Many fantasy stories focus on humans, elves and dwarves, usually united to fight against a threat that has the potential to wipe them out. The most famous of these instances can probably be attributed to the Lord Of The Rings series, and more recently, Dragon Age: Origins. Of Orcs And Men, co-developed by Cyanide Studios and Spiders, looks at the other side. This time the orcs are fighting for their very survival, against human inquisitions and the threat of an alliance between humans, elves and dwarves.
Of Orcs and Men follows the tale of Arkhail, an Orc who is part of the Bloodjaw warrior group, and Styx the goblin, the sole member of his race that can speak and read. Together they are set upon a mission; to kill the human emperor in an attempt to stop the alliance from forming and sealing the fate of the Orcs.
The lead characters differ greatly in terms of personality and gameplay. As you’d imagine Arkhail gets into the heart of a fight, swinging his weapons and using his hands to crush enemies. Styx, meanwhile, is more of a scout character who can sneak up on opponents to assassinate them, and primarily uses ranged attacks to fight.
Styx and Arkhail out for a stroll
Outside of the key quest to save Orckind, there are other stories going on in the background, like the split between Orcs. Some Orcs believe that they should give up their traditions and try to immerse themselves in the human world, while others, like Arkhail, want to rebuild their society. Cyanide have crafted the potential for an interesting world, but you never really get over the fact that more time was needed, that they didn’t quite get to finish things.
This feeling of the project being unfinished comes from a number of things to do with the gameplay mechanics. Combat in Of Orcs And Men is a real time affair where you select attacks and create a chain. You can switch between Arkhail and Styx with the press of a button, which comes in handy. A maximum of four attacks can be lined up for either character, and when they fight you watch as they go through the attacks while you line up more.
It isn’t always a system that works though. If you want to cancel an attack you may end up having to delete a whole chain; for some reason you delete attacks further up the chain first. There’s also very little feedback from strikes, bar a word quickly appearing above an enemy to point out if they’ve been affected by a condition.
On top of those issues, the game’s targeting system needs more work as well. When you first attack, both Arkhail and Styx seem to try and go for the furthest enemy first, meaning they’ll run through groups of enemies to reach one target. Of course, you can target enemies manually when selecting attacks, but a quick automatic switch to the next nearest enemy after killing one would have been welcome, especially when a large group attacks. Both those issues can be worked around and players can adapt to working with the attack and targeting systems though. However, what players can’t control is the AI and some of the more ridiculous problems there.
My skin tone brings all the guards to the yard...
What broke immersion was when I assassinated a guard, who was flailing about as his throat was cut, another guard less than ten feet away and a passing patrol both ignored him dying. First I thought it was a glitch and moved onto another guard to assassinate to find the same situation.
Even when you are discovered, the enemy doesn’t really have an attack other than charge at you and swing their swords and spears, while bowman will stay back and fire, and will keep firing for a bit even when you’re in a close combat situation with them.
Even the AI of Styx or Arkhail is flawed when you’re not controlling them. Sometimes they’ll just stand there doing nothing in a fight until they get attacked, and sometimes they won’t even fight back then. Also, Arkhail’s Rage needs work.
If Arkhail uses too many offensive moves or gets hit too often he’ll go into a Rage mode which cannot be controlled. During this rage mode he’ll attack anything in his way including Styx, which doesn’t help when trying to win a fight. There were times when Styx getting knocked out by Arkhail cost me the fight.
The combat becomes frustrating and it feels that the attack stacking nature of the game is limiting. A lot of the time you’ll be running around in circles waiting for your health to regenerate a bit while chaining more attacks.
You’ll also spend a lot of time reviving Styx or Arkhail, depending on who you’re controlling at the moment, because the horde like attack of the AI doesn’t allow for a lot of tactical changes. You’ll learn new attacks as you progress through the game and level up, but it’s the attacks that you get used to early on in the game the game you’ll be sticking with.
Side quests are also present in the game but they all follow the same layout as the main story quests. You’ll get transported to the area of the side quest, fight groups of enemies, then collect an item or talk to a character, after which you’ll be transported back to a hub area. The hubs are good in that they are somewhere you can buy or upgrade equipment using Trade Points, which you can earn through certain quests or find as loot.
- There’s potential for a great game world.
- Arkhail and Styx are good characters.
- The game does look brilliant.
- Gameplay feels repetitive.
- The AI is very bad.
- World feels very small and constricted.
- Voices out of sync with animations.
Of Orcs and Men has so much potential and when you get into the game you’ll experience flashes of brilliance, but those flashes are gone as quickly as they come, leaving behind a game that came out before it was ready. Though the game isn’t great there is a certain charm about it. The characters and the story are nearly there in terms of completion and excellence, but the combat and AI would both need a complete overhaul to turn this from an average game into a great game.