For as long as RPGs have been around, orcs have been the favourite sword and arrow fodder of every gamemaster. Orcs breed quickly, look nasty and are usually in the service of someone even nastier than themselves, so they are the obvious enemy to send any aspiring heroes against. However, there has always existed an underground movement of people who have sympathised with the orcs. Now and again, they try to remind their friends and families that even orcs have feelings and dreams, but these opinions are usually ignored and the people voicing them are shunned. I personally remember one campaign where I played a poor Half-Orc trying to make a living in the land of men - a task that was doomed to fail, given that the game was set in Tolkien's Middle-Earth and no one likes the Orcs there (and the gamemaster was a cunning, conniving bastard).
But Orcs and their sympathisers are a stubborn lot, and unlikely to learn from past experiences. Thus, it is not surprising that some of them are now bringing us Of Orcs and Men, a computer role-playing game, where the Orcs are given yet another chance to oppose the cruelty and greed of men. The game is a joint production between Cyanide Studios (Concept and Production) and Spiders (Realization and Development) – both of them willing to risk their reputation by openly sympathising with the Orcs.
War against Men
Of Orcs and Men is set in a typical world infest... sorry... inhabited by men. This means that the other races and species have to retreat from their ancestral lands as the human civilization expands. The downtrodden species in this case are Orcs and Goblins, the former of which are powerful and strong warriors and the latter smaller, more cunning and stealthier species. While the race of Men has uses for strong Orcs – mainly as slaves – they have only hatred towards the Goblins and they slaughter them wherever they are encountered.
The hero of the story is an elite Orc soldier, a veteran of many battles and a member of a legion called Bloodjaws. He is called forth by his commander and tasked with a mission that will test his mettle and potentially end the war between Orcs and Men. And this mission involves nothing less than the assassination of the Emperor of Men, the man who has sent his people against Orcs and Goblins for many loathsome decades.
As the game starts, the hero will soon be joined by a lone Goblin, whose skills and talents in stealthiness will complement those of the strong Orc. Both of them will have their own skill trees that allow them to develop their strengths as the story progresses.
Of mice and men
It is not known at the moment whether the heroes will encounter any soft and furry bunnies on the way – or if the hero himself is called Lennie and is in any way prone to liking such creatures – but the developers have confirmed that the adventuring duo will confront wizards, assassins and soldiers of the Empire of Men on their quest to kill the Emperor. Furthermore, there's talk of a mysterious organisation or group referred to as Sisters of Laments who will apparently do all they can to oppose our heroes' already difficult task.
Overall, there's very little information available of the title at this point. The main attractions of the title thus far rely on the rarely-used switch of sides between Orcs and Men and the title that pays homage to Steinbeck's classic novella. Whether that homage ends with the title or if the developers have something more planned in that direction remains to be seen. Neither of the developers have any big titles on their resume that would instil much hope in me as it comes to their ability to make Of Orcs and Men into a good RPG, but I'm very much hoping to be surprised.
At the time of writing, the game is targeted for early 2012 release and, in addition to PC rigs, it will adorn the screens of PS3 and X360 consoles.