The Orcs Must Die! Series has been around since all the way back during the Xbox Live Arcade Days, and even on one of the earliest streaming services: OnLive—which I found as a fun coincidence, since it’s been a Stadia exclusive for most of the last year. Now Orcs Must Die! 3 has released on all major platforms, and it really hasn’t changed that much from its predecessors—which is somehow comforting.
Orcs Must Die! 3 is a third person tower defense game where you control a magic wielding warrior who is tasked with stopping hordes of Orcs from entering a portal-like rift. To do this you can attack the orcs directly with a number of weapons, but the real fun comes in setting up gauntlets made of various traps and forcing them through the nightmare of blades, darts, acid and fire you set up. Orcs Must Die! 3 has benefitted from Stadia’s yearlong exclusivity, too, with another campaign added since its launch and an endless mode that keeps ramping up the difficulty until it’s impossible to keep up. While Orcs Must Die! 3 has a lot to do, its gameplay is the main draw: and it’s just gotten more fun since its predecessor.
The basic gameplay loop for Orcs Must Die! 3 is this: you enter into a new map, usually with multiple paths for the orc hordes to take, and usually with multiple possible entry points. You only have a set amount of currency to buy traps, so picking the perfect trap and putting it in the perfect location is extremely important. To aid your tactical planning, you can see what path the orcs will take during the current wave. This is represented on the minimap as dots, but also in-game as ghost orcs. This ghost run updates as you create barriers, too, showing the new flow of enemies if you manage to block off a pathway. Between waves you often have time to sell and redeploy traps as you’d like, though sometimes you only have ten seconds to deploy defenses before the next wave comes. Single player, even on “medium” difficulty, can feel overwhelming after a few levels. And while it’s certainly fun to run around blasting orcs solo, the most fun is had while playing two player co-op, so your partner can watch alternate routes and get your back as-needed. In two player mode currency is split between the two players, who can spend independently, so there is an amount of coordination required to maximize your team’s defensive efforts.
Traps have always been the draw for the Orcs Must Die! series, and Orcs Must Die! 3 brings back many favorites, while adding a bunch of nasty contraptions to befuddle, burn, break and bash your orc enemies. The better you do at each level, the more skulls you acquire—and these skulls can be used to purchase new traps, as well as upgrade current traps and weapons into more powerful forms. While some traps definitely benefit from these upgrades, I find that placement often matters more than upgrades—and using the right trap for the job takes some trial and error.
Orcs Must Die! 3 takes place twenty years after Orcs Must Die! 2, and since then the two protagonists have gotten old, and are now ushering in a new era of rift guardians. To take the mantle are Egan and Kelsey, two young sorcerers who are eager to smash and dice orcs. While Orcs Must Die! 3 takes the storyline forward in time, it also shows us the past in mighty war scenarios where hundreds of orcs must be fought off using powerful magic and traps that are far more powerful than their non-war scenario counterparts. Some of my favorite levels are the grand war scenarios because of the carnage you can wreak against the orc hordes. Kelsey and Egan’s scenarios aren’t nearly as grand, but they do require precise trap placement and often give very little room for error.
I’m glad that Orcs Must Die! Is still chugging along—though I’d prefer there to be less time between sequels, especially because Orcs Must Die! is easily my favorite tower defense series. Tower defense games aren’t nearly as popular as they were when the original Orcs Must Die! released, but Orcs Must Die! 3 (as well as the rest of the series) is able to stay relevant because it’s as much of an action game as it is a tower defense game. Orcs Must Die! 3 is a load of fun—and even more so if you bring a friend.
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