It’s a classic tale – Orcs are the monstrous and savage beasts of the wilderness that rape and pillage civilization. Humans control the laws of the land, own everything, and lead an empire of ultimate power. The thing is this: usually the humans are the “protagonists” in games and popular media. Not anymore – Of Orcs and Men tells the tale of an oppressed population rising up for vengeance. A lot of similarities can be drawn between this story and the story of Native American independence, but I digress – the story is a fairly unique twist on a classic fantasy tale.
The game begins with you controlling The Butcher – a prolific warrior of the legendary Bloodjaw clan of Orcs. After introductory moments, you are tasked with an important mission – to infiltrate the humans base and keep and kill the Emperor himself. As you embark on this journey you enlist the help of a Goblin scout to assist in your journey. The game then unfolds over the course of multiple chapters, chronicling your journey.
The overall story and premise are some of the stronger points of the game, but are held back due to some of the other factors that bar the execution and presentation of the adventure. The characters, for example, are very difficult to get behind. Voice acting is fairly poor and unnecessarily vulgar. I understand that orcs and goblins aren’t exactly sophisticated races in fantasy lore, but it just seems like a bit much when they’re both dropping F-bombs all over the place in otherwise basic conversations. Character development is done well, as you do learn quite a bit about the history of the two main protagonists, but the overall package just seems to lack an extra coat of polish.
Gameplay is similar to most of the RPGs like this you’ve played in recent years – it feels like an altered version of combat from Infinity Engine Bioware games, to give you a point of reference – but it actually runs on the Silk Engine, developed by Spider. General travel consists of you being able to walk around the world and interact with a few things (treasure chests, loot bags, and NPCs) but not really being afforded much freedom of movement. Once combat initiates, you queue up attacks from one of three different skill wheels – Offense, Special, and Defense for the orc, and Melee, Special, and Ranged for your goblin buddy.
Combat is done well enough with some really good animations and appropriately flashy kills in some moments. When fighting groups of enemies managing your abilities gets quite hectic. As The Butcher you build up a rage meter that, once filled, causes you to lose control as he viciously attacks everything on the battlefield for a short time, followed by a debilitating cooldown. You want to balance increasing and decreasing this meter in combat in order to ensure not spiraling into a cooldown mid-battle – your Rage mode is often best saved to finish fights.
The goblin has many specialties as well including ranged attacks and special abilities that drain his energy bar. Outside of combat, the goblin can enter stealth mode and slit the throats of enemies before combat even starts – which is very helpful for softening up a group before engaging. It could have been a lot better though, as there is literally only on animation that plays every single time. The Special combination abilities are great to unlock as the game progresses as they allow you to revive your ally or even have the orc throw the goblin at enemies for massive damage.
As you play the game you find loot in containers and after battles, but its all gained on a set path throughout the adventure so if you love having lots of gear and loot spew from corpses you will leave the game fairly disappointed. When you level up you get to increase one stat by one point and invest in either learning a new skill or choosing an upgrade for an existing one.
Graphically, the game looks very nice. The rain effects, the lighting, the detail on the two player character models and some of the world itself are highly in depth. You can definitely tell a lot of work went into making the game pretty and it really shows. Animations in combat are great as well. The title menu has a fantastic theme song that is surprisingly catchy and the music in the game overall does not disappoint either. The overall presentation though, definitely leaves a lot to be desired. The camera is place over the shoulder of both character, but you cannot even adjust the distance at all, which is extremely infuriating especially given the fact that I reviewed the game on PC. Movement is delayed as well when pressing keys to move, which is a bit jarring. None of this really matters a whole lot, given that traversing the environment is clearly not a focus of the game, but it still shows a lack of effort in some areas.
Of Orcs and Men is not a bad game, it’s just not that great The story is based within a familiar fantasy tale and offers a unique twist. Graphically the game looks quite nice and combat has its moments of intellectual engagement. However, at the end of the day the presentation just feels like its lacking. Whether it be the lackluster voice acting, poor execution, uncomfortable gameplay mechanics, or uneven pacing – this may be a tale better left untold for many people.
Of Orcs and Men released on October 11th and is available on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Let us know what you think in the comments below!
This review was based on a retail download copy of the game for the PC provided by Focus Home Interactive.