So what is this Of Orcs and Men I hear you ask? Is it really just a Steinbeck pun? Read on to find out!
Orcs have for many years always been seen as the bad guys in fiction. Since Tolkien coined the name in his tales, they have always been the brutish warriors of fantasy, ruthlessly destroying everything in their path. However in recent years this has changed. The Warcraft series showed the Orcs steadily in a different light and the Orcs book series by Stan Nicholls reinforced this view. Now we have Of Orcs and Men which follows this theme and shows Orcs in a far from traditional light.
In Of Orcs and Men, the Emperor of man has decided to take a grudge against the Orcs and sets out to murder or enslave the entire population of Orcs. The nature loving, shamanistic tribes of Orcs are unsurprisingly a bit miffed and so for the last decade the warring nations have fought with the humans slowly winning the conflict. It’s now down to a last ditch attempt by the elite Blood jaws to assassinate the Emperor and end this war before the Emperor forms an alliance with the Dwarves and Elves to wipe out the remaining population of Orcs.
In game you play as Arkail, a Blood jaw Orc who suffers from berserker rages when pushed too far, and Styx, the only Goblin in existence who can talk and has intelligence and Arkail’s guide through the human lands. It’s this unlikely pairing which have been tasked with assassinating the Emperor and as you can imagine it’s not going to be an easy task.
Like the best brother in arms stories, Arkail and Styx to begin with do not get on at all. To think of a comparison take Arnie in Conan mode mixed with Danny DeVito in Twins and you get the idea of how unlikely a duo they are. However, as you can expect, this leads to the usual bickering between the two and there are plenty of moment from Styx which had me chuckling away. In fact the duo’s relationship is the highlight of the game and is what really encourages you to complete every side-quest as all quests end with a narrative cut-scene between the two usually with a few good laughs thrown in courtesy of Styx constantly digging at Arkail.
The gameplay itself is a very simplified version of Dragon Age, in fact if you’ve played Cyanide Studios previous title Game of Thrones you’ll know exactly what to expect. The strangest thing about the game though is the level set up. Each quest you have to complete puts you in a linear level where you have to get from A to B wiping out enemies as you go. There is no replaying of each level and while the layout and appearance is different there is little variety in the gameplay for each stage. It’s an interesting approach to the game and one I haven’t seen in a very long time. However it does work and although it can get a bit repetitive towards the end of the game, there are subtle variations which keep it somewhat fresh.
On many levels you will find you obtain your quests from characters based in a central hub. Although many quests are not essential to the main storyline, the many side quests are rewarding in a number of ways. The most obvious reward is that of armour or weapons though often they will also aid you in the main quests in some form. However the least obvious reward is in the end scene of each quest as mentioned previously. You can tell the writers have really put a great deal of effort into the two main leads to give them plenty of character.
The majority of the combat is conducted by giving orders to the characters reminiscent of Dragon Age. With Arkail being very much the tank style, I often found myself giving him simple fighting options until he got hit enough to Hulk out and start smashing into enemies automatically. As such I spent most of my time playing as Styx who would sit back and attack from a distance or run in to cause status effects and revive Arkail as needed, though swapping between the two characters is simple enough and stances can be set to give them automatic orders as well. It works very well and the characters have been created to really support each other’s gameplay styles well and to master the more difficult fights you’ll really have to implement the characters strengths successfully.
Here is one of the flaws that I came across in the game, in so far that a lot of the commands seemed redundant or useless. It could well be down to my gameplay style but commands like threat generation seemed useless and as for Arkail’s defensive stance attacks they all seemed pointless as he worked better just meting out damage while Styx used his moves to give negative statuses to the enemies.
A novel addition to the combat though comes in Styx’s stealth attacks. Before any battle you have the chance to sneak around invisibly as Styx and assassinate enemies before battle commences. This pays off hugely if done correctly and can make the difference between fighting 10 enemies and 2 enemies if Styx takes down the enemies without being spotted. It’s a simple mechanic but breaks up the combat enough to stop it becoming a mindless hack n slash title. It also gives you a great chance to plan strategies for your fights before you start them.
The graphics in the game range a fair deal. While the main characters are fairly detailed as are the other Orcs you come across, many of the human characters and other NPC’s have few defining details to tell them apart and they end up just being faceless enemies to be taken out en mass. Another huge bugbear of mine was Styx’s animations during cut scenes. It seems he had a very limited range of movements which was repeated often. The only reason I noticed this so much is due to one animation where he very limp-wristedly points downwards for no apparent reason throughout conversations. Once you notice it, it’s difficult to not notice and drags you out of the game every time it happens.
The actual levels and backgrounds are well presented and as I stated earlier although you visit each level only once, it never felt like a repeated area with a different route, unlike Dragon Age 2 for instance. Each level was distinctive enough to make it feel different whether due to different details in the scenery, lighting or weather effects.
The audio however is very good. The music does a very good job of setting the scene for each level whether in cut-scene or battle and its one of the few soundtracks I’d actually be interested in purchasing to listen to. With a mixture of epic scores and more action packed sequences it adds a great deal to the atmosphere of the game. The voice acting itself can be hit and miss, the two main characters are very well done and the bromance between the two main leads is done very well. However some of the supporting characters have not had so much work done on them and some of the scripting is very wooden and clichéd.
Overall this is a good game. Although the combat and gameplay is nothing ground-breaking and is a little unnecessarily complicated, the story shines through on this game. The relationship between Arkail and Styx is what drives this game and encourages you to complete every quest available just to see the end dialogue between the two.