Review: Of Orcs and Men Is a Worthy Addition to the Action-RPG Genre

Of Orcs and Men (OOAM) puts you in control of Arkail – a hateful, ravenous Bloodjaw warrior, and your partner is Styx, the only goblin with the intelligence to speak in the game world’s universe. Your mission is simple: kill the human emperor that is trying to vanquish both Orc and Goblin races from the face of the planet.  Of Orcs and Men is brought to you by French developers: Cyanide and Spiders, and it’s available for the PC, Xbox 360 (EU only), and eventually the PSN (10/16) for a suggested price of $39.99.

Of Orcs and Men

EB 7.5 out of 10 Buddhas

The Awesome

  • Entertaining characters
  • Solid Story
  • Graphics and Sounds
  • Tooltips

The Not so Awesome

  • Challenging combat controls
  • Minimalist UI
  • No Mini-map

Of Orcs and Men is an Action-RPG where you take control of an orc and his goblin companion in their epic adventure to save their own kind from the evil forces of Man. Over the last couple of days I got to play this buddy-film-like game, and for the most part I had a great time taking sword to gut with the game’s Orc and Goblin duo.

I would like to begin with some of the high notes that I came across while playing OOAM.  First and foremost, the characters of Arkail and Styx are really well constructed. This is evident in both their appearances, as well as attitudes. Each has a personality that is memorable and easy to get attached to, which is hard to accomplish in a new IP like OOAM.

The new Dynamic Duo: Arkail and Styx

The Orc (Arkail) resembles the HULK, and is setup in a way that reminded me of your standard RPG tank-class type of character.  He uses large swords or clubs that have amazing area of effect attacks, heavy hitting attacks, and when needed, some defensive moves. Arkail also has the ability to utilize rage to aid in smashing puny human skulls beneath his heavy arsenal.  This rage bar will fill up over time, and when it is full he will go into an awesome state of power and confusion.  You better pay attention to how and when you use this rage, because when Arkail enters this state, you no longer are in control, and he will attack on his own.  This means Arkail will fight who he wants when he wants, and his targets are not limited to the enemies on screen, so watch out that you don’t kill Styx in a fit of rage.

Now when you play as Styx, the goblin, your moves set will resemble that of an assassin’s, or the traditional RPG thief class.  He has the ability to enter stealth, which allows him to quickly dispatch enemies while Arkail tanks out on the rest.  Styx also has some ranged attacks by way of some handy throwing knives that almost always find their target.  Arkail has the power of rage, but Styx utilizes the power of concentration. This is simply a pool of energy that gets drained in different increments when using different attacks to make them more effective.  Make no mistake, you need to play as both of these characters to advance in OOAM, so their unique move sets compliment each other perfectly when in battle.

Due to this class-based setup, there are moments in OOAM where you have to use one character to do a specific task, which brings a bit of puzzle solving into the fold.  For example, certain combat scenarios may require you to use Styx to assassinate 2 baddies so you only have to tank and spank 3 of the others with Arkail.  At times, it’s nearly impossible to advance without tactics, which gives OOAM’s combat a level of strategy that other Action-RPGs might not employ.

Managing both characters in combat is key

The act of controlling Arkail and Styx is pretty simple; you just press the tab key to switch between them! This is the case in combat situations, as well as out of combat ones. While playing as one character you can either queue up commands for the other to use, or let the AI control it.  The AI actually does a decent job on its own, so you don’t always have to manage both characters at the same time.  Although, if you use the spacebar to queue up skills, it becomes much easier to manage both of the characters at the same time for those of you who like to have complete control.  Think back to Bioware’s KOTOR for a reference in regards to how OOAM’s combat system works.

I can vividly recall one particular moment during my playthrough where I was controlling Styx that perfectly illustrates the teamwork concept I introduced above.  I walked up to 7 humans that stood between myself and my goal, so I quickly entered stealth and moved in closer to the fray.  From here I swapped to Arkail to queue up some AOE agro moves, then I immediately swapped back to Styx. As soon as Arkail closed in to bring the pain I assassinated 2 of the 7 humans, and sniped one off a ledge with my throwing knives. Arkail then initiated combat with his targets just as my first throwing knife hit. With only 4 humans left standing Arkail ran in to do a battle cry generating agro, while I swapped from ranged to CQB skills. We quickly terminated the humans and were on our way.

