Also On: Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Cyanide, Spiders
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Rating: 16 (PEGI) / RP (ESRB)
Recently I got my hands on a review copy of Of Orcs and Men so instead of hanging around with my usual friends I decided to stay inside and hang around with some Orcs, and maybe some men. It was an interesting time, different to how I imagined it would be, but now I’m back. Let me tell you what I think.
Of Orcs and Men is the story of Arkail, a violent Orc warrior, and Styx, the only intelligent Goblin in the world. This is a world where stereotypes are turned on their head: the Orcs have been wronged and violence was upon them. As is our tendency, humans are fond of expanding their borders and when they finally came into contact with the Orcs they thought the best way to deal with them was to fight a protracted war and then finish it all off with a little genocide and slavery.
The start was fairly disheartening. It was pretty slow which made it appear like just another shoddy RPG with no real point to make, no matter how hard it tries. Thankfully, as it developed it grew into its tough green exterior and started to flesh itself out, providing us with reasons to care about the two protagonists, giving us understanding into their backgrounds, the world they inhabit and why they are willing to do anything to achieve their goal.
As strong as a plot is, it requires exposition to draw you further into the world. While at times Cyanide delivers this perfectly, primarily concerning Arkail, it can feel awfully void of it away from the main cast. At times the backstory simply doesn’t fit the world which can be rather irritating. For example, loading screens have the tendency to mention facts about the lore and one that repeatedly popped up was that Styx is the only intelligent Goblin in the world, and that most people have never seen one that can talk. However, while it’s occasionally touched upon, it’s never really delved into as much as it should be. The main problem, however, is that it simply doesn’t matter to the main story. Not a single person batted an eyelid at the talking Goblin – apparently the only one in the world. Whilst not detrimental, it showed inconsistencies in the games narrative.
Nuances aside, it’s a dark story, one that delves into a number of adult subjects and, despite what is sometimes a godawful script, it manages to handle them reasonably well. What Cyanide does best is actually making the main character flawed and, contrary to their green skin, human. Arkail is prone to fits of rage and Styx can be a sarcastic and selfish bugger at times, hiding a sense of morality that would be expected in a standard hero.
For the most part the script is strong. However, it can be juvenile at times. I’m by no means averse to swearing but it needs to be used in context. It’s understandable when people start throwing around the word fuck in heated situations, but it’s all too prone to swearing. It felt like it was simply trying too hard. Other than the abundance of profanities and a number of lines that didn’t fit with the world, it’s an otherwise strong script which works well with the dark story.
Within the game itself, the mechanics are instantly recognisable. As Arkail and Styx level up they gain attribute and skill points to advance. The skill points are used on set skill trees, offensive, special and defensive/ranged, where you can either opt to unlock a new skill or further improve a previous one. When it came to Arkail he grew into a veritable wrecking machine through advancements in stamina and strength. He went into battle first, taking the hits while smashing faces in with his powerful close combat attacks. Styx, on the other hand, became an agile ranged fighter, using such weapons as throwing knives.
The combat system itself is brilliant for the most part. It’s very much in the same style as Dragon Age where commands are queued through a quick menu – putting the game in slow-motion – and then unleash them in-game. As the skill trees suggest, each character has access to and can use one stance at a time. The game rewards the controlling of both characters because, quite simply, the AI is poor at controlling either Arkail or Styx in battle.
Tactical thinking is supported by the combat system. Attacks can be combined into simple tactics: If you use Arkail to cause a negative status effect then Styx’s attacks can increase in damage against the affected. In addition there are two other major, Arkail’s Rage and Styx’s Stealth. Arkail gains more rage every time he’s attacked and, when full, he becomes considerably stronger but also uncontrollable. He then targets whomever is closest, Styx included. This can be used to your advantage by allowing it to build up at the right time and getting Styx out of there before all hell breaks loose, keeping his distance and using ranged attacks. Styx’s stealth ability allows him to turn mostly invisible, sneak up behind an enemy and assassinate them. This allows you to thin out the enemy ranks prior to a battle and is especially useful early in the game where, prior to building your levels up, battles can be very difficult and unforgiving.
Outside of combat is where the gameplay suffers. The game is, to it’s detriment, very linear. More akin to the corridors of modern shooters than the open areas of other, more standard, RPG’s you rarely even find paths that verge away from the main corridor. You frequently find yourself simply following a straight line where, for hours, the only breaks are for fights and cutscenes.
Of Orcs and Men is very good game in both visuals and sound. It is obvious that Cyanide Studios put a lot of work into both aspects of the game and as a result it does shine. Every character and building has a large amount of detail put in, even that of the distant scenery which helps add to the illusion of a large world. The use of colour is also very effective, helping to enhance emotions of a scene.
The soundtrack of the game is outstanding. Composed by Olivier Deriviere (Alone in the Dark), the music always fits the mood of the area you are in, or accentuates the emotions through a change in tempo or instrument. The music manages to stay at a consistently high level throughout the game, even out of cutscenes, and never feels repetative. The only place in sound where the game is let down is through a small percentage of the voice acting. While most is very competently done, aside from the aformentioned profanity, which even seems to be accentuated in voice, there are a few of the smaller characters who seem to simply be phoning it in. Nothing of great detriment to the game, but still noticable.
It’s very easy to give up on Of Orcs and Men early on, when the story is moving at a snails pace and full of uneccesarily difficult corridors. However, to carry on past the poor start reveals a rich story with very interesting characters. With a tactically sound combat system, great visuals and an excellent soundtrack this game is most certainly worth having a look at.
The fact that Of Orcs and Men manages to overcome its slow start and linear nature is a testament to the story. It has value with its strong characters and world. Provided you can overlook the negatives in favor of the long term goal then this is a game worth playing.