|System: PC*, Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Cyanide Studios, Spider|
|Pub: Focus Home Interactive|
|Release: October 11, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert VerBruggen
Like World of Warcraft and Dragon Age: Origins, Of Orcs and Men is one of those RPGs that try to strike a balance between action and turn-based combat. Things unfold in real time, but you give your characters a series of instructions rather than actually controlling them as they land blow after blow.
I've never been a fan of this kind of combat, but Of Orcs and Men introduces a new way of handling it, and it's a dramatic improvement. First, you control two characters instead of one, which keeps things from getting dull. And second, you can significantly slow down the action while you issue each character a list of commands, which stops the game from becoming a race against the menus. I do wish the combat had more of a tactical feel to it—I eventually found myself settling into a routine, which reduced the brutal fights to mindless if oddly addictive busywork—but this title is a good buy and should inspire other developers in the RPG genre.
Of Orcs and Men takes place in a world where humans are the oppressors. Their victims—the "greenskins," a group that includes orcs and goblins—are fed up with being subjugated, and some human dissenters are on their side. At the beginning of the game, you take control of an orc, Arkhail, who is given the assignment of assassinating the human emperor. You soon meet up with Styx, your goblin sidekick. From there, you take on a series of story and side quests that amount to a roughly 20-hour adventure.
The maps here are rather linear, and like Final Fantasy XIII, Of Orcs and Men can feel like it's structured as an action game. You walk forward, trigger waves of enemies, and eliminate those waves. But the fun comes in the interaction between your two characters.
Styx is tiny, wields knives, and moves quietly. He has the ability to sneak behind bad guys undetected and kill them, which allows you to thin out the enemy waves before the full-on fighting starts. This adds a stealth element to the game, though the A.I. doesn't really lend itself to Metal Gear Solid-style antics; the guards are pretty oblivious as you eliminate all their co-workers right in front of them. Styx also is small enough to access some corridors that Arkhail can't fit into, and he can throw knives at distant enemies if you put him in his long-range stance.
Arkhail, meanwhile, is all brawn—and he has quite the temper. His specialty is clubbing things to death, and if those things fight back hard enough, he goes berserk, and you lose control of him as he vents his rage on everything in sight, including Styx if he gets too close. After a few seconds of brutally destroying anything he can get his hands on, Arkhail takes a few seconds to recover before you regain control.
As you progress through the game, you can improve your characters' attributes, learn new attacks, and acquire gear. These options are rather limited, however, and it will usually be pretty obvious which attributes you should improve, which attacks will be most helpful, and which pieces of gear are best. Of Orcs and Men certainly does not compete with, say, Skyrim or Diablo in the realm of character progression and gear acquisition—it's more of a brief diversion that happens from time to time than a core element of the game.
All of this, put together, is what creates the routine I alluded to above: First, you sneak around with Styx to kill as many enemies as you can without being noticed. Once the fight begins, you try to get Styx to a place where he can attack long-range. Then, you direct Arkhail to wail on as many enemies as possible, using area-of-effect attacks if he's getting swarmed. If enemies get close to Styx, you switch him into his melee stance so he can fight back more effectively. And if Arkhail goes berserk, you need to get Styx away from him to avoid friendly fire, and then use Styx to protect Arkhail if all the enemies aren't dead before the enraged orc goes into his cooldown period. If a character dies, you use the other guy to resurrect him ASAP. When you level up, you use your points to make Arkhail more powerful and Styx more useful with his knives. Rinse and repeat.