Orcs Must Die 3 Review: Creatively Culling in the Cloud
It's been three games, but these orcs are still destined for slaughter. Launching first exclusively on Google Stadia, Orcs Must Die 3 (OMD3) returns much of the over-the-shoulder tower defense fans will recall from earlier games in the series.
This time, it's said that Stadia offers players new ways to see the war unfold, like impressively dense battles only possible in the cloud.
We have no other platforms to compare the performance to today. Still, it's true that the hordes look magnificent and intimidating on Stadia, which only makes taking them out that much more rewarding.
Orcs Must Die 3 Review: Creatively Culling in the Cloud
For the uninitiated, as I once was, Orcs Must Die 3 is a third-person action-tower defense game. While my first impression of OMD3 (and thus the series) was to compare it to Fortnite's lesser-played Save The World mode, I watched some gameplay of the previous games and realized it's the other way around. Orcs Must Die was already doing the sort of action-tower defense seen in Save The World years ago.
The story of Orcs Must Die 3 skips ahead two decades to a time when the last game's hero is now dead, and the villain has been reformed as a mentor for two young heroes. Suffice it to say that beyond some tween leanings in characterization, which regularly color the characters' quips, the story is properly backburnered as little more than lore for longtime fans. You can easily hop into this third entry with no prior knowledge of the series and pick up the narrative pieces you may want to understand.
Each level plays out in a castle-like environment. An overhead map shows you where the entry points are and eventually where the enemies are attacking from, while the UI reveals how many waves you must survive.
Players choose their loadout from a handful of projectile weapons like a crossbow and a freezing spell as well as dozens of traps and are asked to keep enemies out of the Rift, a portal that would presumably send orcs to the human world. Truly, the context here is quite irrelevant, but that's okay. It fits the setup.
Orcs Must Die 3 has a mobile game-like addictiveness to it, which pairs pretty nicely with Stadia as you can play it mobile on proper wifi. I spent most of my review time playing it on a phone, and the whole experience was clearly built to translate across the Stadia landscape.
It seems the guiding principle of OMD3 was not a measure of how to drastically change the formula laid before it, but how to make everything seem bigger and better. In turn, the cast of villains and the ways to thwart them are both extremely deep.
I counted 50 total traps and weapons available to players, and I'm still unlocking some of those. They get wildly creative too, from early unlocks like spiked floors and overheard tenderizers to late-game unlocks that can upend the game's economy, allowing your traps to become much more effective.
Each of these items has its own skill tree that takes lots of item uses before completing, meaning one playthrough of the game simply won't be enough to use them all.
Endless mode sits alongside the campaign's 18 chapters as further means of toying with the eponymous orcs, and it's in either mode where the central draw of OMD3 truly shines.
Experimentation is key, and the game hardly nudges you toward any particular items, only sometimes reminding you of a new tool you've unlocked (which can be inferred may do wonders on your current map). You'll unlock certain traps as you progress, but you can also skip the line and unlock some things when you feel like it, customizing your loadout with the traps you rely on the most.
Early on, I found great success just littering the floors with spikes, but it doesn't take long before more towering orcs can survive several such blows and pierce frontline defenses. Often we hear "trial and error" when someone is complaining of a game's mechanics, but in OMD3, it's a fantastic selling point.
Failures are interesting because you can often see where your best-laid plans went awry. That teases a swift return. Several times, I played much longer than I planned because I was determined to fix my mistakes and see a level through to the end of the last wave.
The downside to the openness of each level is that some feel like difficulty spikes. Rather than a smooth upward curve found in some other genre games, OMD3 hit me a few times with levels that seemed much harder than they should have been, and which took many more tries to overcome. They'd still end before frustration set in, but I did sometimes find myself at wit's end regarding how to slow the surge of orcs into the Rift.
If your creativity isn't enough to overcome some of the game's immense challenges, it's playable totally in co-op too. There's not much for me to say about this feature other than it totally fits in this game — and really, isn't almost everything better in co-op?
While the levels drive creativity, the setting leaves a lot to be desired. Layouts vary with each map, but the surrounding assets feel reused regularly. Mostly the same castle walls and far-off fantasy landscapes color each level, leaving OMD3 feeling visually repetitive. Since the story hardly matters, I feel like there was an opportunity to diversify the backdrops more than Robot Entertainment did.
If it's any consolation, you'll often be so frantically dashing around each level to ensure your defenses are holding up that you won't have time for sightseeing. This is never more apparent than with War Scenarios. In these sections, players relive the adventures of past heroes as they fend off some absurdly large hordes of green ghoulies.
I was told the number of orcs on one screen can reach as much as 450, and though it'd be virtually impossible to count them, I believe it from having seen it in action. These levels feature some of the most intricate pathways and by far the coolest weapons even among dozens of great candidates.
Some weapons are exclusive to these War Scenarios, which break up the campaign every few levels, giving players tools like mountable catapults that rain fire on the orcs or giant trap floors, which can flip them cleanly off the castle like a spatula. These levels are like the boss battles of the campaign, and as a result, they are the most elaborate spectacles of all.
Orcs Must Die 3 Review — The Bottom Line
- War scenarios deliver stunning hordes and awesome weapons
- Creativity reigns supreme with seemingly endless routes to victory
- Fun even in failure as you work out better strategies
- Lighthearted style and colors
- Set dressing of levels is very repetitive
- Some difficulty spikes can throw off the rewarding flow of progress
In all, Orcs Must Die 3 returns a lot of the humor and level design players may remember from earlier games, but it's all presented on a grander scale. With dozens of worthwhile traps to choose from, there are countless ways to win, and with War Scenarios, winning will have never felt better in the game — or perhaps the series.
Some gripes with set dressing and difficulty spikes aside, Orcs Must Die 3 is an easy recommendation for fans of the series and genre alike.
[Note: A copy of Orcs Must Die 3 was provided by Robot Entertainment for the purpose of this review.]