But Must They? Really?
The world of fantasy has it out for Orcs. Ever since Tolkien bought the term into common parlance, we've been committing fantasy genocide against them. If there's a series that embodies that, it's Orcs Must Die!. If the title doesn't give it away, the entire series operates on the premise that you need to kill all of the orcs. The latest installment, Orcs Must Die! 3, is the first main entry in the series since 2012, meaning it's been nearly a decade since we last got to massacre orcs free of anything as nuanced as a twinge of guilt.
Orcs Must Die! 3 is an action/tower defense hybrid, much like the rest of the series. In each level, you wage war against wave after wave of orcs, trolls, and various other monsters. To accomplish this, you must set traps and wield magical artifacts and weapons to take down enemies before they reach the rift gate that you are defending. You start with a few minimalistic traps at your disposal, but as you progress, you unlock successively more over-the-top contraptions to lay waste to the evil enemy hoards that besiege you.
Throughout the storyline, you can take control of either Egan or Kelsey. Their main differences are the weapon they always carry, and the unique abilities they possess. It comes down to a choice between a bow and a blunderbuss, or more accurately between speed and power. Personally, speed trumps power, at least when it comes to taking down insane numbers of enemies anyway. No matter who you choose, both characters are present throughout the story, so from a narrative perspective, it doesn't change anything.
Orcs Must Die! 3 Has Some Balancing Issues
If there's something you need to understand about Orcs Must Die! 3, it's that it feels very co-op centric. While it's possible to get through on your own, it's certainly much, much harder without a friend by your side. The battlefields are often complicated, and with multiple entry-points, trying to manage the enemies on your own can be stressful.
Difficulty balance in Orcs Must Die! 3 is all over the place. The first 3 levels are pretty straightforward; even on the solo mode, they can be simply completed on any difficulty setting. Then the fourth level suddenly jumps up the challenge factor by introducing ogres. These creatures are slow but strong. That is, they're slow until they spot you. If you get too close, they'll lock onto you and charge at you. Not only does this stun you temporarily, but it also leaves you open to taking a beating from their giant clubs. A dodge ability would probably have been pretty handy, to be honest.
You might think that the introduction of ogres, or perhaps even more powerful enemies down-the-line, would make later levels much harder. That's not the case. It turns out that a lot of the difficulty comes from the way that the different map layouts out more than the enemies that you have to face. In an open map with plenty of room, even though enemies aren't much of a challenge. In more enclosed spaces, you're likely to be quickly overwhelmed on your own. In many ways, the layout of the levels should have been more carefully planned, rather than the spawn rates of the different enemy types.
You Have To Know How To Exploit The System
The layout of the stages also gives you a chance to level the playing field. If you're overwhelmed on a particular map, you can use blockades to change the way that the enemies march towards your rift. Although the barricades are destructible, enemies seem entirely opposed to doing so unless they're completely blocked from progressing. Even better, if you place the blockade at the end of a long corridor, the orcs will still refuse to attack it. Instead, they'll spend ages going back to the start of the passage and finding another way. That particular tactic won me many matches.
The main new feature of Orcs Must Die! 3 is War Scenarios. These are huge maps with a large number of enemies and giant traps. The war maps are quite impressive, but they do tend to exacerbate the unwritten co-op requirement. Because the maps are even larger than regular ones, the lack of a partner helping you out is even more pronounced than usual. It's just about possible to get through them on solo, but you're probably going to need to keep the difficulty level on Apprentice until you really get good.
As you make your way through the campaign, you automatically unlock new traps, weapons, and artifacts. You can also upgrade and customize these abilities by using skulls you gain from playing the levels. You can freely refund your upgrades at any point, so if you find a combination isn't working for you, it's easy to change up your style until you find one that does work. The amount of freedom this system affords you makes working through the harder levels less of a pain. It also means that you can't be locked into a bad character build and spoil the game for yourself.
Orcs Must Die! 3 Is A Polished Experience
Orcs Must Die! 3 offers a refined presentation. Graphically the visuals are consistent throughout, featuring a cartoony style that fits the not-particularly-serious tone of the story. That is also matched in the animations as well. Whenever you kill an enemy, they slide across the floor, rag-dolling into walls or other enemies. Also, each level ends with a dance loop, even the levels taking place in the past with powerful characters. While the dancing isn't too heinous or anything, it's a bit grating at times and smacks just a little bit too much of aping Fortnite.
There are 18 levels of the story campaign, and it takes about 10 hours to complete if you can get through each level your first time. There's also an endless mode with seven levels, but unfortunately, these endless maps are just a selection of the maps from the main game, so they're not much fun. You do have to replay old levels sometimes to get more upgrade points, but once you've actually completed the campaign there's not much to come back for. Unless you find the idea of getting a high score appealing in this day and age.
Orcs Must Die! 3 Review| Final Thoughts
Overall, Orcs Must Die! 3 is a great comeback for a series that has been gone for far too long. Even if you've never played before, the new version is a great entry point. The war scenarios are tough, but their epic scale delivers on the promise of a game made nearly ten years since the last principal installment. The freedom of the upgrade system and the customizability of your tools means that no challenge is genuinely impossible, even on your own. Just don't expect to feel like coming back for more once you finish.
TechRaptor reviewed Orcs Must Die! 3 on Google Stadia with a code provided by the developer.
- Well Animated And Designed Visuals
- Challenging And Varied Gameplay
- Lots Of Freedom With Upgrades
- Not Much Replayability
- Endless Maps Are Just The Campaign Maps Again