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Following on from the lukewarm reception of Orcs Must Die! Unchained in 2017, developer Robot Entertainment needed a win for this now decade-old tower defense franchise. It’s hoping to find it by making this third proper entry a Stadia exclusive, which, if nothing else, maintains the series’ reputation for switching between platforms as it now returns to a familiar co-op format. Orcs Must Die! 3 just about manages to pull it off, boasting several new traps and elemental enemy types to always make fending off legions of orcs with a friend across increasingly complex maps both satisfying and fun.
Orcs Must Die! 3 picks up roughly two decades after the second instalment, centring on a new generation of heroes as the never-ending battle amongst humans and orcs rages on. The good thing is that the story here is largely self-contained outside of a few minor callbacks, making it easy for anyone new to this zanier take on fantasy to hit the ground running. Truth be told, the narrative isn’t anything revolutionary, often being reduced to a few lines of dialogue at the start of each level with occasional the cutscene sprinkled in. Even still, the game’s two new leads – Egan and Kelsey – are well-drawn and charming enough to make up for it.
I played as Egan for most of the campaign, using his bow to keep the hordes at bay whenever times got tough. Kelsey, by contrast, wields a mighty blunderbuss that can also be upgraded to great effect, but both characters play extremely similarly for the most part outside of a unique secondary ability that is powerful but consumes precious mana. As with any Orcs Must Die! game, only by utilising the various trap types wisely will you successfully defend your rift portal – and this time around there are plenty to mess around with.
Beginning with simple spiked tiles and arrow walls, a lot of the traps available at first will be recognisable to franchise veterans. Eventually, though, you’re afforded abilities like changing the flow of the horde by building barricades, sending orcs up in the air using a gravity well and temporarily slowing enemies down via some sticky tar. Most are dished out over the course of the 15-18-hour campaign and are readily upgradable after each mission’s end. You’ll likely find that some cater to your playstyle better than others, however, so be sure to divide your upgrade points accordingly.
Much of the fun in Orcs Must Die! 3 comes from how it encourages experimentation. Should you spend precious points reinforcing this bottleneck? Maybe your resources would be better spent making the horde’s entrance point an electrified zone? If you do your job correctly and plan ahead the number of orcs you need to slay by hand should be minimal, allowing you to reap the maximum amount of rewards by letting as few orcs as possible slip into your rift portal. Your objective and the basic structure of how you accomplish it never changes, but there’s room for variety in between.
Whereas preceding games have specialised in letting you become the ultimate puppet master by letting you control the madness and flow of these quite compact mazes, Orcs Must Die! 3 aims to shake up the pace ever so slightly with new War Scenarios. Essentially much grander, more open missions that sees you go head on with hordes outside of the castle setting, here you’re gifted with a greater number of traps and weapons more suited to taking out greater numbers. Flip boards, for instance, let you bounce back tens of orcs at once, while catapults can be mounted to let you deal out death more directly.
Unfortunately, though, while a good route to go down in theory, by thinking that bigger equals better in these instances, Robot Entertainment loses sight of Orcs Must Die!’s core appeal. Wide open spaces simply means giving you less control over the action, to the point that I was constantly left questioning whether it benefitted me more to take out large waves of enemies while letting stragglers fall through or to focus explicitly on bolstering traps around the rift portal. While there are only 5 War Scenarios out of a total 18 missions, here you must unlearn every valued tactic and strategy you’ve honed beforehand.
Tying into this and also letting Orcs Must Die! 3 down a little is its inconsistent difficulty. While levels early on are easy enough to breeze through on just the standard difficulty, in others I was forced to knock it down a notch in order to fend off waves successfully – sometimes by the skin of my teeth. Some of the challenge can be offset a little when playing with a friend, but even then, it’s a shame that some solo players will sporadically be forced to grind previous missions to upgrade their preferred traps or simple be forced to struggle.
Despite these small nitpicks, however, Orcs Must Die! 3’s mix of third-person action and Tower Defense tactics remains a fun genre blend we don’t too often see elsewhere. Sure it’s a shame that the risk it takes with its big new feature War Scenarios doesn’t fully pay off, but Robot Entertainment still does a great job empowering you when going up against tens of orcs, ogres and more. If that wasn’t enough, the many new types of trap and 18 fresh castle environments helps ensure that no mission ever need play out the same.