Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Reviewed by: William Mabin
Orcs have been storming areas of popular culture for a while now. JRR Tolkien’s version of them in Lord of the Rings and World of Warcraft’s of them has had other definitions under siege for equally long. Recently Blizzard has released ‘The Story of Warcraft’ which chronicles the tales of Orcs since Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. What always piques my interest is when people tackle the subject of Orcs as ‘the Good Guys’ rather than the demonic army of Tolkien’s books. Of Orcs and Men attempts to create such a world in which humans are the fanatical right-wing who seek to purge the realm of other mystical races. Let’s see how well the story, graphics and gameplay match up to previous representations of these beastly characters.
Developed by Cyanide Studios and Spiders, and published by Focus Home Interactive comes this glorious tale of a bad tempered Orc named Arkail who is forced to team up with a sneaky, sarcastic goblin named Styx in order to challenge the tyrannical reign of the human races. The story takes place in a land known as the Iserian continent. The Emperor Damocles, an uncompromising conqueror, has for decades sent his forces into the Southern parts of the land inhabited by the green skinned Orcs that have/possess ‘a natural born talent for war’. The Orcs either have to submit to slavery or die… and it is because of this that a band of Orcish rebels decide that the only course of action is to assassinate Damocles himself.
Arkail, a member of the most elite squadron of Orcish fighters: the Bloodjaws, is sent by his commander on a near suicide mission to infiltrate parts of the human settlement that will act as a distraction to allow the rest of his people to assassinate the human emperor and thus end the totalitarian regime that has been inflicted on them. Arkail is quick to put his life on the line for this cause, but almost has second thoughts when he meets his new partner who he calls a ‘Rakash’, a racial term for a Goblin. Gradually putting their differences aside the unlikely pair must use their unique skills to stand a chance against the onslaught of the humans.
The story is quite linear, although it does offer a few short side-quests that act as opportunities to further the gameplay. It is great to see a fresh spin. The world exists in much the same vein as the series of books Orcs by Stan Nicholls in which the Orcs are also the good guys and in which characters swear and speak in the lingo of the modern world, as opposed to some kind of alternate, Shakespearean-inspired universe. This allows for characters that today’s players can relate to and the twist of humans being the bad guys never gets old either. The game also exaggerates the way in which fantasy uses ‘races’ as if making a poignant point about the repercussions of imperialism or something like that.
It is as if the game’s developers decided to focus on single characters in a Warcraft: Orcs and Humans top down game. They zoomed into the adventures of a particular Orc and goblin while retaining the premise that a lot of the action, although activated by the player takes place automatically. Rather than button bash and hack your way to victory the player is required to deal with two wheels that represent two stances. In Arkail’s case there is one Offensive Stance and one Defensive. Styx has ranged attacks and melee attacks. As well as this, both characters have special moves that can be used to resurrect the other character. The player slows down the action and chooses which attacks should be inflicted on which enemies, forcing the player to think smart rather than smash buttons. You can use up to four attacks in one combination. There are also, however, times where the player can use ‘manual labour’ to defeat evil NPCs. You can perform a basic set of attacks with each player. The format of the game is third person and the player can switch between Arkail and Styx at any given time.
Styx can use his stealthy ninja skills to turn almost invisible allowing you to silently eliminate opponents with their backs turned to you before engaging in a frontal attack. The game’s RPG interface allows you to assign different attribute points to Strength, Mind, Agility and Stamina, while you can also unlock new skills and upgrades old ones. You can also trade weapons and find new ones, which are genuinely unique and not replicas like in many other RPGs. Although the style of play might frustrate players who want to hack and slash through the action-RPG style of combo button bashing, the game offers an interesting change of style and pace, which I have absolutely no complaints against. The structure of the cities, catacombs and levels in general are very tunnel-like in design and are quite obviously leading the player along a specific path. Of course, this isn’t that different from a lot of single player campaigns in other games these days.
The Orcs featured in Of Orcs and Men do, it’s true, look more like the Incredible Hulk than the slack jaws of the Warcraft games or the Peter Jackson films. This is especially seen when Arkail loses his temper after being countered too much in the Offensive Stance. He enters ‘Beserker mode’ and cannot be controlled for a number of seconds while the screen turns red and he parades around inflicting insane amounts of damage on his tiny human nemeses. This actually served his character quite well and the more human-look of his face ironically serves to make him more relatable to the player, who after all is probably human. Each Orc encountered in the game also looks unique and they range from not-so-bad-looking to hideously deformed by war wounds, which was also a nice touch. For the most part the weather effects are superb, although there are parts where dust particles are evident as alpha mapped grids with animated textures. Also the environment at times appears overly specular.
Wet ground ends up looking like the Sun is shining directly onto plastic and then you realise that you’re in a catacomb with no apparent light source, other than the ominous glow of a torch that doesn’t make an appearance in the character’s hands either. Arkhail’s weapons unfortunately also float a few inches from his back which is probably the most notable glitch and there are times where camera angles obscure the action. Most of this is heavy criticism on the Silk Engine, which actually for the most part performs well. Additionally, the characters and their surroundings generally look quite good throughout the entire experience.
If anything the sound really breathes life into Of Orcs and Men. The character’s quick retorts and dirty remarks will surely entertain you; however, parental guidance is advised for the foul mouthed characters in the game if children are running about. The music puts a menacing mood in the game, which really intensifies the overall experience. The voice acting and sound effects during the games cinematics contribute nicely to the well-structured characters and considered plot of the game.
For traditional third-person action enthusiasts Of Orcs and Men might not be everyone’s cup of tea. For the most part it replaces button combinations with the system of selecting your attacks and assigning them to enemies in a certain sequence. In this sense, it really is the meeting heads of a strategy game and a third-person RPG. It’s as if the action on a broad battlefield in Warcraft 3 has been zoomed into and a narrative assigned to what would be a nameless duo of henchmen. This narrative, and the way that the characters are defined and act out their personalities, is quite sophisticated and parts of the story may shock and amuse people for different reasons. For the most part the graphics are decent, unless you are straining to find flaws. Additional the voice acting serves the story well, which really brings this title to life. While Of Orcs and Men could have been more open-ended, it still manages to set the mood with different twists both in story and gameplay. Overall, If you are looking for something different then I recommend you try Of Orcs and Men.
Value for Money: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 6/10
Predominantly reviewed on Xbox 360.