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Orcs Must Die! Hands-On Preview and Swag Giveaway!

Robot Entertainment is an independent developer that formed from the ashes of Ensemble Studios, which had closed down a couple years ago. If you haven’t been a gamer outside of Sony’s consoles, Ensemble was the developer behind the very popular, Microsoft-owned RTS franchise of Age of Empires (as well as Halo Wars). None of their games had made it to Sony’s consoles (unless you count the Japanese, Konami-published version of AoEII: The Age of Kings in the early days of PS2), until now.

The team invited us to their development studio in Plano, Texas last week to show us, which was referred to at the time, ‘Game 2.0′. Apart from them finishing up on the beautiful AoE: Online (which was once going to be numbered as the 4th installment of the franchise), their main goal at this time is to get their first Intellectual Property, as Robot Entertainment, out in gamers’ hands to enjoy. The game they showed us is simply called Orcs Must Die! With a name, a trailer (which we posted yesterday), and some hands-on time with the game (3 levels, in fact), this is what I think of it (I will start by saying that the trailer does not do the game justice).

Basically, the premise is that your hero must stop waves of orcs from busting through defenses you set up to reach a rift at the end of the level. It’s not entirely a tower defense game, though it does share a lot of similarities. Instead, OMD! Is a third person action strategy title. Now, personally, I haven’t been huge on strategy games (though I can see myself getting into them very easily), but there is something about this game that really, really has me wanting more, because the game is tons of fun.

To start, the art direction is very fantasy-based (as is suggested by the name as well), and had a very ‘World of Warcraft’ look to some of it (in fact, upon first looking at the trailer, from what little of WoW I have tried, the levels did have a similar look in my opinion), but a lot more polished and much higher resolution textures (there have been new shaders added since, and are reflected in the new screenshots). It does fit the game nicely, though, so I can’t complain.

Robot Entertainment doesn’t currently have their own sound department, so that’s been outsourced, but the music when the hoard is approaching, and the sound of traps going off, etc fits in pretty well. Outside of the ambient noises you hear, there is also some humorous character dialogue with your hero (and his cheesy one-liners) and the enemies, which can often get a good laugh out of you.

With that said, Robot isn’t stopping there with the humor. The entire goal of the game is to have plenty of humorous elements, and a lot of that even extends to the gameplay (more on that in a few). Some of the traps you set will, essentially, dismember the orcs into a mess of or giblets (which look like giant, green hams on the larger Ogre enemies). Rolling body parts will also leave a trail of blood, so you can make a pretty good-sized mess if you happen to rip these guys up at the top of a stairwell.

Even some of the animations can garner a chuckle. Catch an orc on fire? He’ll grab his ass and run like it hurts (think Looney Tune-style). There have been a couple instances where some of the AI would lock up and not do what it’s supposed to, but, according to Robot, that has already been rectified on a newer build. Overall, though, the game is definitely shaping up to be rather polished on that front.

Of course, the look, the sounds, and the animations of the game are important, but it’s nothing if it doesn’t have the gameplay to back it up. Luckily, this game seems to have enough to make you want to continue to play for long sessions, and then go back to play levels you’ve already beaten. From what we’ve played, there are 3 enemy types so far. You have the standard Warrior orcs (which there is the most of), the archer orcs, the runners (which are faster, but their only goal is to reach the rift, so they won’t go after you) and the ogres (which are much larger and take a lot more to destroy). There will be more variety in the final version, though.

In order to stop the hoards of orcs, you have the ability to use both traps and magic spells. Although what we got to play was pretty limited, there was still a good variety of different items to use (in fact, you will unlock a new spell/trap after each level in the final game). The kinds of traps we got to try out on our hands-on time included a springboard, spikes that pop out of either the wall or the ground, a giant swinging mace, spinning blades that slice up the orcs on a wall, and an Indiana Jones-style trap that shoots arrows out of the wall.

Each trap has a visible trigger zone (when you set the trap), which causes them to engage. Some traps are effective outside of the trigger zone; the launching arrow trap, for instance, will shoot arrows across the entire map, assuming nothing gets in the way. Personally, I think the most useful trap to use would have to be the tar pit, which slows the hoard down, allowing more time for the traps to take care of business (as each trap, save for those like the tar pit and swinging mace, have a variable reset time). None of the traps will affect you, though, so you can walk through them without any problems.

One of the really cool things you can do is set up traps to work with other traps (which is easy to do, as they’re placed in a grid basically). Example? On the last level we played, the Tower, you can set up a springboard to launch enemies into the lava pit (the much larger Ogres are unaffected by that trap, though). You can also get pretty creative. Mount a blade trap on the wall and have the springboard launch the orcs at that, cutting them up into pieces before they hit the ground. Except for the runners and archers, you can also get orcs to follow you into traps, for great satisfaction.

There are world traps within the level as well. In the Tower, there are a couple chandeliers over the area the orcs initially walk through, as well as spiked logs that can roll down the stairs and take out multiple enemies at once, creating a huge mess of orc pieces (these kinds of traps are especially helpful against the ogres). I saw someone take out three of the ogres at once using the spiked log (you just have to shoot an arrow at the trap to set it off), for instance. Some levels also have some stationary weapons, but they aren’t as powerful and are more useful as a last resort.

