Review: Of Orcs and Men

OfOrcsAndMen

After playing Cyanide Studios’ recent Game of Thrones RPG, I was looking forward to their next project, Of Orcs and Men, designed in collaboration with developer Spiders. As I somewhat expected, Of Orcs and Men borrows a fair amount from the combat, dialog and quest feel of Game of Thrones.  What I wasn’t expecting, however, was just how deeply committed Cyanide and Spiders were in creating a rich and gorgeous game world.

Of Orcs and Men starts off establishing that humans have taking control of a territory that had once been inhabited by orcs.  In their play for expansion and domination, humans have fought and enslaved tribes of orcs and goblins, and built large walls and castles to show their might.  Arkail is a member of the Bloodjaws, a tribe notorious for fighting back against the humans.  His quest begins with reaching the other side of the human’s great wall in order to meet with a man sympathetic to the plight of the Greenskins.  In order to cross the wall however, Arkail needs the aid of Styx, the only goblin who can talk, and who has connections with many seedier underworld types and acts as a guide through the dangerous human territory.

Arkail and Styx are the perfect odd couple.  Arkail is a hulking mass of smashing and destruction who, when provoked during combat, will let his rage overtake his capacity for thought and simply crush any and every enemy nearby.  Styx on the other hand is stealthy and will assassinate his prey from the shadows or will stay back and attack with knives from afar. Of Orcs and Men is a unique role-playing game in that combat can be approached as stealth or full on club swinging, war cry bellowing affairs, but every engagement should be strategically planned or both Arkail and Styx will easily be overwhelmed and killed.  For the most part the game is best played with Styx sneaking in stealth mode, quietly assassinating one or two foes before being noticed and alerting the remaining enemies.  One downfall to this style of gameplay is the fact that the AI is obviously not very smart. Typical to many stealth games, if a patrol of guards walks past a stationary guard and Styx dispatches the stationary guard, the next time the patrol walks past, they don’t question why there is a dead guard now laying on the ground.

Personally I don’t have a problem with that, as the game’s combat is an absolute blast to engage in.  Once an enemy is alerted, Arkail and Styx have plenty of options of attack to chose from.  Both characters have an offensive stance, defensive stance, and special skills which have branching choices from which to chose from.  Accessing these different skills during combat is similar to the combat wheel in Dragon Age or reminiscent of the VATS system in Fallout 3.  Pressing L1 or R1 brings up a wheel for offense or defense and slows the real-time combat so that specific enemies can be targeted and then attack choices can be selected and queued up to play out once combat resumes.  Switching between Arkail and Styx is done by pressing the triangle button.  Going back and forth between the two during combat ensures that specific attacks are constantly queued up and that the right targets are being attacked first in order to finish the encounter quickly and without dying.

Throughout my time with the game there were a few moments of combat where the enemies became too overwhelming, and both Arkail and Styx were quickly defeated. But with a quick reload I was able to adjust my strategy and move forward. One complaint I have to level toward the game is that some skills don’t seem important to level up until almost too late in the game, and by then choices are locked in and can’t be removed.  There isn’t a simple health potion button to press during combat either. Managing health for both Arkail and Styx plays just as deeply in the combat as choosing which type of attack to use.  Fortunately once combat is over, health quickly restores for both characters or if one character falls in battle, they are revived.

While combat is definitely a major focus in Of Orcs and Men, the story should not be overlooked either. A fable of sorts, Of Orcs and Men explores the nature of racial discrimination and clashes of cultures, while highlighting that working together (even if different views are held by team players) is the best way to overcome challenges.  The game also does a fantastic job of building some deep characters that struggle with choices they’ve made in the past and how they try to fix the wrongs they’ve done.  Of Orcs and Men succeeds wonderfully at making what are traditionally viewed as the bad guy (orcs and goblins) into very real and very “human” characters.  It is a juxtaposition that not many games do well (if ever) and by the end of the game I found myself wanting more.  Of course, the game ends with a resolution to the immediate story, but leaves enough open that I would hope Spiders and Cyanide will be able to go back and further explore the world they’ve created in a sequel. (Cyanide created the universe to build into multiple episodes, as Lead Game Designer Sylvain Sechi told us in our interview feature last summer.)

At times the game feels narrow in focus, in that when a quest is presented there is only one way to get to the resolution.  Yet the game offers several side quests that both allow choice in what to do next while also providing an almost better solution to the main quest if all of the side quests are fulfilled. Some side quest rewards may offer better equipment or clear the path of some enemies in the main storyline, while others are told to help enrich the world and highlight the very nature of the conflict between the humans and orcs.

Of Orcs and Men is a deep and fulfilling RPG.  At times the combat can feel a little overwhelming if the right skills haven’t been selected, but for the most part the challenge is fun and engaging. The story is truly fascinating and rewards gamers with an interesting point of view and a sense that even if something is different, that doesn’t make it bad.  My only real caution is to not play this game around kids as it’s extremely heavy handed with the foul language, perhaps too much so for some tastes. Every character talks with the saltiest of tongues and would make many a sailor blush. Still, this game is totally worth playing. Fans of rich storytelling will find plenty to love in Of Orcs and Men, as will any gamer with an affinity for strategic real-time combat.    

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Deep, engaging story
+ Fun mix of directed and real-time combat
+ Good mix of stealth and action
+ Dark and mature humor

Cons:
- Combat can feel overwhelming at times
- No way to respec combat skills
- Foul language is a bit overdone

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for PC and Xbox 360
Publisher: Focus Home
Developer: Cyanide, Spiders
Release Date: 10/11/2012
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.