The fantasy genre is full to the brim with the same old tired tales, and you often find yourself helping out good against evil in the times of war, but what if you took a good look at the 'bad guys'? Let’s spin the story on its head and observe the fight from the side of the barbarians; the Orcs; the green skins. You know what? Of Orcs and Men does just that, and it’s fantastic at it!
Of Orcs and Men follows the formula of a roleplaying game, with a turn-based combat system similar to the fabled Knights of the Old Republic, allowing you to drastically slow down the flow of time in order to queue up a variety of different skills from the three stances; offensive, defensive and special. The battle system, much like in KOTOR works like a dream and makes for a far more engaging experience compared to similar hack’n’slashes, that said, if you like the look of the game and prefer a very fast paced instant reaction Dynasty Warriors May Cry then you will have to get used to the rhythmic mode of play.
Best of all, Of Orcs and Men focuses as much on the story as it does on the combat, following the two most unlikely heroes in the world of the green skins, first up is Arkail, the disgraced ‘Butcher of Bay Harbour’ that slew hundreds of humans and orcs due to his true Achilles heel; his blinding, uncontrollable rage. Arkail’s unsurpassed strength and firm resolve makes him the ideal candidate to carry out the mission required of you; to journey into the heart of the kingdom of men and assassinate the Emperor who has brought years of death, discrimination and destruction to the green skins.
Raw, brute strength comes at a cost, and Arkail is not the sharpest tool in the shed, if he had it his way he would often follow his heart, which is why he must go about his duty with Styx, the smart mouthed Goblin assassin that has his fingers in many pies, knows his way around the foreign lands, and has the smarts to sway a conversation his way.
The two characters complement each other both in conversations and in fierce battles, and the battles are very tight indeed, so you’ll shortly find that it is customary before any you encounter to run a sweep of the location with Styx in ‘stealth mode’ that allows him to quietly take out foes without the danger of beginning a skirmish, because despite having a mighty Orc on his side, no one is unstoppable, and simply taking out one man may mean the difference between death and glory. Especially when he’s got a companion as unpredictable as Arkail who you don’t want to be around when he’s angry, because when Arkail’s rage reaches the limit, he’ll go beserk into a murderous fury where he’ll strike at everything in his path at the expense of his defense, including Styx!
Your journey to the execution of the Emperor is of epic proportions and takes place over a wide variety of beautifully crafted locations from the dense jungles of the Orc homeland, to the dank, claustrophobic underground cells of the great Tower, whilst the layout of locations are fairly linear, it’s the little touches that add to the overall ambience of the game like the haunting streets in the City of Men, littered with the tortured bodies of the green skins.
Rather than take the easy route and implement a useless currency that bears no meaning in the situation and location of the game, your equipment can be sold for a trade point, new weapons and armour can be bought for two points, and the upgrade system allows you to improve each piece of equipment once again for one point, the trade system works exceedingly well and you never reallyfind yourself with too many trade points, but it is just as shame that as far as equipment and loot goes, it’s practically non-existent in the game.
If you’re easily offended, then you may want to give Of Orcs and Men a miss, the game is rated a 16+ for a reason, and Arkail and Styx are not afraid to let loose a few profanities every minute or so, however this doesn’t mean to say that you should expect the callous immaturities of Bulletstorm, the dialogue and writing of the game is gloriously spot on, and perfectly fitting to the ruthless world of the green skins.
Not all is right in the realms of Orcs and Men however, and the game is not without its faults, the combat does get a little repetitive after a while, thankfully the intervention of the specialisation choice in Chapter 3 does mix things up, however the same cannot be said for the AI on enemies, which as games go is very basic, and as Styx you can assassinate enemies only a few feet away from prying eyes, let alone that patrolling foes do not care about their route being littered with dead bodies, both of which really take away the thrill of assassinating foes as Styx.
The story is fantastic, full of twists, turns, double crosses, difficult choices, and some very touching character exploration, it’ll take a decent chunk out of your life as you strive to complete your mission for the good of the green skins, and the body of the game takes place over five chapters. However for those that like to invest a bit more into a game, there’s a variety of side mission’s perfect for those completionists out there, the side missions are mostly timing specific, so if you miss the opportunity to speak with a character, then the chances of you taking up the mission are slim. Rather than simply adding a bit of playtime into the game, the side missions help you to delve even further into the characters, it’s just a shame none of them really appear to affect to world around you.
If you’re looking for a deep and involving roleplaying game then you needn’t look any further than Of Orcs and Men, whilst its linear focus does make for a rather small scope, its story and writing is so brilliantly rooted into the fantasy world that you just wish you could continue on the everlasting journey of Arkail and Styx.
Of Orcs and Men is available now in all good stores and online distribution channels and is not only available for PC, but is also out on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, if you are looking for a new fantasy game with a twist, and don’t mind your tales to be a little linear, then jump on board.