The Orcs Must Die:
Unchained Beta
First Impressions

Countless Minions Killed, Countless Times Playing

Apr 08, 2016
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I’ve been waiting for this game for a long, long time.

I have some history with Orcs Must Die: I saw them at my first PAX East in 2011, and Robot Entertainment was one of the first ‘small’ companies in gaming that really struck a chord with me. It got me to start appreciating and thinking about IPs, how new trends start in gaming, and how maybe AAA games now have a new type of game to deal with. Their booth was tiny, with 3-4 people, but all laughs and excited about this goofy game with a war mage blowing things up.

Now, at the last two PAX East conventions I’ve been to, Robot Entertainment has been there, in a much bigger, different way. In 2014, they revealed a full sized booth in comparison to the small little cubby they had started with. In 2015, my good friend, who was busy being an enforcer at the event, ended up helping manage their line because they were just that damn popular.

All of this is to say two things: that people really, really like killing orcs, and that Orcs Must Die: Unchained is a game people have been getting excited about for years now.

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There's a reason why the Orcs Must Die series has been so popular for so long - mass carnage.

Orcs Must Die: Unchained picks up where their first two games, Orcs Must Die and Orcs Must Die 2, leave off. The first game was about a heroic – if incredibly idiotic – war mage has to save the world by laying down tons of traps and spells. The second game expanded the idea of this comedic world, added a new heroine, and became a co-op game. New modes and foes were added, and a rather infamously frenetic endless mode was something I spent many hours on with friends.

The formula was golden by this point, but OMD: Unchained now takes it into the world of competitive multiplayer. When it was revealed at previous conventions, the game hosted not just Max and Gabriella, but ten heroes at a time. You were arranged into teams of five, and while you were, as usual, building traps and laying down kill zones for waves of foes, you now saw that there was an opposing team of five, with their own rift, their own traps, and their own waves of minions.

This is called “Siege Mode” in Unchained, and it is very, very fun. Blending tower defense with third person shooter controls is what the series has been about, but now, there's a healthy dash of MOBA.

Now occasionally, I binge a good MOBA, but I usually lose interest after a good week of trying to murder people with giant bears or dwarves. There are dedicated roles, often very stringent ideas of how to conduct yourself by other team members, and deviating too much from what you are expected to do usually ends in lots of cursing. The siege mode in Orcs Must Die: Unchained however, is an absolute nuthouse of chaos. The waves of npc creatures which attack your opponent are on a different path than your opponents creatures, meaning it is up to you, as the player, to make sure they die before they get through your gates and guardians (think MOBA towers, but as giant murdering knights).

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As if the game needed more insanity, adding teamfights into dozens of monsters seemed like a good idea at the time.

At the same time, as a player, you can escort your own minions up the field, which helps make sure they are going to take less damage from the enemy traps, and help them kill the opposing guardians and human defenders that are trying to stop your offense. It is also up to you to make sure you get enough team experience for your creatures to get stronger, more dangerous waves of attack, as well as opening a second lane of attack at the same time. You can do this through fulfilling jobs as attacking with your waves, or defending against waves, or running around the map killing enemy heroes and breaking large enemy crates, called caches, to unlock that experience. Of course, each map has a side mission, which if it is fulfilled, lets you spawn a massive boss monster in your next wave to cause more pressure for your foe.

Siege mode is absolute, ecstatic, barely-contained chaos.

There is always three to four things that you need to be doing RIGHT NOW, and not enough hands to do them. Yes, you choose one of three roles when you start a game (attacker, defender, pillager) which gives you a boost to exp when you do related tasks, but you will often find yourself leaping from lane to lane to get work done. I’ve been a staunch defender who, between waves, rushed out to hopefully cap a neutral objective while the enemy wasn’t looking. I’ve been a marauding hero-killer who found themselves having to rush back to place new traps as minions broke through our first lines of defense. Your opponent might decide to push four out of five heroes down one lane in an attempt to murder your defending heroes, and suddenly that’s a lot more important to stop than anything else.

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Look at the mini-map - There are four lanes of fighting to deal with. Torching orcs is fun, but there's always somewhere else that needs your help too.

