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PAX Prime 2015: Orcs Must Die! Unchained Hands-On Preview – Prepare for Battle

August 31, 2015 Written by Tyler Colp

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There’s a lot going on in Orcs Must Die! Unchained’s co-op mode. There’s loads of orcs that must, obviously, die, and a few of you, the players, doing the killing. That imbalance, as is true to most games from the tower defense heritage, creates a struggle that has a consistent rhythm. Lay traps, ready yourself, confront the horde of enemies, let the traps do their work, and then pick off the stragglers. It’s routine in games like these. It’s a satisfying foundation for the many, many layers that Orcs Must Die! Unchained slides on top.

Strategic Complications

Maybe it’s too much. For Orcs Must Die! Unchained — which is due out on PlayStation 4 early next year — asks a lot of you from the start. The strategy starts at the traps, where careful placement of barriers can route the enemies straight into other, damaging traps. In a team of three other experienced players, which could often be the case since it will be the first game in the series to be free-to-play, your time is limited. There’s only so long you can go before you feel like you’re holding everyone up before the orcs start rushing through.

When they do, you’ve got some abilities to handle. I played The Sorceress, one of several characters in the game. Her role is focused on stunning enemies near traps and instantly re-triggering them, ignoring the brief pause they take otherwise. Those abilities, which are also upgradeable, use mana, which can be replenished with another ability that you have to manage. Executing the right moves results in powerful combos, dealing significant amounts of damage to the orcs. Missing them can mean a quick death, as, remember, the odds are against you.

That’s where team play comes in, supposedly. In my hands-on demo, team play meant tagging along when everyone else ran to where the orcs were streaming in, not coordinating attacks and traps over voice chat. That’s expected for a public demo, but it felt like a big component of the game was missing.

Flow of Combat

All of that management of abilities, trap placement, and backpedaling, lots of backpedaling, opens a lot of room up for skill to determine how successful you are, both as a team and as an individual. That makes sense for a game that has basically no barrier-to-entry. There’s a suggestion of longevity here, opportunities to learn exactly when to lock the orcs in place, when to push, and when to retreat. The rounds only get harder, tightening the demand. It’s clear that it’s going to take some trial-and-error to work yourself into a comfortable role. That said, I think the difficulty requires some level of communication, which could end up being the game’s actual barrier-to-entry.

Orcs Must Die Unchained

There’s still a compelling reason at Orcs Must Die! Unchained’s core to convince other people to at least give the game a try though. Its structure is solid and quickly learned. Each character’s tactics and place in the dynamic of a group, however, will likely take time to fully understand. The game’s flow of defense and offense, pulling you from traps, to shooting orcs, and back again, is engaging, even if you’re not sure if you’re doing it in the most efficient way.

Because it’s all learned as you play with others and in such a difficult environment, the trajectory of knowledge could be overwhelming, or it could be expertly tuned to the amount of time you put in. Right now, it’s hard to say, but what’s already underneath Orcs Must Die! Unchained’s layers of complexity is an enticing starting point.