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Orcs Must Die! 3 Review

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Wise Member
Aug 25, 2020
After an unsuccessful detour into competitive multiplayer in Orcs Must Die! Unchained, the Stadia-exclusive Orcs Must Die! 3 is a return to the co-op action/tower defense gameplay that made this series an old favorite of mine. I have to admit I was a little surprised at how literal that return is, though – so much of the selection of traps and menagerie of orcs is recycled from 2012’s OMD 2 that it feels like the kind of iterative sequel you’d get one year after the last game, rather than eight. And the one big new idea, the large-scale War Scenario maps, are too spread out to really play to the series’ strengths. It’s all still good meat-grinding fun, of course, but it’s very familiar. Orcs Must Die! 3’s story is the same goofy fantasy from the previous two games. The two new warmage characters’ banter has a couple of chuckle-worthy moments as the sassy one berates the oblivious one until they earn mutual respect as they discover they make a good team, but outside of that it’s pretty run-of-the-mill. The potentially interesting story ideas they hint at, like one of them being an especially gifted magic user, don’t actually go anywhere and play no part in resolving the conflict with a villain with all the character development of Megatron from the original Transformers cartoon. It’s fine, just superficial.

But as always, it’s immensely satisfying to assemble an efficient slaughterhouse by laying down a variety of different traps and racking up combo scores by bouncing your parade of victims from one to the next. Each of the 18 levels is a challenging puzzle to optimize the enemies’ path so that they trigger as many traps as possible. Once you’ve made them take the most inconvenient path possible with barricades (their route is helpfully visualized by ghost orcs during the planning phase), you litter the way with spike traps that impale them from below, shock traps that zap them from above, arrow traps that blast them with projectiles out of the walls, spring traps that launch them into pools of lava or literal meat grinders, saw blades that protrude from the floor, flaming coals they have to walk over, and more.

The more abuse you make them take, the higher the score (and thus resources for more traps to lay for the next wave) you extract from them when they finally die, and that means there’s actually value in hitting them with low-damage traps so that they don’t die immediately. This game is a little bit sadistic when you think about it, so I recommend against that. Anything that’s left standing you have to deal with yourself using the simple but effective third-person shooting and trinket spells. Honestly, the ice attack is tough to go without – being able to freeze one enemy or an entire group in their tracks is invaluable when you’re facing down a charging ogre (who annoyingly stuns you before he attacks) or making a last-second effort to stop a durable enemy from making it into your castle’s mystical end zone.

Each playable character, including those you unlock after completing the campaign, is distinguished by a special movement ability, but I haven’t found them especially useful. For example, Kelsey can hover for a few seconds, but… why is that good? You don’t get much advantage from attacking from above and you can’t jump high enough to avoid getting smacked around, so I’m not sure. Egan’s ground-pound is slightly better but still a weapon of last resort. Each character also has a weapon associated with them in the campaign – a shotgun for Kelsey and a bow for Egan – both with some pretty destructive alternate-fire abilities that consume mana. Kelsey’s proximity grenade launcher pulled my fat out of the fire on numerous occasions. That said, you can take any weapon you want if you’re willing to use up one of your inventory slots, which sacrifices space for traps, so the choice of which character to play as doesn’t feel tremendously important.
The Orcs Must Die! art style hasn’t changed much from the distinctively cartoony look we first saw in 2011, but it has aged extremely well and the orcs and environments look great in 4K. I did notice some choppiness during some crowded battles, but other than that it ran smoothly, especially after a restart.
Playing on Stadia

Outside of a few brief demos, Orcs Must Die! 3 was my first real experience playing a game on Google Stadia, using my Windows PC through Google Chrome and over a hard-wired gigabit fiber internet connection. Overall, I’ve come away impressed: if you hadn’t told me I wasn’t running locally, most of the time I probably wouldn’t have noticed a difference. Latency is present but not so bad I couldn’t bullseye small, moving targets just before they made it into my rift. However, there were definitely things that popped up that wouldn’t have been an issue if I’d been playing Orcs Must Die! 3 on my PC. For example, the resolution has dropped below 4K for a few moments for no discernable reason. Also, every time I started it up I was always surprised that it took a full minute between pushing the play button and being able to actually play – given that we’re a few months away from new console hardware that promises the death of load times, that’s not a great look. If Stadia’s going to live up to the promise of being able to pick up a phone and play high-end games on a whim, Google is going to have to sort that part out. Finally, after spending roughly 25 hours playing at 4K, I was grateful that my internet plan does not have a bandwidth cap. At that resolution, Stadia says it can use up to 20GB an hour, which means I transferred half a terabyte of data to play a game that couldn’t be more than 25GB if it were installed locally. Even though the bandwidth is effectively free, that was always nagging at the back of my mind as I played.
All of the locations are some variation on a castle setting, but there’s a decent amount of colorful visual variety to it to keep it from getting stale. Even if it’s as simple as changing from rivers of lava to rivers of green acid slime or night to day, combined with the very different layouts of the maps it was enough to make each level feel at least somewhat distinctive. I do wish there were some variation to the rank-and-file orcs and ogres, though – when every heavy orc is identical, down to how they wear their armor, it makes things a little monotonous by the time you slaughter your 2,000th one.

The biggest disappointment is that it’s pretty much the same cast of villains as Orcs Must Die! 2. To be fair, it’s a reasonably diverse group of small, medium, heavy, and giant bad guys, including elementals that break into smaller versions of themselves when destroyed, archers who launch dynamite arrows, and gnoll hunters who come straight after you instead of going for the rift, so there’s no shortage of variety – it’s just that we’ve seen it all before. The main new threat is a race of purple orcs called Fire Fiends, but aside from their immunity to fire damage and vulnerability to ice they basically behave identically to their greenskin cousins. Those they did force me to diversify my trap builds a bit since I have a habit of relying heavily on fire traps and their damage-over-time, so they served that purpose at least.

Orcs Must Die! 3’s biggest new feature is its five War Scenario maps. These come with their own set of weapons of mass destruction to fight off enormous armies of orcs as they lay siege to your castle, like catapults, entire groups of archers, giant spring traps, and spiked balls that roll downhill and wipe out entire columns of enemies. This grand idea never really worked that well, though, because outside the castle everything’s so spread out. There’s little opportunity to control the route of the hoard, and it’s frustrating to put down an expensive extra-large trap only to have the vast majority of the enemy troops simply walk around it. And when the invaders inevitably break down your castle doors, all of the big traps are disabled while you’re inside and you have to play it just like any other level. Playing through solo, it felt like most War Scenarios are balanced toward two-player co-op, where one person could thin out the orcs’ numbers by manning a catapult and bombarding the orcs as they charge while the other mops up the survivors inside. But if it’s just you, you have to abandon the artillery and fall back to the interior pretty much as soon as the doors are breached. Partially for that reason, the difficulty across the 18 scenarios felt wildly inconsistent. I was able to get a “perfect” five-skull score on some maps with just a couple of attempts, while others I had to try a half-dozen times or more just to complete at all on standard difficulty, which inflated my play time to around 25 hours. But I haven’t yet unlocked every trap, so it’s nice that there are still things to work toward in the post game and on the endless mode maps that might help with those barely manageable hoards.

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