Friday, December 28, 2012

Of Orcs and Men Review

So. Of Orcs and Men.

Pretty standard fantasy fare, really. Nothing new here. Orcs vs Humans. Humans have driven the Orcs practically to extinction. They've built a huge wall (think, Game of Thrones type wall) to keep out the few remaining tribes. The Orcs are hippy earth mother types. You're The Butcher of Bloodjaw Tribe (Riddick, anyone?), Arkail, and tasked with killing the human emperor in a final suicide mission. 

You're sent looking for a guide who turns out to be the only sentient goblin in existence (the others are basically feral, like wild dogs, unable to speak and how little or no signs of intelligence - in fact, you're going to be killing lots of them).

Styx is your goblin friend, and between you, you make a pretty formidable pair. Combat is intriguing. You slow down combat (to practically a standstill) while you queue up to 4 commands from 2 trees. There are actually 3 tress, but one is "special" and hardly used.

Arkail the Orc has Offence and Defence. Also, a rage bar. Offensive attacks fill the rage bar more quickly than defensive. Defensive attacks also contain rage-bar-emptying moves. If you max your rage, you (literally) lose control of him, and he auto-attacks everything, including Styx, if he's close. He pumps out way more damage, though. Juggling rage deployment is key to winning battles. 

Defensive moves trade damage output for aggro generation and damage mitigation, with some light healing, including a shell buff.

Styx, on the other hand, has melee and ranged. Instead of rage, he has a 'concentration' bar, which fills over time (stats/equipment affect the charge speed) which limit his high damage attacks.

Given his lack of health, it makes sense to keep him ranged as much as possible, while letting Arkail suck up the ammo. 

In addition, Styx can stealth, and kill enemies before combat proper starts. In this way, you can turn the odds against you. It's fun to scout around and work out who you can take. Lightweight stealth, generously implement. It's easy to see who you're meant to get, and not hard to get them. But fun nonetheless.

There are many types of debuff (damage armour, vulnerability, bleeding, stuns and more). 

It's a bold system that reminds me in a large way of Mass Effect, although you can actually (and will need to) switch players- you're not stuck playing as one or the other.

It's also extremely punishing. You will die. Often. Especially at the start. But autosave points are frequent (basically before every combat), and at least on PC, you can manually save wherever you like. Also, if a character dies in battle, raising your team mate is quick enough that's it's practically instant, although their health will be low when they come back, so you'd better have a plan.

Levelling up is also done nicely. At each level, both characters gain a stat point (mind, stamine, agility, strength), which each affect 2 of 8 characteristics. The characteristics and concepts aren't desperately well explained, but that's ok. What exactly does striking force 25 mean? Is it a percent? Is it added to my stun attempt? I don't know. But 26 is probably better.

You also gain skills, and here things get interesting. Each skill has 2 options to specialise, and you can only take one. It encourages a replay, just to see how it would have played out differently, especially if you consider the stats which can change you loadout considerably. Do you go for low damage, high survivability with Arkail, or a comparative glass cannon? Do you focus on offensive skills to max out rage quickly and go on a frenzy? Or do you want to balance high damage with control?

Loot is generous with stat boosts too, meaning you can recover early mistakes with gear easily.

The levels themselves are seriously linear, with exploration limited to the occasional alley offshooting from the main corridor. Loot is limited. But that's part of the charm. It's a short game (maybe 15 hours if you take your time), so you're never going to scream in frustration at getting stuck on terrain, or the awful voice acting (listen to Styx and Arkail, skim the subtites and skip the rest). The appalling human character models won't upset you too much, because the Orc and Goblin are really something to look at, and it's them you're looking at for most of the game.

The side quests are unimaginative too, always a case of "go here, kill some people on the way, then kill a miniboss, then watch a loading screen".

But, there's definitely something about it. If you can pick this up from a bargain bin, and enjoy a good, quick romp through a pretty fantasy world (with ugly characters), I'd strongly recommend it. Styx and Arkail do have some great lines, and I found myself, while not laughing, at least smirking in appreciation of some of their comments, but quickly started to skip any interactions with other characters.

You can see the first part of my playthrough here:

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