoming yet another serendipitous case of genres bumping into each other and working harmoniously. The third person view allows you the ability to do things such as actively monitor certain areas and station yourself at points of a map that could otherwise be considered chinks in the armour just in case something goes awry. It works rather well and adds some more strategy into the mix by allowing you to join your environmental traps in the act of senseless orc killing.
While you could argue that overwhelming a player with stupidly large numbers of enemies is a cruel frustration tactic, it really isn’t in this case. It’s not something employed to frustrate for the most part, but rather to amplify the satisfaction of the player. There are small moments, usually halfway through a wave of orcs, where a larger chunk of weaker enemies will waltz out of a door. If you’re there at the time and you have the right equipment set up outside, what you’re likely to witness is what can only be described as beautiful murder. I’m sure most of you reading this will agree with me in saying that there really is nothing more satisfying in a videogame than watching a barrage of numbers appearing on your screen amongst words like “kill streak” and “combo”. The game doesn’t try to be overly difficult in this sense; it instead tries to be overly satisfying.
What Orcs Must Die! 2 tends to do most interestingly with its take on the genre is in the way that it offers a personalised experience to each player in the form of RPG-like elements. Whereas a typical tower defence game offers universal conditions and opportunities to win for each player, you’re instead expected to select one of two classes and then pick your load-out at the beginning of each map. At first the game teases you by making as little as possible available for your loud-out, but by the time you unlock the final level, you’ll have 10 active slots and at least 20 different things to put into them. One player may stick to a single weapon and a vast selection of traps, but another may alternate between a few weapons, a couple of booster items and a smaller selection of traps. Everyone gets the opportunity to make their own experience unique, which inevitably paves the way for experimentation, giving the game a hefty boost to its replay value.
While the game does encourage replaying levels for the sake of experimenting with your loud-out, it also encourages multiple plays thanks to a rating system that eventually becomes an accessory in creating an obsessive need for a perfect run through each level. That is until you come across later levels that end up feeling like they’re designed for the purpose of frustrating the player and nothing else, especially when played without a friend.
While I’m on that point, a lot of the levels later on in the game feel as if they were designed specifically with co-op in mind. It’s very likely that this is the case considering that it was one of the biggest additions onto the game that was absent from the first, not to mention the fact that the incredibly basic story that the game has is essentially just there to constantly affirm the idea that two players are present during dialogue sequences even when there is only one. This is a huge hindrance for people who would rather have a solo experience with the game, because not even the lowest difficulties can stop the difficulty curve from being as unfairly erratic and severe as it is during the final half of the game. This seems to serve as Orcs Must Die! 2’s biggest crux and could easily ruin the overall enjoyment factor for some people, which is a shame considering the potential enjoyment that’s there to be found.
Orcs Must Die! 2 is a great game. It’s one of those wonderful games that don’t really care about anything but being fun, but it loses its charm when it starts to tip way too far over the edge in terms of difficult and becomes frustrating. It’s a two player game with an optional single player mode – there’s no other way to put it. If you’ve got a friend to play through with you or if you’re just a masochist when it comes to videogames, you can’t go wrong. Otherwise, you may want to think before you buy.