Orcs Must Die! Unchained Review – Free to Slay (PS4)
Orcs Must Die! Unchained is the latest in a series that’s been out since 2011. The original release was a regular retail game (exclusive to Xbox and PC), and the second was only on PC, which is why it might seem odd that this latest one is a free-to-play title coming to PlayStation for the first time in the series’ history. Don’t run off just because I said free-to-play though. Orcs Must Die! Unchained retains the same frenetic combination of tower defense and action games that the series is known for while adding a ton of new modes, and things to earn. Best of all? It’s free.
Orcs Must Die! Unchained pits players against waves of orcs and other enemies, allowing up to three online players to lay traps together, coordinating their efforts to stop these enemies from reaching their rift. During the waves, you use your selected hero to fight off the enemies in addition to your traps, and each hero has a unique blend of skills and abilities that makes replaying the game feel fresh and fun every time you hold back the horde.
At the start, Orcs Must Die! Unchained gives players three free heroes, with a ton more available to earn. This is where the microtransactions come into play. Buying coins will allow you to unlock additional heroes, skins, and upgrades for your traps faster. Though I was given 15,000 coins for the purpose of the review, I wanted to spend some time playing Unchained without using the coins, to get a feel for how free-to-play players would experience the game. The good news is that everything can be earned through regular gameplay, even it it does take some time. Fortunately Orcs Must Die! Unchained is a fun enough game that the time investment never got to feeling like a slog or a bad thing. There are always new challenges opening up to give players an opportunity to get more loot.
Granted, it’s certainly possible that later in the game the loot dynamic changes and skews towards nudging players into purchases, but if I can say I got a solid 10 hours out of a free-to-play game without ever feeling the need to pay a dime, then I’d say that’s a pretty solidly done free-to-play game. Once I did start using the coins I was given, it opened up a lot of additional gameplay possibilities for me with new heroes and the ability to keep earning even more loot by completing missions with them. While not necessary, the microtransactions do end up feeling like they add a lot of fun without ever feeling gamebreaking or unfair. I’d say it is easily one of the best examples of balancing a free-to-play title around its paid content, and should be lauded for never feeling “cheap.”
Kill Orcs With Friends
While solo play is still fun, Orcs Must Die! Unchained is a game that is made to be played with other people. There’s something special about setting up a coordinated effort to stop a seemingly unstoppable wave of enemies, and yet, sometimes I would get exceptionally frustrated at the idiocy of other players as they would set up complete asinine configurations that made little sense at all. If there’s one thing I wish Unchained did, it’s to allow players to set suggestions for other players. Maybe flag a pathway for a barricade. Perhaps set up an alert that a hallway should be a kill box. Or even mark traps and objects that you don’t think should be placed where they are.
I had one match where I watched a player waste all of their coins on building barricades along a path the orcs wouldn’t even run for, instead of creating a smarter kill box with me and the other player. Long story short, we got swarmed and lost the match in the first wave. Some players just don’t want to hop into a voice chat, and it would be nice to set quick flags and suggestions about strategy so that those blow out losses don’t happen.
Normally though, every battle feels like a new experience, and luckily it wasn’t too often that me and my team were out of sync. The matches play similarly to a MOBA, so your hero levels up throughout the waves, unlocking a selection of new skills and abilities as you go. Once the match ends, your hero goes back to level one for the next one. This ensures that players of all levels and types can play together, never feeling left behind because they haven’t leveled up enough. Different tiers of the standard Survival mode allow you to take on more once you’ve leveled your traps and items up, but I always felt I was being placed into balanced groups because of the way the game starts everyone in the same place.
Listen All Y’all, It’s Sabotage!
In addition to the Survival mode, Orcs Must Die! Unchained features a pseudo versus mode called Sabotage. Two teams of three are pitted against one another, each attempting to defend their own rifts, just like the normal Survival mode. The twist is that players can use minions and spells against their enemies potentially ruining some of their plans and generally making things a little more difficult. In one match, we had built barricades to direct the enemies in a certain way and the opposing team used a spell that destroyed barricades, meaning our hard work and planning was suddenly shot to pieces and we were forced to scramble and kill the enemies using only our heroes before they got to the rift. It’s exciting never quite knowing how the other team is doing aside from seeing how many rift points they have left, and many a Sabotage match has come down to the wire for me, either eking out a win, or just managing to lose in what feels like the most critical and crazy moments.
Having released on PS4 in close proximity, it would be easy to make comparisons to Fortnite, but Orcs Must Die! Unchained is truly its own game, retaining the action tower defense style it’s had since the original. There’s a special charm and personality here, along with the fast paced and easy to pick up gameplay. The one place that Orcs Must Die! Unchained falters is that the PS4 release still feels like a console port. Most notably the menus are cumbersome and difficult to navigate, clearly having been made with the PC release in mind. The game also features small text and icons that aren’t conducive to sitting far away on a couch.
Orcs Must Die! Unchained is a shining example of how to balance a free-to-play game to be engaging without paying, yet rewarding if you do decide to drop some money into it. The wave-based gameplay is a lot of fun, particularly when playing with other people, and the unique versus mode creates a whirlwind of cooperation and competition. Robot Entertainment could have done a little more to tailor the PS4 release specifically to the console, as well as better functions for quick communication during online matches, but these are small gripes on an otherwise great experience.
Orcs Must Die! Unchained is free-to-play. Review code for 15,000 credits provided by publisher. Reviewed on standard PS4. For more information on scoring read our Review Policy.