What are you doing later today, and do you fancy some light-hearted orc related gaming mayhem? I say this because the open beta of Orcs Must Die: Unchained, the latest offering in the series which pits player verses orc in a third person tower defence moba mashup, is now available to everyone. Recently I sat down with the Chief Operating Officer and co-founder of Robotic Entertainment Harter Ryan and developer at Gameforge Dominik Nagel. I had the chance to play the new release with a team of developers backing me up and discussed how things were progressing with development.
If you’ve not played the previous two titles or aren’t sure what the game genre is, have a watch of the open beta launch trailer below to get a good idea of what to expect. As you can see, orcs are bad, and you are outnumbered. You must stop the green hordes from reaching your rift by using an array of traps and abilities. While it’s generally speaking the same gameplay as before, but with some refinement on the existing mechanics and systems, the big change is that you can play with up to four friends. Best of all, you can fight other players in 5 vs 5 brawls.
The session started with the guys asking how good I was at gaming, I said I was confident we could skip any tutorials and have at it. So we dived into the Survival mode, which fans of the series will be most familar with. With Dominik guarding my side and three other developers joining in remotely from Germany, I chatted to Harter about the game and Robotic Entertainment as the slaughter commenced. I even occasionally managed to kill a few orcs or put down a trap and feel like I was contributing, which I consider a bonus.
Harter explained that the concept behind the latest title was the same as the previous games. Kill the orcs as quickly as possible to stop them getting to the blue rift (for reasons that will be explained in the campaign in the future.) As the waves go on different minion types appear – fast and slow attackers, shield types who can only be attacked from behind and even minions which re-spawn health if another minion dies close to it. It was pointed out that you can play the game with less than five players in your team, with the difficulty adapting to number of players in the party. You can even play it solo with AI teammates, but Harter commented that he thought the game really shines when there are five players co-ordinating together.
During a game, players use the traps and abilities from their load-out (called a deck) to defend their rift. Each character has general attacks and a couple of different abilities that alter their play-style. For example, Dobbins the Prospector is a support class, utilising dynamite which is a great for attacking crowds, and has the ability to place tunnels, letting players quickly move across the map. If I’m being it was an ability which confused me the first time I clicked on this hole in the ground until Dominik explained the mechanic, but then again I was the one who opted to skip the tutorial.
I would say lesson learned, but I’m far too proud for that.
Placing traps costs gold, and while there is a large variety of traps to chose from for your personal loadout, there is a finite number that can be active on a level at once depending on the map. Killing orcs rewards gold, so you can build more traps after you’ve defended a wave, but you can sell, reposition or change your defenses at any point should you feel you’ve made a mistake. If an orc dies from multiple sources of damage at once, as players get a gold multiplier for more funds.
However, it counts as resources towards their unchained ability – unique powerful skills for each character that turn you into a “mass killing machine.” They work both solo and in conjunction with other player’s unchained abilities, so if you’re in a dire situation you can co-ordinate between your team of five players and unleash a devastating five factor ultimate in a moment of panic. Sadly there weren’t any ridiculous moments of panic in the hands-on session, but popping it on my character alone gave me reduced ability cooldowns, a damage increase and increased mana regen. I get the impression that with more enemies who are bigger and harder, things won’t be as controlled as during my play through, and all players will need to work as a group.
The mini-map indicates which entrance the orcs will attack from (which varies from wave to wave) and displays the route they will take to attack the rift. There’s also an on screen indicator in the form of blue wisps which make it easy to navigate if you’re not used to the levels. These wisps adapt as traps and obstacles are placed for the enemies, so you can see where to place your next trap or make a bottleneck. Having no clue where to go on the level I played meant that the wisps were a great help. The way that the pathing adapated as I placed down traps was pretty impressive, sort of like a blue snake of death that the orcs would travel along, past or over these killing machines we’d set up.
By default you can only sell your own traps, but you can change this so all players on your team can sell traps you’ve placed. It should be noted that original placer will be the only one to get their money back (so don’t get any ideas of using it as a way to move gold around) but if you’re defending an area of the map and need to adjust some defenses, the ability to remove your team mates low level, badly placed traps seems like the team are thinking ahead to potential problems.
While I only got to see one of the maps in action, I was told there are eight maps in total, adding more variety and challenges to adapt to. Each level has varying degrees of environment interaction that can inflict damage on the attacking waves, so if you want to shoot a rope holding exploding barrels, drop a chandelier above a choke point or set fire to an area with burning oil keep an eye out around the maps you play.