The chaos of this mode is a joy, not a drag. It gives me a feeling of importance wherever I go on the battlefield, rather than making me feel hemmed into any one cookie-cutter role. I love games that make you look at the big picture, and reward me being able to read what might be the next big opportunity or threat. Unchained also makes you feel good in whatever role you are doing: like in the original two games, defeating waves of minions with traps and your own attacks is a hilarious treat, with orcs and kobolds flying about, or ogres turning into crispy ashes. Attacking and watching your own minions make it through traps to start battering down gates is a pleasure. Sneaking into the enemy base to steal team experience or kill an unsuspecting defender gives you the sense that you are helping cripple the foe from the inside out.

If you aren’t a fan of MOBAs and competitive play, the best thing about Orcs Must Die: Unchained is that isn’t just that one mode. It also captures the feeling of its predecessors through survival mode, where the game can be just as intense in a whole different way.

Survival mode is a Player versus Environment style game, where it pits your team of five up against waves and waves of minions trying to make it to your rift. This isn’t a simple affair, as the monsters come from multiple starting points as the waves escalate. There’s one map I’ve played where there are a whopping nine access points where the minions can start attacking you from, but they won’t reveal which ones are going to open until you are a few waves in. Your team builds from their stack of traps to defeat them, and in those larger maps, funnel them where you want them to be for maximum efficiency.

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There's a ton of different enemies that are going to be thrown at you: some fast and hard to catch, others, more murder-y.

It’s important to say that this is not a ‘throw-away’ mode. There has been a lot of effort and work put into survival mode, which can be seen in the many varying maps that are already in the game; not to mention, after different play-throughs on the same map, I’ve seen how the foes, the places where enemies start coming from, and special events like enemy heroes and bosses can change.

Tying it together is the addictive crafting system, which is a great way to make players feel the urge to try out new things. Rather than having a skill tree for individual characters, Unchained has you make a ‘deck’ of equipment. Each character has their own basic abilities and a unique trap, but they build the rest of what they want. Are you an arcane character like Gabriella or Stinkeye? Having cursed ground traps that boost arcane damage obviously seems like a solid way to go. Want to make sure foes slow down or get thrown around? Tar and spring traps can be put into your deck.

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Building new traits for your play style is a really fun way to experiment with ways to approach matches

You also can choose what minions you spawn in Siege mode: want to have fast runners to get around traps or go for the score? You can swap out slow moving ogres for a bunch of tiny kobolds. You can build traits that help you become better with traps, or better against particular enemy types, and you can build artifacts that fill out more abilities into your repertoire. Unlocking different materials can be done through playing through games, and in survival mode, enemies will often drop parts based on their type, giving you another reason to hunt through the level.

There is a lot…a lot in this game. Robot Entertainment has been working over the base ideas for Orcs Must Die: Unchained for several years, and it shows, even in the open beta. The zany, comedic fun that they started with years ago has been kept, while adding more and more complex game modes and combat.

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I haven't even touched on the heroes, and how you choose some of their abilities mid-match. Zoey is definitely growing to be a favorite.

Is it perfect? No – a polished beta is still a beta. Some heroes seem to have some obscenely powerful strength while others feel a little lackluster. Some traps might seem overpriced or underpowered, and the cost to make things in the crafting system will most certainly be reworked for some items in the weeks to come. These are all issues that you should expect in a beta, as a company throws out what they have to see what a much larger test group will make of the current balance. Fortunately, the reworks that have already happened since the game went open beta on March 29th demonstrates the dedication Robot Entertainment has with this game.

My recommendation? Try it out. It blends genres in a way that feels fun, not forced, and I’ve had a blast both with random teammates and with friends online. I thought I might be turned off to the siege mode originally, but I’ve been won over, thanks to how important you feel as a hero in the back-and-forth. Crafting is something I’m starting to really enjoy, being able to customize my playstyle to all the heroes I’m learning the ins and outs of. I'm finding that whether I play survival or siege mode, I am just enjoying the carnage that's caused.

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Of course, if you are going to be at PAX East in two weeks? I’d say its more than worth the wait in line to see what Robot Entertainment’s been up to.

Want to find out about more games of carnage and mayhem? Want to be the first to hear about some of the games from the PAX East 2016 expo hall floor? Like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter! Do you play Orcs Must Die: Unchained already? Tell us what you think!

Wyatt Krause

Editor-in-chief, Co-founder