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First Impression: Orcs Must Die! Unchained Open Beta

I’m a longtime fan of Robot Entertainment’s Orcs Must Die! games. They’re a unique combination of third-party action and tower defense game with an irreverent attitude, in which you place a variety of traps to prevent waves of increasingly powerful orcs and related monsters from entering rifts, while also playing in the game as a “hero” with your own unique weapons and trinkets that can be used to kill orcs directly. Both Orcs Must Die! and Orcs Must Die! 2 offer excellent single-player campaigns and endless modes, and the latter introduced co-op as well.

I’ve spent more hours than I’d care to admit strategizing over and experimenting with which combination of traps are most effective at killing orcs on which maps. The popular tar trap, combined with wall arrows and a shocker trap on the ceiling? Or a few barricades, a grinder, and some brimstone to catch them on fire? The possibilities are (almost) endless.

Like a lot of OMD fans, I was concerned when I learned the next game in the series, Orcs Must Die! Unchained (OMDU), would have a multiplayer focus, and that it would be free to play. I tend to prefer playing single-player, at least when it comes to strategy games, and although I’ve dabbled in a few MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arenas) like Dota 2, I haven’t really loved the experience.

As for F2P games, I’ve had mixed experiences with those as well-it works well for some games, but when it’s implemented poorly, it’s off-putting and even game-breaking.

But Robot Entertainment promised that solo play was still possible in OMDU, and that the F2P mechanics were implemented well. So when the game launched in Open Beta on PC earlier this week (it comes to the PS4 later this year), I jumped in with fingers crossed, and so far, the results are…mixed to positive. (Positively mixed?)

OMDU offers a few different ways to play the game: “Survival” mode, which is similar to the first two games except you can team up with friends or up to four strangers to stop the waves of Orcs; and the new “Seige” mode, where you team up with four other players in a five-against-five match to see who can get the most orcs past the other team’s traps and into their rift. Whereas in previous OMD games and the Survival mode in OMDU, you are always on the defensive, in Seige mode you’re taking on an offensive role, as well.

In both modes, you pick up crafting materials to make new types of traps, heroes, and weapons. (OMDU has moved to the deck model, so unlike in the previous games, you can only place traps that are in your deck, from cards that must be crafted in advance.)

After several hours of playing the beta, I was happy to discover that a lot of what I love about the OMD series has been retained: the humor, the polished graphics, the traps, and yes, the ability to play single-player (sort-of). But some of the changes leave me less than thrilled. Here are my observations so far:

  • It’s true that you don’t need to spend money to play and enjoy the game-you can buy heroes, skins, weapons and potions, but you can also craft/unlock them just by playing. On the other hand, some of the crafting items like Rift Embers are currently very hard to come by in the game, so you’re going to have to play a lot to craft some of the heroes-or just buy them. I imagine the latter will become more attractive for those of us who don’t want to spend hours grinding, but I’m hoping complaints about this will lead Robot to improve this imbalance.
  • The single-player aka Survival mode is still fun, but too short, and I don’t enjoy the addition of a countdown timer during the periods between waves when you’re supposed to be setting your traps. Some of the maps are large, and not quickly traversed, plus I like time to think about my options.
  • The maps are a lot more spread out, with small kill-corners scattered throughout but long stretches of pathway where you can’t place any traps. This seems designed to emphasize the action aspect of the game (killing orcs or other player-heroes directly with your weapon), which is my least favorite part (I prefer the strategy aspect of the game, not the action). I’m hoping I’ll find better maps on higher levels, though.
  • There aren’t quite enough people playing the open beta yet to make it quick and easy to join a match. Except during peak hours, you’ll often have to wait awhile to be matched to a game, especially in Seige mode.
  • The voice acting is top-notch, as usual. Very entertaining.
  • The graphics and animations are very polished, as I’ve come to expect in OMD games. But…
  • The game still obviously has some major technical bugs to work out-it lags or crashes my computer frequently, especially if a match goes on for awhile. I don’t have the most upgraded gaming PC, so some of it may be my fault, but I’m able to play a lot of other games on my PC (The Witcher 3, XCOM 2 etc.) with no problems.
  • Controller support is currently limited. I’m using a Steam controller and it doesn’t work at all between matches, but works decently in the game. Robot has stated their intentions to support controllers in the near future, and I’m sure they will, especially with the game launching on PS4 sometime later this year.
  • The default female characters in the game are completely oversexualized (the design emphasizes the breasts and butt, their voices are seductive, they wear skimpy clothing while most of the male characters are wearing lots of armor, etc.). You can unlock armor (“skins”) for the female heroes that actually looks a bit like armor, but it takes a long time, which is annoying. Their personalities and sense of humor are great, though-if Robot does anything one thing really well, it’s injecting personality and humor into their games-and they have some great powers. (One of the female heroes you can unlock, Zoe, is arguably one of the best in the game.)

It’s still early days, and Robot has a good track record of being responsive to players, so they’ll undoubtedly tweak the game and mechanics based on feedback and in-game data. In fact, they already have-only two days after the Open Beta launch, Robot has already released a hotfix that increases your chances of earning rift embers, and addresses other player complaints.

Will they tweak it enough to keep me engaged? I’m not sure. But I’m definitely interested in playing more (on the PS4, if I can’t get it to work consistently on my PC) and because it’s F2P, it’s worth trying if you’re at all interested in tower defense games, MOBAs, or even strategy games. Or if you just like killing orcs.

Sarah Warn is the Editor-in-Chief of remeshed.com and an avid player of console and PC games of all kinds. She was previously the founder and EIC of AfterEllen.com, and online editorial director for MTV Networks. Follow Sarah on Twitter.
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Sarah Warn is the Editor-in-Chief of remeshed.com and an avid player of console and PC games of all kinds. She was previously the founder and EIC of AfterEllen.com, and online editorial director for MTV Networks. Follow Sarah on Twitter.

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