Orcs Must Die 2
This is what last fall’s Orcs Must Die would have been in a perfect world. Orcs Must Die 2 is the same game, but the vastly greater breadth of the experience makes the original look like a demo. You’re still combining direct combat with deadly traps to slaughter wave after wave of barbarous monsters before they reach their goal, but the additions of another playable character, cooperative play, several traps and weapons, and a handful of enemies unleash players’ murderous creativity.
The straightforward application of spike traps, acid sprayers, shotguns, and bladestaffs to squishy orc bodies is more than sufficient at first. Once its basic tower defense-style concepts are established, Orcs Must Die 2 wastes no time in presenting new looks to the player. Multiple paths, spawn points, and goals force you to dash between areas, often fighting a desperate battle to wipe out one band of enemies so you can beat feet to the next trouble spot. New enemies shrug off old strategies, as fliers float over your carefully constructed defenses and hulking ogres casually stroll through horrific gauntlets before bashing your face in with a giant club. Constant re-evaluation of your tactics and loadouts is necessary to progress, much less achieve top rankings for each level – not only giving you leaderboard bragging rights, but also skulls to buy upgrades for your arsenal.
Orcs Must Die 2’s hooks sank in for good as soon as I realized the extent to which the game encourages and even expects players to radically alter their approaches. The free, unlimited ability to refund all spent skulls lets players try out any crazy combination they can think of. Players have an immense amount of creative space to mess around with thanks to the expanded options in this sequel, my favorite of which are the passive boosts (like health regeneration and extra coin drops) provided by the new trinket items. The first huge combo score I pulled off had me laughing out loud, with floor scorchers setting orcs on fire as they walked through acid spray only to be thrown around by a system of ceiling-mounted haymakers like a horrible washing machine. Replaying the same level with the other character and funneling all the enemies into a narrow hallway to be whirlwinded into oblivion by my massive hammer as dwarf guardians fling grenades into their midst is a completely different, yet similarly amazing experience.
While the new sorceress character shares the bulk of her trap/weapon options with the returning male war mage, the exclusive items each hero gets are so powerful that they enable totally different playstyles. Among other character-specific abilities, her cheap charm spell and mana-free area-effect blasts tear apart big groups with ease while his huge hammer smashes the strongest foes to bits in seconds. I constantly flip between the two (they have their own progression through levels and modes, which I heartily approve of for increasing replayability) because I love experimenting with both ability sets so much.
This replayability takes Orcs Must Die 2 from great to incredible. You could blast through normal difficulty in a single dedicated day, but hard mode (which is well worth playing, rather than being a tacked-on nod to hardcore fans) is another story. Furthermore, classic mode brings several levels from the original into the sequel so you can see just how many more options you have now. Endless mode is the final challenge, and ramps up into obscene difficulty (and commensurate score and skull rewards) around wave 20, at which point you’ve still got a long way to go.
Co-op play is integrated without fuss. Rather than a separate set of co-op levels, any level can be played with a friend. The trade-off for having two players running more than makes up for receiving less money individually. I have had zero problems connecting or playing with buddies outside of a tiny bit of network latency that makes dancing in and out of ogres’ melee range riskier. While many levels are obviously built to support co-op, with monsters taking simultaneous paths that have to be dealt with separately, I’m disappointed that horde compositions don’t take the presence of a second player further into account. The normal and hard modes are both so much massively easier with a buddy that the otherwise enjoyable sense of tension is gutted. On the other hand, endless mode is still there for a challenge.
Orcs Must Die 2 is a strategy game at heart – you’ll have a hard time even completing normal mode without at least some thought put into trap placement – but the constant action and adrenaline-surging thrills of tearing orc hordes apart with your personal weapons and spells captures much of the appeal of third-person brawlers as well. The near-flawless execution on every level makes the brilliant concepts at the game’s core shine through with perfect clarity. Even if you’ve never played or so much as heard of the original game, Orcs Must Die 2 is worth a place of honor in your collection.
This is what last fall’s Orcs Must Die would have been in a perfect world.