Part of what makes me so inclined to try games out is the potential for reward. Nothing warms my nerd heart more than seeing my plans for a game play out with stunning efficiency, and that’s something Robot Entertainment has done with their Orcs Must Die! series.
For the unitiated, OMD! is a tower defense game which places your character on the battlefield during the defense of a glowing rift. Orcs and other assorted baddies will try to get into the rift, and it’s your job to stop them. You have a number of traps at your disposal, along with various weapons and spells.
While the first OMD! was a solo affair, the sequel, released Monday, has opened it up to a second player, as well: you can play co-op with the Warmage character from the first game, or the new Sorceress. Both have certain pros and cons (for instance, the Sorceress has a much larger mana pool to cast spells with), and can be customized with different upgrades and cosmetics to truly make the character feel like your own.
And I think that this extra customization is really what cranks the replayability up a notch: if I had a problem with the old game, is that each trap could only be upgraded once, and after that things kind of fell flat. Now, each trap has three levels of upgrades, and then one “unique” upgrade that adds elemental damage, or some other property. Add in the ability to make multiple character profiles with their own upgrades, and you have different loadouts for different levels.
That’s what I like about this game: it realized that if it were to progress as a genre and series, it would need to kick things up a level and not just give us a bunch more maps and a second playable character. Instead, we have new mechanics, new enemies, and new ways to play – like Valve’s Left 4 Dead 2 (which seemed like a simple upgrade), it completely changes the way you play the game.
This shows when you venture online, as well: playing with a friend is smooth, has good netcode and really shines on the Steam platform. Leaderboards with scores finally make sense, as you can easily match how you’re doing with bragging rights. Partnering up also leads to some interesting combinations, as more experienced players can guide newer ones, earning skulls (which you trade in to upgrade your traps) for both parties.
Eventually, a team can become so well-oiled that levels become a blur; you attack each new map with gusto, and even venture into the hella-hard Endless Mode. I genuinely had a lot of fun playing Orcs Must Die! 2, and adding one more person just supplemented that experience.
My only worry is the game’s sustainability: even with the massive amounts of upgrades, legions of levels and the three difficulties, some players are going to find ways to exploit the game’s mechanics for easy scores and skulls.
For instance, in the first game it was possible to use barricades to corral orcs into a “kill lane”, where a swinging mace would kill everything instantly. This made certain levels extremely easy, even on the most hellish of difficulties, and frankly, not too much fun to play. This even removes the whole point of the game, replacing fiendish creativity with boring efficiency for the sake of points.
So what happens when someone discovers it in this title? Will Robot patch it? Encourage it?
Perhaps gamers just won’t care — I know I’ll be too happy flinging orcs off spring-loaded catapults to notice.