by Zee Salahuddin, reviewed on
Of Vengeance and Inner Demons
Of Orcs and Men is a story about betrayal and redemption, about desperate times, last stands, and acts of selfless valor. It is a story about two unlikely antiheroes, driven together by equal parts of vengeance, greed and fate. It is a story about facing your inner demons, embracing your flaws, and accepting your limitations. Of Orcs and Men, put simply, is one of the most engrossing RPG stories every told. I just wish they had spent some more time polishing it.
Of Story and Perspective
The humans, in their quest to eliminate all greenskins, have constructed a massive wall to protect the human kingdoms from the vestiges of the once-powerful greenskin clans. The greenskins, Orcs and Goblins alike, are hunted, subjugated and enslaved. The brutal campaign has driven the greenskins to the brink of extinction, with several clans willingly surrendering to avoid extermination. Amidst this chaos, the elite fighting force of the Orcs, the Bloodjaws, have enacted a daring plan to assassinate the human Emperor, hoping to end the war in the process.
You play two characters simultaneously, using Tab to switch between them instantaneously. Arkail is the brute, a massive hulk of an Orc, all muscle and nerve. He is vicious, blunt and suffers from serious anger management issues. He is a Bloodjaw, one of the last surviving members of the Red Breath clan, tasked with crossing the Wall, rescuing a powerful mage, and enlisting her help in committing regicide. Styx is a wiry, diminutive Goblin, a narcissistic mercenary, and a stealthy assassin. He is methodical in his approach, clinical in his execution, and every bit a match for Arkail in terms of his capacity for brutality and murder. Styx has been hired as a guide for Arkail, using his contacts in the criminal underbelly of the human world to get Arkail to his objectives. There are a few missions where circumstances force you to play with only one character at a time, but for the bulk of the game, you control both greenskins.
There is a lot of dialogue spoken throughout the game, helping flesh out the world and its inhabitants. The story twists unexpectedly, masterfully paced for the first three chapters. Unfortunately, the same level of detail was not afforded to the last few chapters. The characters, the pacing, and the events seem hastily put together. It is evident that time was not budgeted adequately for the later part of the game, as the story unfolds rapidly, warping you from one location to another, with sufficient reason, but insufficient rhyme.
This also permeates into the lore elements, which initially seem to be intelligently constructed. Some things are fleshed out, such as the betrayal of the Orc that sides with the humans and uses dogs to hunt down other Orcs. Other elements, such as Orcs using the term “khwarsan” for humans offers no further explanation. Yet other elements are built to a point and then suddenly dropped, such as the tale of the two Orcs in different sections of the game, both claiming to be the last survivor of the Turquoise Dawn tribe.
Of Combat and Bloodshed
Pressing space slows time down to a crawl, allowing you to assign a flurry of commands to your skilled warriors, specifically targeting enemies and weaknesses in meticulous sequence. Q and E toggle between enemies, if you are having trouble targeting them, in the fully rotatable, over-the shoulder perspective from either character. Your enemies can be several variations of humans or Orcs, mindless Goblins, or blood-thirsty hounds. The humans can wield swords, spears, shields, and ranged weapons, whereas the Orcs tend to favor heavier, more blunt instruments of destruction. Your battle plan is critical to success, as you must respond to each threat with an intelligent counter. Send Styx’s light dagger-based attack against a soldier with shield and he will fail, while spearmen will keep Arkail at arm’s length to deny him his melee advantage.
Great story, fresh perspective on the “humans vs. Orcs” idea, excellent music, deep combat mechanics, memorable characters.
Poor voice-acting, random bugs, questionable AI, a rushed ending and a general lack of polish.