peezmachine's Orcs Must Die! 2 (PC) review

Why Do Orcs Die? Because They Must!... 2!

If you love Orcs and cringe at the thought of one getting burned or diced or crushed or shocked or turned into a chicken (and then diced or crushed or shocked), then just move right along because Orcs Must Die! 2 is not for you. If however, your policy on Orcs is that they should probably die, then you'll find a lot to love here.

Orcs Must Die! 2 is the pseudo-sequel to Orcs Must Die!, which mixed action, tower defense, and a reckless disregard for Orc welfare. The "pseudo" qualifier has to get thrown in there because, for better or worse, a lot of things look, sound, and feel exactly as they did last time. You'll see the same art and hear the same audio as in the original OMD, all while enjoying the same satisfying mix of tower defense and 3rd-persion action as before. However, there are a few additions that make this more than simply "Orcs Must Die, the Lost Levels."

At the top of the order is the completely revamped upgrade system. Every trap, weapon, and trinket can be upgraded in various ways, with some upgrades being mutually exclusive. Upgrades are, like in OMD, purchased with "skulls" earned based on your performance, but now you can also earn bonus skulls for racking up a bunch of kills or picking them up off the corpses of your fallen enemies. You can earn bonus skulls even by replaying a level on which you scored a perfect "5-Skull" rating, which means there's no longer a hard cap on how many skulls you can acquire and, by extension, how many upgrades you can buy. Should you need to correct some less-than-optimal skull expenditures, you can get all of your spent skulls refunded with the click of a button, making it easy to try out new ways to put the hurt on some greenskins.

Next up is another great way to challenge yourself and rack up some more skulls, the "Endless" mode, an aptly titled experience in which... well, do I really need to explain this?

And then there's the new playable character, the Sorceress. While she shares many traps and weapons with the War Mage, who reprises his role (and somehow got even dumber), she has a few unique goodies (like a wand that can briefly charm an enemy unit to fight for you) and a few shortcomings, like her inability to build the ever-useful Tar Traps.

These Orcs should get their union to do something about the unsafe working conditions.

And finally, we have.... well, you know when you go to a concert and the band doesn't play your favorite songs and then they come back for an encore and play them ALL IN A ROW? Well, that's what we've got here, because after a noticeable absence from the original OMD, co-op play has arrived, and it's a largely welcome experience. It's not as fully-featured as you might like, (for example, there's no way to view your partner's trap loadout and plan accordingly), but there's built-in VOIP support and tons of fun to be had. EDIT: You CAN view your partner's loadout at the beginning of the game, but once you place a trap you'll be unable to go back and check, so make sure you see everything you need before you get going.

But there's a flip side to this newfangled co-op thing, and it's that the game, at least in the later levels, seems to be balanced around having an extra player on hand. Solo and co-op play use the same levels, and once you get past stage 10 or so you'll be confronted with Orcs coming at you from literally every direction, and while it's manageable chaos with a partner, it's a bit frustrating if you're riding solo and being asked to spin two players' worth of plates. It's doable, for sure, but you may find yourself needing to come back to those levels later (once you've had a chance to upgrade your traps some more) to earn a 5-skull rating.

If you're anything like me, then the first thing you said after finishing Orcs Must Die! was "more of that please," in which case, welcome to heaven (OMD veterans may also be pleased to know that having the original OMD installed will grant you access to those levels in Orcs Must Die! 2's "Classic" mode). The new additions improve an already solid formula, and the humor and visual flair that worked well before have still got it where it counts. Not bad for $15. That said, it might be nice if Robot Entertainment took their time with the next iteration to give us some more substantive changes. Until then, though, I'm happy contributing to overpopulation in the Orc afterlife by any means necessary.

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