Damn dirty humans 

It was an awesome encounter to say the least. This is just one example of how you really have to play both characters to survive, and how OOAM employs a deep level of strategy when it comes to combat.  This puzzle-solving mechanic in regards to combat is definitely one of my favorite features in OOAM.

Unfortunately, not everything in OOAM is peaches and cream.  After about four hours of gameplay, I was finally able to get a handle on the controls. As an avid RPG lover, I felt that the OOAM’s controls needed some work. In games such as Guild Wars 2, World of Warcraft, or even Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the Tab key is used to find, as well as switch between on-screen targets.  This isn’t the case in OOAM.  As stated earlier the Tab key is used to toggle between Arkail and Styx, so I found myself toggling between my own party during intense battles instead of the enemies I was trying to slay.

This caused me much frustration, because a game’s control scheme learning curve shouldn’t take so long.  You’d think that since it is a PC game that the developers would have mimicked the keyboard commands that other RPGs employ like I mentioned above.  A game’s control scheme is one of the first interactions a gamer has with a new game, so if the controls are hard to master, the game’s experience could be hampered right out of the gate.  This could unfortunately lead to many gamers giving up on a title like OOAM before they give it a fair shake, but it’s not a deal breaker by any means.

I brought up the fact earlier that if you’ve played Bioware’s KOTOR, then you’ll be intimately familiar with OOAM’s combat scheme.  Unfortunately, unlike KOTOR, there isn’t a visible hot bar on the game’s HUD, which makes managing combat quite a pain in the bum.  This forces you to either memorize the combat actions tied to the 1-0 keys, or you’ll be constantly hitting the spacebar to queue attacks. A spacebar click will effectively put the game in a slow motion state where you are able to queue up to 4 attacks at a time, but if you’re into a more fluid combat experience, you’ll be forced to learn the game’s hot keys.

Another combat feature that became a thorn in my side was Arkail’s constant switching from defensive to aggressive stances, or Styx switching from CQB to Ranged automatically. The actual feature is pretty cool, but the fact that the AI would not switch the character’s stance when the combat situation changed frustrated me.  For example, I quickly found that while playing as Arkail, Styx would be surrounded by 4 enemies just throwing knives at one of them like a blind fool.  Sure I could have manually took control of him to queue up some valid actions, but it would’ve been nice to get a little help from the AI so I could’ve focused on the task at hand.

Of Orcs and Men’s combat takes a little getting used to, but I think my biggest gripe with the game is the fact that it lacked a mini map. I constantly found myself looking at the main map to find out where I was supposed to go, or even worse; finding out that I had gone the wrong way after a long trek.  There’s nothing worse than spending your precious gaming hours in a RPG constantly getting lost, or having to break up the pace of play by pausing and pulling up the main map.  I would have much preferred the standard mini-map on OOAM’s HUD like 99% of RPGs employ.

Sometimes a clean HUD isn’t always the best

As you can see above OOAM’s HUD is pretty plain with no user interface. This can make navigation pretty difficult like a said, and makes combat management an aforementioned pain in the rear.  RPG purists may love the clean HUD and minimal on-screen UI, but I found it to be more of a frustration than nostalgia.

Overall, Of Orcs and Men is a solid gameplay experience. The more time I sank into it, the more I appreciated its characteristics. The story is really unique; because it’s not too often you get to be the victim in the human vs. orc/goblin conflict. Aside from the intriguing story OOAM also has solid graphics, as well as a great soundtrack with sound effects that really help pull you into the story. Along with the audio aspect the game’s tooltips are very informative, and not some interactive video that you have to watch and mimic, or a short message that you miss and have no idea what you’re doing moving forward.  OOAM has its issues, namely with how combat is executed, but also with the limited on-screen HUD.

Although, with its solid story, above average gameplay, vivid graphics, and an awesome soundtrack, Of Orcs and Men is definitely a title worth picking up.  I give it an EB 7.5 out of 10 Buddhas!  You should expect anywhere between a 15-25 hour campaign, so for $39.99 it’s well worth your investment.  If you’re interested in playing it you can either download it from Steam today, or wait until 10/16 to get it on the PSN if you aren’t a PC gamer.

[#ff entbuddha] “Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”

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