I was granted the chance to see some members of Robot Entertainment and try out the Orcs Must Die! Unchained closed beta content a bit ahead of the release today, and let me just say, I like what I played. I unfortunately only have the first game on the Xbox 360, which I loved the style and humor, as well as the creative strategies that the franchise adds to the tower defense genre, but I the sequel I had to skip. However, Orcs Must Die! 2 did add new features, most notably a 2-player co-op mode, which made it so a friend could enjoy the mayhem. With Orcs Must Die! Unchained, the only logical choice was to add more players, giving it ten player support with up to two teams of five players. Adding in a team of players against you really changes up the strategy, and the new features that were added to the mix really makes it a blast.
The game still retains the tower defense formula, allowing players to add up to 20 traps each to the maps, causing damage to waves of minions and even to enemy players. Each character also has a basic template that allows them a main and secondary attack, a passive feature, and then two extra abilities allocated to the “Q” and “E” keys. Each player is equipped with a deck of cards collected throughout the game, allowing them to equip various things like gear that powers up your abilities, or even “Glyphs”, which allow you to power up your minions when placed on the map. This is also how you select which traps are available to you within the game, and you are only granted as many traps as the number of cards you have for it. There were also “Weaver” cards, which I was told were used to give your hero upgrades during a game to make them stronger.
Since the game offers up cards that can be earned through playing the game, that means that you can earn them by completing challenges like leveling up, or even by just buying them through the in-game store with the skulls earned through playing the game. You are also given various hero cards, which represent your playable character. In the beta, five character cards are available to choose from the start, but as you continue playing, you can earn more and more and discover new possibilities and strategies. In the preview build, we had a selection of 13 characters, from series staples like the War Mage and the Sorceress, to various other characters like Midnight, or Ball and Chain. I myself chose the elven archer Ivy, who was equipped with a healing ability as well as a trap deactivator.
During the first round, I was simply getting my bearings, learning how the new game played and figuring out what it takes to win. I soon discovered that the waves of enemies appear from encampments, and these encampments can be upgraded over the course of the battle by using Leadership points. Using these upgrades, you can use more powerful minions of higher tiers (also collected through cards), or even open up more encampments on the map to make it more difficult for your opponents and bring on the pressure. The object of the game is to keep enemy minions out of your rift, as you have a certain amount of minions your rift can take. The first team to completely overwhelm the other team’s rift wins the game.
Of course, you don’t just have to worry about enemy minions, but also the enemy themselves. Having the same selection of characters as you, it’s not difficult to be caught off guard and get killed by a stealthy Midnight, or be overpowered by The Master. I’d say during my first round, I ended up dying quite a bit at the hands of my opponents, getting a bit overwhelmed at various instances. For series vets, it’s still fun to set up traps like spike traps and arrow walls and watch as minions constantly get damaged by them. Obviously, since your opponent chooses the minions you face, this changes things up a bit and makes it so you have to get a bit more strategic with your trap usage. Getting kills earns you points to use to put down more traps and it really pays to do well in the game, helping you get an upper hand by being able to place down more traps on the floors, walls and ceilings.
For those that are fans of the series humor, let it be known that it is all still retained, and the game has a very charming tone to it because of it. I loved some of the names of the minion cards like “Eight wasn’t Enough”, as opposed to “Eight is Enough”, or my personal favorite minion card, “Da Bears”. Some of the minion cards featured mixes of various enemies, like “Dwarven Bodyguards”, where one large minion is escorted by three dwarves. And the humor goes well beyond the names, as the minions and characters have funny dialogue throughout the battle, sometimes getting a chance to hear funny conversations, or hilarious battle cries. Even the character designs have a nice little bit of humor to them, giving them subtle yet detailed personalities that add to the charm of the game.
After getting some practice in the first round, I was able to make a deck of my own, deciding to add in fire based traps, and giving my character a second healing ability just for emergencies. I also added a Glyph that would make my team’s minions stronger as they passed through it, which as it turned out, helped out quite a bit. I even got a chance to choose my minions, which the tier III card “Da bears” was definitely an easy choice. I was often hearing shouts on the other side of the room about “Bears!”, so I feel like my tag team of powered up bears were a hit. It’s moments like that where Orcs Must Die! Unchained really shines through as something special. Even when your opponent can laugh and play at your own unique combination of your strategy. No game can ever be the same with how deep this title is. I played a bit more offensively during my second round, and I maintained a strong use of my healing powers for my team, not to mention the breakout of my entangling ability, where all the enemy minions would be temporarily stuck. I even got a few kills on the opposing team, ending up getting the second most kills overall. It was great getting to see the strengths and weaknesses of a character first hand, as Ivy quickly grew to be a comfortable character for me to play as.
Now being that this is a multiplayer focused game, it is for the most part an online experience. That’s not to say that it is multiplayer only. The game does have a detailed tutorial to teach you how to play the game and give you a better understanding, which may definitely help players new to the franchise. Even so, there are also custom games, giving players the ability to use various bots for offline play. The downside is that when playing in a custom game, you don’t earn any experience to level up and earn more abilities. Now I didn’t experience the offline custom games, so I can’t say how the bots played, but I’ve been told they are continuously being worked on, getting smarter and better with each passing day, currently playing like beginner characters. Even if you want to practice a bit offline, the game is clearly all in the online play, and the amount of depth and variety that the game offers is nothing short of astounding. Orcs Must Die! Unchained is coming exclusively to PC later this year, and is entering closed beta today, so look out for far more coverage as the beta goes on.