Of Orcs and Men takes you away from the traditional RPG roles that players would expect to find themselves in. Traditionally players normally focus on the Human, Elven or Dwarven counterparts this type of game has to offer and pits you against the nasty Orcs and Goblins.
The new title from developers Cyanide Studios and Spiders flips that on its head and places the player in the shoes of the green skinned nasties, as the Empire of Men threaten to take over the kingdom and dominate the world. You have the task to kill the one man responsible for the on-going war, the human emperor.
You start the game in the role of Arkail, an ogre and member of the famed and fierce Bloodjaw clan. As you set out on your first mission though you soon encounter your second playable character, Styx, a Goblin and mercenary who is there to help you through the land and complete our mission to kill the emperor.
The game lets you control both characters with one following behind the other (that you are controlling the movement of). It works to the game’s benefit to have these two playable characters, as each has their own strengths and natural gameplay styles that differ greatly from each other. Arkail plays as a standard tank or brute character while Styx plays much more like an assassin or thief character. It is a shame that for a game billing itself as a fantasy RPG, players are limited to these playable character archetypes though.
The main disappointment of the game though is not in the character customisation, but in the linear environment and world that the game has to offer. As an RPG, I was expecting a vast world that I could travel across that would offer huge amounts of gameplay. Instead, Of Orcs and Men offers a very straight, move from point A to point B gaming environment that is interspersed by a loading screen every time you move from one area to another. The potential that the storyline and characters offer is great but this is really under developed. In the first few hours the game plays very much like you are dumped in a dungeon, need to kill all enemies and then get to the end of the dungeon before repeating in a reskinned environment. There is no sense of grandeur or world travelling and that was a let-down for an RPG.
This brings us onto the combat Of Orcs and Men which is turn-based. Again, potential is the key word when describing the combat system as the idea of it works well, specifically with the player controlling two very different characters with their own types of gameplay and strengths. However it falls short from poor controls.
The player can stack up to four attacks from an aggressive, special or defensive attack list and allocate a target for the character to focus these attacks upon. Controlling two characters means that combat can be quite fast paced even though you are stacking attacks and the player will need to revisit each stack list multiple times in battle. The difficulty is that you choose your target using the D-pad and sometimes you can think you have selected a target nearby, but in fact you are sending your character away from combat to a nearby enemy somewhere else. Another issue with the combat is that if you have four attacks stacked and kill an enemy with the first two, then your other attacks are wiped out rather than transferred to a nearby target.
The three different attack lists work well together and are very well balanced for the gameplay. Depending on if the character is in an offensive or defensive attack, affects the amount of damage you will take and ultimately deal (as the offensive attacks appear to inflict more damage to your target). The special attacks include a raise ally ability which can become very useful when amongst a large group of enemies.
As you level, you encounter the standard RPG levelling system players have come to expect. You are given a skill point and attribute point. The skill point lets you work on the four key groups such as strength and agility, while the attribute points let the player develop the skill trees of each character. When you level up you are given a skill pint and attribute point for both the Orc and Goblin so that they level up alongside one another.
When you are not walking down the very linear path or falling over yourself and the poor controls in combat, there are sections of dialogue that progress the story. Again, the world and the story have great potential but fall a little flat. From the start characters are using expletives which brought me out of the experience as I wasn’t expecting it and it didn’t feel needed. It became very quickly a norm and expectation to hear characters swear at one another, although to me it felt like poor writing rather than emotive and natural responses.
This moves us on nicely to talking about the dialogue choices you can make in game. In a similar vein to Mass Effect there are some sections of dialogue where you can choose what is said. I use the Mass Effect analogy as the dialogue option box in Of Orcs and Men looks like a carbon copy paste of EA’s .However unlike Mass Effect, the choice you make in Of Orcs and Men seems to have little to no impact in your experience. Sometimes you will find out more about the characters and back-story of the game and perhaps unlock a new side quest but if the developers want you to progress and you have two options both will lead you there it’s just whether or not you get there, kicking and screaming (and in most cases swearing).
I am trying not to be too hard on Of Orcs and Men because I do feel like there is something here that players will like. The idea and potential of the characters and world is great. The plot is good and it is admirable to see a studio trying something slightly different with a classic genre, but it falls short for numerous reasons. It is no Elder Scrolls but is perhaps worth a look for RPG fans who want to keep themselves busy over the coming months. It is just a shame I can’t recommend it to those new to the RPG genre as it fails to live to its full potential.