A while back now I was given Orcs a collections of books written by Stan Nicholls in which the Orcs are the good guys and in which characters swear and speak in the lingo of the modern world, as opposed to some kind of alternate, Shakespearean-inspired universe. The books are a tongue in cheek tale of Orc valour and human treachery. Of Orcs and Men follows on from this trend, creating a world in which humans are the fanatical right wing seeking to purge the world of all mystical races. At the top of their list are Orcs (and Goblins).
Of Orcs and Men is the newest title to be published by Focus Home Interactive and developed by Cyanide Studios and Spiders, and is a tale about an Orc named Arkail and a Goblin named Styx. Arkail is brute of an Orc, bad tempered and a member of an elite squadron of Orcs; the Bloodjaws. Styx is his opposite, a sneaky Assassin whose daggers are as sharp as his sarcastic wit. Both are brought together in order to undertake an impossible quest; challenge and defeat the Emperor Damocles, the man responsible for the slavery and death of thousands, if not millions of Orc-kind.
The storyline as unique as it is also unfortunately quite linear as you progress from start to finish. It is only broken up by the odd side-quest providing small and infrequent opportunities to further the gameplay and learn additional information about the two main characters. Luckily the linear drone is drowned out by Arkail and Styx and the amusing, highly inappropriate retorts between them. Be warned, this isn’t a game that should be played with youngsters around as the dirty remarks, although entertaining for adults, would be embarrassing if repeated by a child at school.
One of cleaner aspects of the title is the combat system, which is quick and easy to use but takes time and patience to master. Instead of button bashing and frantically swinging sword from left to right desperately trying to make contact with human flesh you instead deal with 2 stances and queue up your actions. For Arkail there are offensive and defensive stances, Styx has melee and ranged stances available to him. Arkail is your tank, Styx is your DPS. Simple. As well as this, both characters have special moves that can be used to resurrect the other character. The player slows down the action and chooses which attacks should be inflicted on which enemies, forcing the player to think smart rather than smash buttons. You can pick stack up to 4 attacks in one combination giving you room to create some impressive displays of carnal aggression and violence. During combat you can switch freely between Arkail and Styx to ensure they are positioned correctly, using the right moves and combinations etc.
I don’t know what sort of characters everyone else enjoys playing as, but a combination of Ranger and Assassin is always my personal favourite Although limited in some aspects, controlling Styx does allow you to use stealth and turn (almost) invisible providing the chance to silently eliminate opponents when their backs are turned.
In general, combat needs to be approached with a ‘divide and conquer’ attitude and strategy using Arkail to take the brunt of the damage and Styx to move in with his debuffing abilities and slowly pick them off one by one. One thing to look out for is Arkail’s rage meter… I won’t give too much away, just be sure to keep this in check. You have been warned.
Although Of Orcs and Men can play out like a linear action title at times, it is at its core an RPG and as such has a character leveling system. Using the character interface you can assign different attribute points to Strength, Stamina and Agility as well as unlocking new skills and upgrading you existing ones.
Of Orcs and Men has areas of fine polish and completion but let down by elements that clearly needed greater attention to detail. The environments for example are all beautifully crafted and help to make the character models look all the more impressive. It’s been said elsewhere that the Island of Laments is one of the most stunning in game locations, and I agree. But unfortunately for us only two character models look like they have had any TLC and they are Arkail and Styx. All of the other models are plagued by ugly rendering, weapons that bug out and appear to be slicing through a skull during mid-conversation or just generally wooden in appearance and animation.
Note to future game developers, if you want a musical score that will impress, create emotion, push along the narrative and helps to imbue it with deeper moral and emotional weight, then seek out an award winning composer. Maybe even Olivier Deriviere, who was responsible for the Alone in the Dark soundtrack. Congratulations Deriviere, the music to Of Orcs and Men impresses on all levels.
Looking back at Of Orcs and Men it is easy for me to sing its praises. It’s an RPG that successfully delivers a compelling story line (although linear at times) and offers us a challenging combat experience with strategy taking over from the usual hack n slash tactics. Most importantly for this title is the fact it delivers a humorous yet ironically humanizing way to look at Orcs (and Goblins) compared to other forms of media when dealing with fantasy worlds and races. Although mildly let down by a weak script that uses profanities a little too often, and character models that look nothing short of shoddy, the game generally makes up for its shortcomings.
If you are a fan of fantasy games and the genre in general, then I highly recommend this title to you.