Guardians are another element of the game, as these can only be placed at specific points by players, and the map determines how many are allowed. These act as a sort of mini boss for the attacking waves, and last for as long as they have HP. Players also get faster health or mana regen in an area around these Guardians, so you can use them to run and hide behind and try to range the enemy waves if things are going really badly.
One final note about Survival mode was that there is also a matchmaking feature, with the level of your account determining which map you’ll play on. So even if you’re trying out a new hero, you won’t have to fight trivial enemies when you’re matched with other players. However, beyond Survival PvE there are two other game modes available in the open beta – Siege PvP and Endless PvE.
Siege is OMD:U’s take on competitive 5 v 5 PvP. The game mode pits two teams against one another, each with their own attacking minions. Instead of just defending, players also decide which minions to lead into battle, meaning they must attack and defend at the same time. Players chose the types and placement of their minions to go with their chosen hero, deciding who (or what) works best for attack and defense.
Once your account hits level 25 you can start upgrading your cards and equipment that you take into PvE, although there are PvP restrictions on certain cards, equipment and upgrades (as you’d expect, really.) Once your account reaches level 30, then you unlock Endless Mode, which does exactly what it implies. Orcs will spawn until your rift is destroyed. “You’re going to die, it’s just how long you can hold on,” Harter explained. Players will need to maximise combos to build up their unchained abilities, as apparently after wave 25 things get very hairy.
Players also a need one keystone between the party to start an Endless game, but there are multiple ways to get one – from high level chests, through crafting, or purchased using currency in the store. Harter stressed the importance of good Tetris like trap placement to do well in Endless Mode, to get as much damage onto the minions as possible. Using a variety of traps that do different damage types to the attacking minions is key to building up your unchained meter, and necessary to defeat harder waves of minions.
Built using Unreal Engine 3, the team opted to continue with their stylised graphics over photo-realism to match the gameplay. Their aim in that respect was to create a fun to play experience that’s easy to pick up, but difficult to master. Having low graphical requirements means that it will run on pretty much anything, and while DirectX 9 is a very old SDK, it still remains a stable and viable API even to this day (depending on its use.) I admittedly had my doubts about using technology that was created back while I was at university, but the game played flawlessly during my playthrough. The graphics do exactly what they’re meant to, and while not immersing you into an orc filled universe I did get pretty caught up in the detail and physics of the ways in which the orcs were dying.
As you might expect from an online title of this nature, progression comes in the form of character and account experience to level up, skulls (the games soft currency) and crafting materials. After completing a round, each player also has the chance to get a chest of varying quality, which also contain crafting rewards. Everything in the game is craftable – heroes, traps, consumables – other than vanity items, so these rewards will to increase your power and ability to play the harder levels.
The scoreboard itself goes into quite a lot of detail, showing both the team score, a breaking down by player contribution, and comparisons that across the team. It’s almost a wall of statistics but in a team orientated game its nice to be able to see how well you and other players have done and compare that against one another. Something which bothers me personally in a lot of modern team orientated games, is the lack of score breakdown so I can see how I did during a game and try to improve on it, so I heartily approve of its inclusion.
It’s quite clear that OMD:U isn’t tying to be a stand up to serious AAA titles not take itself too seriously with its visual presentation and humorous dialogue. That combined with the gameplay made it genuinely funny to play. So much so, that at one point during the hands on I was so caught up laughing at a spring trap launching a crowd of orcs sideways from a drawbridge, that I had to ask Harter to repeat what he was talking about.
As we played, Harter said “the world doesn’t need another MOBA,” and I couldn’t agree more (mostly because I straight up suck at MOBAs.) A game genre where if I make one mistake at the wrong time, I cost my team the entire game. Orcs Must Die: Unchained doesn’t do this (in the PvE I saw at least.) I really enjoy team orientated games, I used to play a fair amount of tower defense mods back in my RTS gaming days. I also like killing orcs. These three factors combined mean that I definitely will be having a look at the public beta.
It also helps that OMD:U can be played in differing ways, depending on your mood. If you want to pick up a game and try to leisurely build the most complex array of slaughter in a choke point at your own pace, you can do that. If you want to be frantically running about button mashing, yelling at your friends on voice comms, constantly trying to plug holes in your defenses, that’s an option as well.
There isn’t a set release date for the game yet, I tried to push for a specific date and was able to narrow down a time frame to Q2 this year. I suppose a lot will depend on how the beta goes, and when the team feel that the game is in a place where they can deliver. It’s been in development for three years after all, with two years of closed beta testing so far. It looks like the developers have tried to get it right before release instead of rushing, but if what I’ve seen is anything to go by I’d say that they’re definitely on the right track.
The game is available for download at the Orcs Must Die: Unchained website, with the open beta set to last for a few weeks.