Of Orcs and Men Review (Xbox 360/PS3/PC)
When you think of orc, what is it that springs to mind? Is it the Tolkien interpretation, that they’re distinctly evil and barbaric? Is it the mindless horde mentality of the Warhammer universes? If so, it’s refreshing to see an rpg attempt to tackle these creatures in a very different way.
Of Orcs and Men looks at them as an oppressed and shattered people, scraping a existence from the bottom of the barrel, that man has left them with. It’s this that makes Of Orcs and Men and interesting proposition from the beginning.
Of Orcs and Men tells the tale of Arkail “The Butcher of Bay Harbour,” an aggressive and uncontrollable rage-machine on a last ditch suicide mission to assassinate the emperor of the human kingdom.Styx, the foul-mouthed goblin, is a hired hand and is paid to lead Arkail through the great wall that separates the human kingdom from the orc realms, and ultimately to throne room of the emperor himself. Not a simple task, but the last hope that the greenskins have in a war for survival.
The plot is as clichéd as they come, but the pairing of two very different characters leads to some interesting developments. There’s plenty of backstory to be uncovered and character development occurs at a nice pace. It is essentially a greenskin buddy-game, where a budding bro-mance is waiting to happen, but it doesn’t feel forced.
With cliché, however, comes predictability. Plot twists lurch silently in the wings, but are nonetheless glaringly obvious. This undercuts some of the tension that the plot creates, but each event has a knack of driving the plot forward in a cohesive manner, despite dragging its heels at the beginning in the name of exposition.
While the game’s trailer could lead you to believe that Of Orcs and Men is an action rpg, it’s not the case. Those familiar with Dragon Age: Origins’ playstyle will be comfortable in grasping the mechanics. Commands are given to each of the characters, and selected from radial menus (or hotkeys), in a traditional manner.
The interesting aspect is the way in which each of the two characters handles differently.Styx, for the most part, uses long range attacks and status effect attacks up close, putting him under the rpg heading of rogue/assassin, and relies on mana for his special abilities. Arkail, who is a solid tank and a berserker, has a rage bar that needs to be kept in check.
With every attack, Arkail adds rage to his meter; the more powerful the attack, the faster this meter fills up. Once it’s full, he’s literally uncontrollable, reverts to his basic attack and will swing at anything in sight, including Styx.
Using rage release allows the player to control this, so he wonn’t go berserk too soon. The added benefit of the rage mode, is that he occasionally picks people up and snaps their backs in gruesome fashion. Great when it happens, and disappointing when it doesn’t.
There are some stealth sections that allow Styx to become near invisible and stalk the enemy. This mechanic allows the player to soften up opposition in an unavoidable combat scenario, or potentially take out the most powerful enemy on the screen in one move. It’s not perfect, but it does change the pace a little and add a little more hands-on interactivity.
Both characters level up at the same time, and points can be spent learning (or improving) any of the available abilities. The game forces the player to make permanent choices, so taking your playstyle into account is essential, as there are no respec options available.
Beyond combat, there’s little else. It’s a linear game that trundles mercilessly from one encounter to the next, with only minor deviations from the main quest. There are secondary objectives in each of the game’s small mission hubs, but these tend to play out in a series of toe-to-toe conflicts. Occasionally,Styx gets the opportunity to do some throat slitting on his own, but variety is lacking and all the missions are based on a ‘go here and kill him’ philosophy.
Equipment and loot are two other aspects the game chooses to play down. You’ll rarely collect loot from chests, and loot drops are quest specific. There are options for trading and upgrading, but it’s such a basic formula that it will take up very little of your time, and is not specifically aimed at the stat-counting rpg enthusiast.
The presentation is lacklustre overall, but small touches here and there help. Character models are well designed, but very repetitive, and the armour and weapons that are equipped are visible during in-game custscenes. It’s unfortunate that the level design is so bland; more variety would have vastly improved the experience. Trudging through the village in the opening chapter seems to last forever, whereas latter levels, while shorter, suffer from the same repetitive design issues.
Where Of Orcs and Men really succeeds is in it’s audio. The lip-sync may be off at times, but some of the dialogue if gratuitously funny. Whether or not that’s intentional remains to be seen, but the amount of bad language on offer is impressive, and there are even a few insults in there that have probably never been uttered before.
The music is an absolute pleasure to listen to. Though certain combat pieces are repeated, they’re so striking that it never really matters. With a cello quartet making up the bulk of the music, the strings come together to create an impressive score, proving that you don’t need a full orchestra to create a mood.
Of Orcs and Men represents something different for the fantasy rpg genre. It’s a bold attempt to turn the status quo on its head and allows us to see the greenskin behemoths as something other than mindless killing machines, despite Arkail’s very nature.
Cyanide and Spiders, have an opportunity to improve on what is potentially a winning formula, and despite some issues with the game’s presentation there is a great story, backed up by some thoughtful and entertaining combat.
It may not be a perfect experience, but it certainly manages to spin a different yarn than what we’re used to, and hopefully they can go forward and create something truly remarkable.Of Orcs and Men Review (Xbox 360/PS3/PC),