If you already played Orcs Must Die!, then the question of whether or not you should get Orcs Must Die! 2 is a very easy one to answer. Did you like the first game? If so, you might as well immediately buy the second one, because it takes the same great formula and irons out just about every wrinkle and nitpick. If you didn’t play Robot Entertainment‘s original surprise hit, jumping right into the second game might very well be your best bet. Released just nine months after the original game, Orcs Must Die! 2 is remarkably similar to its predecessor, but those nine months were spent absolutely perfecting the formula.
Orcs Must Die! 2 is a defense game in which you play as an agent of the Order, a band of magic users who defend the world by slaughtering every orc that enters it. In the first game you only had the thick War Mage to play as, but Orcs Must Die! 2 adds in a second player in the form of the megalomaniacal Sorceress. Regardless of your choice, the game picks up shortly after the War Mage shut down each and every rift in the world. Suddenly, they’ve begun to reopen, and the greater mystery of why it’s happening is slightly interrupted by the thousands of angry orcs that come out. Story was never really the focus of the series, but the writing is good and the plot goes through some lighthearted twists and turns to keep things interesting. The best part of the dialogue is the jokes, and both characters and the orcs themselves have plenty of lines that go from adorably lame to genuinely hilarious. No matter what the quality of the writing is, though, the game is still going to be focused on gameplay first. Fortunately for all of us, the gameplay is terrific.
Orcs Must Die! 2 is often referred to as a tower defense game, which isn’t entirely accurate. A better term is trap defense, as your main method of orc slaughter is through things like triggered spikes, hidden arrow walls, and comical springboards that launch the green fellows off a cliff. If the traps don’t do the entire job, you can fight the orcs yourself as a third-person shooter, scoring headshots and casting spells to keep them from escaping. The trap system is downright ingenious, and combinations of traps can be used to great effect to create some real freedom in the planning stages. A barricade that redirects the orcs to a hallway full of meat grinders? A sea of tar that lets your well-placed regiment of archers demolish the sticky orcs? A decoy to lure the orcs into a pool of brimstone complete with oven jets? There are a lot of viable strategies across the game’s many varied map layouts.
Some sequels go for a huge leap forward, while others pick and choose the minor elements to improve. Orcs Must Die! 2 falls firmly into the latter category in a big way. The headlining addition was the most requested feature for the original game: co-op. Tower defense shooters are the kind of games that suit multiplayer perfectly, and teaming up with a friend in the online co-op mode is terrific fun. Even if this was the only new feature in the sequel, it would still be worthwhile, but Robot Entertainment went further. There’s the new character of the Sorceress, who relies on keeping her distance and charming enemies over the War Mage’s up-close, brutish tactics. The upgrade system has been totally overhauled for the better, with three upgrades per set of gear, as well as a unique “either, or” upgrade—you can choose between things like flaming or freezing arrows, or slowing floor spikes in place of poisoning ones. It’s all supported by the morbid currency of orc skulls, which can be unlocked in a variety of ways and can also be refunded if you want to change your trap setting tactics. Of course there are going to be new enemies, and they’re all great additions to the enemy horde. Most importantly is the sheer amount of new content, including three difficulty settings, fifteen story levels, endless survival conversions, a weekly challenge using a unique loadout, and ten classic maps that get imported for Orcs Must Die! owners with all of the new game trimmings and features. Orcs Must Die! may have been a tad bare-bones, but you can make no such claim about the meaty sequel.
There are very few issues with this much needed expansion on the original core elements, and those that crop up are thankfully minor. One annoyance is that the two games largely look the same and reuse a lot of environments; however, the cartoonish art style was superb to begin with, and the new additions to the art assets fit the material well. Unlike the first game, controller support is all over the place, likely due to the lack of an Xbox 360 port, so you’ll largely want to stick with a keyboard and mouse. The only real flaw for single-players is the focus on co-op oriented maps for the first half of the game, which gets slightly aggravating as you run back and forth between opposite ends of the level. This problem somewhat vanishes as the game moves on to more straightforward levels, which gives it a slightly wonky difficulty curve if you don’t have a partner to double up with.
Final Verdict: Robot Entertainment took the laundry list of fan complaints about Orcs Must Die!, addressed every one of them while polishing up the formula to an absolute shine, and threw in plenty of new content with the promise of more to come. If you liked Orcs Must Die!, the sequel is a must buy. If you’re new to the series, it’s certainly worth checking out the unique brand of trap defense gameplay that Orcs Must Die! 2 delivers.
This review is based on a review copy of the Steam PC version of Orcs Must Die! 2 provided by Robot Entertainment.