If you were a bit on the loony side and decided to tally up the amount of orcs gamers have slaughtered since the medium's inception, it would by far cross into the line of genocide. Therefore, since our collective hands are soaked in orc blood, it’s only right that those oh-so easy to murder creatures are given a chance to impart some revenge on us troublesome humans. This is where Cyanide Studios' Of Orcs and Men comes in, pulling the ole switcheroo and putting players on the greener side of things.
Of Orcs of Men casts you in the role of Arakil of the Bloodjaw Clan – rightfully nicknamed the "Butcher of Bay Harbor". Orcs apparently are tied of being slaves to the humans, so its your job to hack them to pieces, burn down their cities and churches, and eventually reach that ultimate goal of assassinating their pesky emperor.
Cyanide Studios has done a wonderful job at making sure that you, a “greenskin,” feel some righteous outrage at the merciless slaughter and enslavement of the orc species. That’s not to say that this is a solo mission; Arakil is accompanied by Styx, a goblin that helps Arakil out, but more often than not he just gets on the orc's nerves . The two characters are interchangeable at any time, offering up distinctive play styles that compliment each other very nicely; when you're not using one character, the other will simply follow behind. This adds more purpose to the mission as the relationship between the two is incredible genuine and even humorous at times. It's a critical detail that Cyanide Studios clearly put some though into and makes the experience all the more enjoyable. It also helps that the developer created a beautiful world around our two heroes.
While certainly not on par with something that would melt your retina, Of Orcs and Men is quite nice to look at. Arakil and Styx are impeccably designed and rendered, as are most of the areas that you’ll visit. It’s also finely acted, as most characters sound the way you would expect them to, with poor performances being few and far between. The details of the game's world are strong and fleshed out: townsfolk will cower from Arakil as he stomps by; your reputation certainly precedes you. The world has a wondrous, believable fantasy feel to it…except for the massive amount of cursing. Expletives can add a layer of authenticity to a character or situation, but it is used to heavily here that it boarders on gratuitous, and sounds entirely too forced. And while your mileage on that may vary, cursing just for cursing's sake is never really a good thing.
But as nice as it is to look at, Of Orcs and Men is sadly, a touch too linear. Areas come off somewhat confining and are less open than they appear. Combat sections then, are always telegraphed by the game itself, as areas containing soldiers are reserved for pockets of space that are noticeably larger than others. Of Orcs and Men definitely wants to be bigger than it’s capable of. This was made painfully obvious when right before being led into a dimly lit maze, an NPC instructs you to follow him and to not get lost. The screen then cut to our heroes emerging from the maze, with Styx book ending the experience by remarking on how lucky they were to have such an apt guide in the hellish maze. Thankfully, when you do get to those larger areas, the combat more than makes up for the lack of exploration.
Soldiers and members of the inquisition are just about everywhere, and taking them out can often times be easier said than done. The nimble goblin Styx is able to enter a Stealth Mode, which allows him to sneak into the combat area ahead of the bulky, impossible-to-miss Arakil and take out whatever enemies happen to be separated from a group. The game occasionally reminds you of this option, so you better take it seriously. The two characters can easily become overwhelmed by soldiers, and sending Styx in beforehand to help level the playing field is often times your only hope of taking out a large group.
When dealing with enemies head on, you have a series of small tactical menus at your disposal: one for offensive moves, and another for defensive moves, one for special moves that involve both characters. Accessing any of the three mini-menus pauses the game so you have time to plan our your attack, but if that’s not fast enough for you (show off) you can map moves to various buttons to quickly line them up. Four moves can be stacked at a time, and after choosing them Arakil or Styx will simply unleash them on whatever helpless target you’ve chosen. For tougher battles, synergy is the key. Focusing on one character means letting the AI handle the other, and this can sometimes lead to disaster, as the AI will not tactfully choose its moves. It's also important to note that when playing as Styx, defensive moves are replaced with long range ones, adding another layer to consider when building your strategy.
For a violent tactical game, Of Orcs and Men also features light RPG elements; the characters level up, acquire new skills, and better equipment can be found or traded-in for. The RPG elements hang in the background of the tactical combat and offer a nice, if not shallow, touch to the gameplay. Once you’ve gotten the hang of bashing those irritable fleshlings, everything is delightfully smooth. Navigating the menus to upgrade skills or equip items is straightforward, and the controls are some of the best that this gamer has experienced – quite possibly, ever. Controlling the characters is hassle-free, and everything moves as at the pace you want it to. Even opening the combat mini-menus and plotting out the fight is a pleasure and as user-friendly as can be.
Of Orcs and Men is a game hampered by its humble origins; you can sometimes feel the cost-cutting tactics in action, which is never comfortable. While the story could have used with a little more fleshing out, the setting and narrative remains believable and enjoyable to be a part of. Fans of strategy-based combat will enjoy smashing around as Arakil, but others may face a bit of a learning curve when trying to figure out the strategic combat. Cyanide Studios has put together a very nice spin on how this oft misrepresented race are typically handled, and for that alone it’s definitely worth checking out.
Fun Factor: Combat can be difficult, but is always fun and rewarding. RPG elements don’t add up to much, but their presence here is non-obtrusive and appreciated.
Difficulty: Medium to high. Gamers more experienced in the strategy genre will have less of a learning curve, but for everyone else it’ll take some time to get the hang of keeping track of both characters.
Length: 12-15 hours with low replay value. It's a linear game so once it’s done, it’s done.
On the Negative Side: Combat can be frustrating at times, and the world is smaller than it lets on.
Bang for Your Buck: At 39.99, most gamers might expect a more fleshed-out experience, but what is there is mostly done very well. Linear gameplay and no multiplayer shouldn’t be major deterrents to those wanting a fun single player experience. And for those people, I say go for it.