Considering the unanimous cry for multiplayer in Orcs Must Die!, Robot Entertainment could have merely added the two-player co-op and a few minor additions, packaged it up, slapped a "2" on the end, and tossed a relative regurgitation to the hungry mob – especially given the small 10-month gap between games. But to the developer's great credit, Orcs Must Die! 2 is more than that. While the changes and additions fall short of revolutionary, nearly everything – save for the meager, repetitive soundtrack – has been enjoyably enhanced and/or refined to the level of sufficient sequel justification. Once again, the orc horde has become a threat to mankind thanks to newly opening dimensional rifts. The goal is the same here as it was in the first game: stop waves of enemies as they rush from A to B by employing a combination of resource-based tower defense (static traps and NPC heroes) and third-person combat. Running around using various spells and weapons to deal with the poor saps who make it through your improvised gauntlets of death is irresistibly fun, and what makes this series unique.
As expected, the War Mage returns with all his hit-or-miss humor, but the saucy Sorceress (the villain from the first game) steals the show. Stranded and forced to fight or die in a world of uncontrolled orcs, she is now a reluctant ally and playable character. Seeking as much variety as possible after many hours spent in the original Orcs Must Die!, I chose to start with her. It was a good choice.
The Sorceress' chargeable blaster, the Scepter of Domination, offers a unique new way to make orcs die, and its secondary charm function turns any enemy (even the strongest of foes) into temporary allies that explode when killed. This one weapon altered the strategic dynamic so much that I almost didn't want to lay traps – until, of course, the game threw out too many minor minions and some intimidating new ones. Time to open up that Spellbook and set up some defenses.
All traps and weapons now have multiple upgrade tiers and can take advantage of one of two unique abilities. For instance, the classic Spike Trap can be rigged to make enemies bleed or to slow them down. Such customization leads to a startling depth of strategy, which may not be necessary for the medium-difficulty campaign, but is definitely required in Nightmare or Endless mode.
With more things to buy, the skull system has been revamped to further reward skill and encourage replay. Your performance is still ranked on a scale of one to five skulls, but bonus skulls are granted for achievements like remaining untouched, surpassing a high score, or reaching a killstreak milestone. And, unlike the first game, I never had to worry about misappropriating my upgrades. At any point, you can reset all skulls and reallocate them as you see fit. Through trial and error I eventually found a strategy that worked well for me, so I refunded all of my skulls and poured them into the traps I needed to create my personally perfect setup: a repeating series of Brimstone, Spike Traps, and Freeze Vents supplemented by wall-mounted Acid Sprayers.
And though each stage can be conquered alone, most were clearly designed to be tackled by two. The game balances nicely when a friend jumps into the fray, allowing each player fewer item slots – forcing actual teamwork – and upping the orc output. With no public matchmaking at the moment, however, finding someone at a similar power level is a challenge in itself, unless you just happen to be a Steam celebrity.
Normally, I'm no sucker for the dangling carrot, but given the many incentives to persist – all delivered through a system of refined mechanics void of tedium and full of pure fun – I have spent and will continue to spend hour upon hour playing Orcs Must Die! 2. After all, I need my archers fully upgraded and looking sharp before I'm invited to the next co-op session.
This review is based on the final version of Orcs Must Die 2, provided by Robot Entertainment.
Matt Hughes is a freelancer based out of chilly/balmy/apocalypse-hot Michigan. He's written for GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, GameFront, IGN, and more. You can follow him on Twitter (@MottHoos) if you haven't already done so by mistake, thinking he was the famous MMA fighter.
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