Of Orcs and Men is a turn-based real-time fantasy RPG for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. Cyanide Studios and Spiders developed the game with Focus Home Interactive publishing the title. Cyanide Studios have developed several games of varying genres, but gamers will probably recognize them for their set of games based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The studio developed Game of Thrones: Genesis, a strategy game based off the history of Westeros and Game of Thrones this year that much like Of Orcs and Men is a straight RPG. Spiders (game weavers) have released several games including two games based off Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. The game received a retail release in Europe thanks to Focus Home Interactive on October 11, 2012 and a digital release in the US on October 16, 2012.
While the plot of sending one lone Orc into the heart of the human Empire with the intention of assassinating the Emperor to save his people is solid, the problem with the writing in the game comes in the form of the dialogue and some of the characterization. The characters of Arkail and Styx seem superficial for the most part. Even with all the little details that eventually pop up about their past and their current relation to the world, each character still fits neatly in the archetype that they are initially. Arkail is the brute who would much rather settle a problem with his double-headed axe and fists than try to find another solution. He remains gruff, curt and to the point. Styx is the cunning and fast-talking thief who tries to wheedle his way out of a jam. The dynamic between them is that of opposites, playing off their differences and how that relationship gets them into trouble throughout the game. To the game’s credit, the interplay and relationship between the two takes a turn and that is commendable even if their basic character structures remain similar.
The main problem with the writing of the game comes in the form of the dialogue. It is wildly ineffective most of the time and often feels wonky or stilted. There are serious themes going on in the game, but the dialogue always seems to be trying a bit too hard at being highly stylized. This makes the dialogue often betray the seriousness of the game even at times when the dialogue is trying to convey its own seriousness. In plenty of parts the speech of the character feels entirely too modern for the medieval fantasy setting of the game. There are several spots where Arkail’s conversations seemed like an argument between dudebros in line at In-N-Out. What hurts the game greatly is the over reliance on vulgarity and profanity. While there is nothing wrong with using curse words in a game, it works brilliantly in Max Payne 3 and other mature games that have come out this year and previously, here it seems like a crutch to give the dialogue a punch or edge. However, most of the time, it comes off as laziness. Worse of all, it makes all the characters in the game sound similar to one another. Arkail and Styx sound similar with a few exceptions that Styx says more words, but the way they talk is the same. In plenty of ways, it seems like the dialogue is trying to mimic the style of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The problem is that here the dialogue is not written with the same deft expertise that Martin employs in his books.
The gameplay in Of Orcs and Men has a similar feel to the active-time turn-based combat of Knights of the Old Republic or the more recent Final Fantasies. A pre-determined amount of enemies exists within any dungeon/area and the player engages them when they run into the enemies’ line-of-sight. When entering combat, the players can slow down the battle to select a number of moves from three different “wheels”. For both Arkail and Styx, there are offensive, special and defensive wheels from which the player can select a number of moves to fight the enemy. Each wheel has its own strengths and weaknesses depending on the enemies the player encounters. From the wheel, four attacks can be queued up to use against a selected enemy. In combat, the player can switch between Arkail and Styx by pressing a button allowing them to queue up moves for the other character and focus the two characters’ attention on different enemies or a single enemy.
During combat, each character has its own special meter that fills up during combat. Arkail has a berserk meter that fills up as he takes damage; once it is full, he enters an uncontrollable rage attacking everything on screen, even his ally. This gives him more strength, but since he lacks control, it often is more trouble than it is worth. Styx has a concentration meter that allows him the use of more powerful attacks and utilizing that is the key in combat. As with any RPG, both Styx and Arkail level up as they gain experience from combat. With attribute and skill points, the player can upgrade the characters various attributes focusing on strength, health, dodging and rage/concentration and learn new moves or improve old moves. In addition, the characters’ equipment can be upgraded or customized depending the player’s choice.
Outside of combat, the player gets to control conversation choices during certain parts, but each conversation generally leads to a pre-determined event. Nonetheless, it is a nice feature and keeps the player engaged during cut scenes or stretches of dialogue. The level design generally ends up being hugely linear even in larger maps; there is typically no reason to search through the other paths and the player should take the shortest route to the objective. While the game’s story design is linear, there are side missions the player can do for achievements and some benefit to the characters later. However, they generally are wiping out X number of enemies and then returning to one of the game’s various hubs. The combat tends to get repetitive and feels a bit shallow at times when selecting actions for the characters to use.
Graphics and Sounds
There are plenty of positives and negatives in both the graphics and sound of the game. The graphics in several parts look great. It has problems when either in too close or too far away. When zooming out and showing distance, there is a tendency for the foreground to come off as crisp and detailed, but certain things like leaves and plant life tends to get pixelated and have rough edges in the background. The character models look good for the most part and they seem to have a good amount of detail. However, when looking closely at the detail in the character models lack depth. The huge problem comes with the human character models where most look ugly and malformed whereas the Orcs and goblins look great.
The sound design of the game features one of the game’s high points though: the music in the game is excellent. The orchestral sound of the music pairs well with the world the game creates. It is addictive, energetic and works well with some of the more intense battles. The music was a true delight. Even the voice acting in plenty of spots was good. The only problem comes when the dialogue seemed forced that it made the voice acting come off stilted. In addition, the wild range of accents in the game will likely throw the player off, as most times there will be a character with an out of place accent that is jarring.
Of Orcs and Men is a flawed game with some real potential in plenty of areas. However, after a while the dialogue becomes abrasive and hard to deal with. The combat while having some solid foundations tends to get repetitive and leaves the player wanting some more depth. One of the biggest strengths is the game’s music, which is done extremely well and pairs great with the game’s world. The story itself has some great themes and a solid premise, but the writing in other aspects ends up hurting the promising story. The game is not terrible and has promise, but there are some missteps that keep the game from joining the ranks of the better fantasy RPGs to come out in the past few years.