If you can manage to kill an orc using more than one device, you also get combos on those kills. Launch an orc over the lava and have an archer set up, who manages to shoot him in the air before he hits said lava? X3 Combo. The points you get are basically cash, so the higher the combos, the more cash you have to spend on traps (so yeah, you don’t have limitless funds, so spend the points wisely).

The nice thing about the game is, after every 3rd or 4th wave of enemies, you get a break that allows you to remove traps that aren’t effective (and you get full value of said trap back), or move them to another spot, as well as going through the level and setting up new traps. You can’t reset world traps, though, so use those wisely. You can also set up new traps on the fly while the waves are advancing as well, but from what I tried, you can’t remove the traps until you get another one of those mid-level breaks. At least with the breaks, you can start the advancement of the hoard at your discretion (by the push of a button), so you will have plenty of time to prepare.

Now, I think I covered the main bits of the gameplay, but, just a heads up, the arrows and spells do deplete your magic bar (I can’t remember what it was officially called), but it does regenerate over a short period of time. You also have a sword you can use, but if you’re being overwhelmed with enemies, it becomes pretty useless. You can, eventually, take out an ogre with it, but it takes a while. They’re quite useful against the runners, though, since they won’t go after you; just swing away!

If you happen to die, you will respawn. I don’t think there’s a limit to the number of lives you have, but you do lose money/points for dieing, so you won’t be able to lay as many traps. The levels we played were also linear, so there is only one path for the orcs to follow. Some levels will have teleportation doors you can walk through to take you to other parts of a level quickly, too. When you get to the harder levels in the game, the AI of the orcs is less predictable, and you will also have to cover multiple paths and protect multiple rifts, which will, undoubtedly, add to the challenge.

Unfortunately, at this time, we had to play it on a PC, as they’re still trying to figure out a good controller interface that will allow you to select traps on the fly (the screens in the article are also from said version, but it should look about the same across all platforms). The PC version’s traps are numbered, so they’re pretty easy to select. On the controller, since there are less buttons, Robot has to figure out a way to intuitively apply those controls. A lot of ideas have already been thrown around (such as holding down shoulder buttons to bring up a menu, etc), but they did say that they may have to redesign the UI because of it.

With that said, this is definitely a title you will want to keep your eyes on. I’ve probably played the Tower level three or 4 times, trying different trap setups and just messing around (that particular level takes between 12 and 15 minutes to play). That level has eight waves of enemies (and is one of the middle levels), and has the largest variety of them that I’ve played (it even has a wave of enemies that includes three ogres). I can’t wait to see what other traps will be in the game, and from my understanding, when you unlock different weapons and traps, you can go back and play older levels with the new toys.

One of the things I hope to see is an endless mode, with an unlimited number of waves, just to see how long you can last. Another popular suggestion was a co-op mode, but Robot has stated that their main goal is to get the single player experience out of the way first, instead of taking more time to add to the game’s release date, but didn’t rule out a possible update some time after release (they plan on supporting the title long after release, so anything is possible).

Also, personally, I think this game would be great on the NGP/PSP2. Use the front touch screen to select weapon/trap instead of looking through menus, etc. The dual analog stick setup will make aiming the placement easier, of course, but the touchscreen would make selection of items that much easier. I think it’s a perfect fit; hopefully the game will be successful enough to be ported to the handheld as a launch title.

Anyway, keep in mind, as I mentioned in the trailer post yesterday, this is a downloadable title. In fact, Robot plans on doing smaller titles for the foreseeable future, as they no longer want to work on 3 year projects (this one has been in development for about 6 months now, and releases this summer) Currently, there is no publisher for it, but Robot Entertainment is weighing its options. Self-publishing, according to Patrick Hudson (the CEO), is a possibility on Steam and Sony’s own PSN (since they’re way more open), but said that Microsoft would usually only allow titles to be self-published if it were exclusive to XBLA, so, in order to reach that audience, they may have to go through a larger publishing firm (such as EA or THQ, etc). Either way, I can’t wait to see more of this game, as well as any future projects they have planned!

If you happen to be going to PAX East next month, be sure to check the game out over there! They’ll be at booth 761.

Swag Giveaway!

Robot Stickers Can/Bottle Holder Hat T-Shirt Robot Entertainment Pins

Upon arrival at my hotel, Robot Entertainment left a goodie bag in my room. Since I likely won’t use any of these, I figured I’d send them all out to you guys on a first come, first serve basis. They knew I was a big guy (as I told them), but they underestimated my size, so I also have a t-shirt to give as well! Here are the prizes, as pictured above:

  • Size 3XL Robot Entertainment T-Shirt
  • Robot Sticker Book
  • Robot Entertainment Pins (2 winners)
  • Hat
  • Can/Bottle Holder

As I said, this is first come/first serve, so PM me (go to My Account at the top, drop down to Messages, click on compose, and put JimmyMagnum in the “Send to” field) which prize you want, and which order you would prefer (from top choice to last choice), in case someone else picked your top choices first. I will list winners as soon as the prizes have been accounted for, and will, then, contact you on your next steps! 😀

Special thanks to Steven Artlip from Platform*Nation and, especially, Robot Entertainment for the hospitality and the chance to cover this!