The world is at war (as usual) but, this war is slightly different. This is a war of genocide, of spite and of hatred. Humankind has expanded its borders as much as they can in the north and are now bent of conquering the southlands. Unfortunately the southlands are the home of the ‘greenskins,’ the Orcs and Goblins, two races which are loathed by the emperor of humankind. The war has raged for twenty years and the humans are winning, not surprising due to their seemingly inexhaustible numbers. The Orcs have not given up, however, and they embark on a desperate and seemingly suicidal mission to change the course of history.
At the forefront of the war against the Humans is the legendary Legion of Bloodjaws and the main character that you play is one of the best. Arkail, also known as The Butcher for some famous deeds perpetrated against humanity in a previous battle, is a very large, very green, very grumpy and very aggressive Orc with a ‘fight or die’ mentality that sometimes gets him into a lot of trouble. He is tasked with the impossible task of assassinating the Human emperor to try and bring an end to the war that is decimating his people. This is not a spoiler by the way; you find out pretty early on in the game that this is you mission.
Soon after you embark upon your mission to meet up with your guide and partner in this mission, the goblin Styx. Styx is a loveable rouge / assassin whose goal in life is pretty much to stay alive and make a bit of gold whilst doing it. That’s how he ends up with Arkail; he is promised quite a bit of cash in exchange for getting Arkail into a position where he can complete his mission.
The two characters, Arkail and Styx, are pretty much as opposite as any two ‘people’ can be. Arkail is big and burly, and lets his muscles and skill with a weapon do the talking for him. He is honour bound and very proud of being a Bloodjaw and of everything that that represents. He also has a love for his people that drives him into being the best solider that he can be. Styx on the other hand would do anything to save his skin or earn a quick buck.
Due to these differences, the characters are also very different to play, and they also have different skill trees. Whilst Arkail is a fighter and his skill tree is dependent on strength as well as his offensive and defensive capabilities, Styx is a sly assassin who relies on his agility and his ranged and melee capabilities. One of the best tactics in the game is Styx’s ability to enter stealth mode and assassinate unsuspecting humans. This, however, is also where I have one of my two biggest problems in the game. Firstly, Styx cannot range too far without Arkail and, let’s face it, stealth is to Arkail as cold is to the sun. Secondly, you can leave bodies lying all over the street and the patrol just step blithely over them and continue as if nothing is wrong. This just makes the game unrealistic (in as much as a game about Orcs and Goblins can be realistic).
My next biggest gripe with the game is the dungeon-like levels which have a starting point and an end point. This would be fine except for the fact that there are open areas, roads and so forth that you just cannot explore. For goodness sake, if there is an alleyway I want to explore it, not meet up with some invisible wall that simply prevents me from going anywhere near it. If you can’t go that way – put a wall there or something that says to the gamer ‘You cannot pass.’ Whilst I quite enjoy linear, dungeon-like levels, don’t give it the appearance of an open world environment.
Despite these issues and the occasional bug, I had a great deal of fun playing Of Orcs and Men. I always rate a game on how much I enjoy it and how much I want to play it. And I really enjoyed the game and felt that excited, impatient feeling you get when the game is loading and you think it is taking too long.
The gameplay is easy to get to grips with and the combat system is enjoyable. The combat system is the same as what we got used to in A Game of Thrones in that you put the game in slow motion and stack up to four attacks against the selected opponent. This allows for a bit of strategy and it’s always a good idea for Styx to hang back and use ranged attacks while Arkail gets up close and personal with close melee attacks. One thing you have to watch out for though is Arkail’s rage. If his rage meter fills up he goes berserk and attacks everything and anything in his path (even Styx). Whilst this is amusing the first few times, you quickly learn to control Arkail’s rage because it normally means he’s going to die.
There are a few things that I need to mention that turned this game from an excellent (4 star) game into a good (3 star) game. I have already mentioned the linear, dungeon style environment that appears open-world but isn’t, the lack of decent AI, and the bugs. I actually don’t mind the occasional bug, but there was one bug which required me to restart my console (Arkail got trapped at the top of some steps) and this is just totally not on. Another thing is the repetitiveness. Assassin’s Creed 1 was a similar game where it was repeating everything over and over until the exciting and interesting became dull and annoying. I hope that Cyanide makes another Of Orcs and Men and just makes it better like the guys at Ubisoft did.
I was, however, sorely tempted to rate this game as excellent (4 stars) despite the above problems. Firstly, the characterisation and graphics of the game are outstanding, I really enjoyed the game and I actually watched the cut-scenes (I am very bad at skipping cut-scenes normally). The environment is both beautiful as well as dark, and the characters, especially Styx and Arkail, are absolutely awesome; exactly what you would expect and more. Secondly, the game is just a load of fun. There are many games out there where you are the human and you go to fight various monsters. In Of Orcs and Men the humans are the monsters and it is in overcoming them that ultimate victory may be achieved.
Thirdly, and this is something I don’t normally take notice of, is the soundtrack. Haunting, beautiful, emotive, descriptive and always appropriate are just some of the words that I could use to describe the soundtrack. Composed by Olivier Derivi