Orcs Must Die! Platform: PC [Also available on Xbox Live Arcade/OnLive] Developer: Robot Entertainment Price: $14.99 Defend the Rift! Your master has passed away and now, as his apprentice, it's your job to defend the rifts from orcs as well as other evil minions. If you've ever played a tower defense game in the past, you'll know that the primary objective is to defend the base and in the case of Orcs Must Die!, rifts serve as bases. Some levels only contain one while others contain multiple rifts which make them a lot more challenging as enemies come in from various directions. Fortunately, you have a decent arsenal at your disposal as not only do you have weapons and magic on your side but several brutal traps as well. Initially, you only start out with a few but as the game progresses, more traps and abilities are unlocked. None shall pass. Also, unlike traditional tower defense games, you can actually fend off enemies through the playable apprentice character who's armed with a trusty crossbow and an optional sword. About halfway through the game, Weavers begin to unlock which grant abilities that affect either traps, your character, and/or guardians. This comes at a price of course, so you'll have to prioritize your cash flow during each round. My personal favorite was the self-healing ability for guardians which are friendly units that can be summoned and at times, are preset on certain maps. Knowledge isn't always free. The Basics At the start of each round you're given a certain amount of currency that can be used to purchase traps or abilities through the Weavers if unlocked already. This amount varies from level to level. In addition, you're allocated a certain amount of slots that can be filled with traps of your choice, among the traps, guardians are included. There are two types of guardians, archers and paladins. Paladins are fairly strong while archers do less damage but have the advantage of being able to perform long range attacks. Placing them at strategic locations can result in magnificent results depending on your strategy. It's important to note that every weapon and magical item with the exception of the wind belt has an alternative fire that uses the player's full mana to release a powerful attack. The flame bracelet for example creates a flaming wall that burns enemies. All these magical items serve as your primary weapon while selected and drain your mana everytime you launch a regular attack so it's a good idea to use them with moderation. They are a lot of fun to use though and can even make the a game a bit too easy if you abuse them. In terms of death, dying results in a loss of rift points but doesn't affect the amount of cash left. The game also gives you a heads up about the incoming enemy types which further assists you in narrowing down slot choices. This is especially useful when there are flying enemies involved such as these pesky dragons which are immune to land traps so you'll have to use something that can gun them down such as archers. Other enemies have elemental properties so this too can affect the overall strategy. Most of the AI enemies follow a relatively linear pattern but tend to follow the player so they can be detoured. However, there are hunters which are more intelligent and will hunt down guardians that are not in the main path. As for traps, there's a handful to choose from by the time you've completed the game but not all take immediate effect. Certain traps are used to slow down enemies while others are used to cause gradual damage rather than to inflict immediate death. Some of them are also highly effective in certain environments and relatively useless in others so there's a bit of strategy involved. The game is far from complicated though so don't let this scare you away if you're a casual gamer as the game even offers a ridiculously easy difficulty mode for those looking to have fun without worrying about getting overrun by brutal enemies. On the other hand, aside from the normal difficulty referred to as War Mage, there's Nightmare which is unlocked upon completing War Mage for the more hardcore players looking for a challenge. Empty spaces beg to be filled with DLC. Oh wait, it's happened already... Deadly dungeon decor. Aside from tougher enemies, Nightmare also eliminates guardian respawns and doesn't give you a lengthy break in-between major rounds unlike the easier difficulties which means you don't have much time to plan. It also has its own set of skulls to unlock. By perfectly completing a level as in not receiving any rift damage, you'll be awarded 5 skulls which serve as both trophies and upgrade points to make traps stronger. Speaking of trap upgrades, I was a bit disappointed in the fact that traps could only receive one upgrade but was satisfied with most of the available upgrades. This is how the game both rewards and penalizes the player based on how well they defend their rift. My clothes are still drenched in orc blood... Overall, I was quite impressed with Orcs Must Die! despite it being solely single player as it certainly begs for multiplayer support along with a survival mode. Fortunately, the ability to place guardians eases the loneliness a bit by having some units that actually have your back and are surprisingly competent unlike the crappy AI partners you usually get stuck with in other games. Messing around with different trap types and combos proves to be a fun experience and the 5 skull performance system along with the harder Nightmare difficulty serve as an incentive to keep playing especially if you're fond of leaderboards after smashing through the campaign. I played the game for approximately 10+ hours and still have a couple of Nightmare levels that I haven't yet completed along with several levels on the easier difficulty that don't have all the skulls unlocked. Prepare to be blown away, if you're an orc that is... Although taking on units directly is not a unique concept in the tower defense genre as Toy Soldiers has done it before, it's not as intense as this. This could easily be one of the best single player tower defense games of 2011. And yes, I am familiar with Dungeon Defenders which so far has been fun too but not as much while going at it solo unlike this game. Robot Entertainment is onto a golden series and I just hope that they take serious consideration into implementing some sort of functional co-op or at the very least, a survival mode as that would tremendously boost the replay value for those uninterested in achievements and leaderboards. Pros: +Loads of fun +Polished presentation (graphics and audio) +Right amount of balance between fast-paced combat and tower defense strategy +Enemy and level structure variety Cons: -No multiplayer or survival mode -Randomized elements would make it much more interesting -Although there are a handful of traps, I felt like there could have been a bit more Orcs Must Die! cleanses the world of evil with a 8.75/10 bloodbath. If you like slaying orcs and are a fan of the tower defense genre, look no further. A review copy was used to evaluate the game.