Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Game Review: Of Orcs and Men By Matthew W-A

I feel really conflicted writing this review. The concept and the trailer for the game looked fairly promising, and I enjoyed the final product. I didn't have any problems finishing the game. I never felt bored, or wanted to close the game and do something else. On the other hand, Of Orcs and Men has enough issues that I am not entirely sure it's actually a “good “game.

Of Orcs and Men is a game about an orc with serious anger management problems (Arkail) and a foul-mouthed sarcastic goblin (Styx) who are off on a quest to kill the human emperor before he can meet with envoys from the elves and the dwarves to stamp out the orcs once and for all. The orcs have been pushed to the brink by the genocidal human empire, and this is a final act of desperation. The two main characters are multidimensional and interesting (especially the goblin), and are just all around well animated, voice acted and written. Unfortunately, everyone else has the collective depth of a sheet of rice paper. Every NPC feels like a poorly animated cliché, which is made much more noticeable by the quality of Arkail and Styx. The animations for all of the human characters just look stiff and unnatural more often than not, and the character models come uncomfortably close to the uncanny valley. I also saw a lot of animations being reused in conversations, like Arkail's shoulder shrug, and Styx's full body  head shake/finger wag...

The combat is a mixed bag. Most encounters start off with you trying to assassinate as many people as you can while controlling a nearly invisible Styx. It's fun, but the enemies tend to be dumber then bricks, and the method for determining whether or not the enemy detects you feels arbitrary and inconsistent. This would all be less of a problem if not for the fact that most encounters have enough enemies that they will be nigh on impossible if you don't silently eliminate a few ahead of time. The actual combat is a bit like Knights of the old republic in the sense that it takes place in real time, but you can pause it to give order. Only in this case, the game just goes into really slow motion rather than pausing, which actually was pretty nice for immersion.  Unfortunately, the limited number of skills, combined with having only two characters makes the combat just feel boring at times. I can understand such combat when I have a larger party, but having a combat system that lacks any sort of tension doesn't really help the game.

I also had a few minor annoyances with the way the game handles combat commands. Arkail has a skill called Round Attack, where he flails around hitting everything in a four meter radius. Now the logical way for this attack to work, would be for it to not be targeted at any one specific enemy, but rather simply act as an area attack. Unfortunately, all attacks must be targeted at an enemy so I have to be specific. Now we get to minor annoyance number two: whenever Arkail or Styx kills an enemy his attack cue for attacks directed at that enemy is instantly dumped, and the character in question will begin to simply launch basic attacks at the nearest enemy. This is fine most of the time, except for when you try to just get Arkail to spam round attacks at a large horde of goblins and he keep returning to default require constant and completely unnecessary micromanagement. Also on occasion, this auto attack behavior would lead to a game over when one of the characters went down and the other refused to break out of his auto attack in time to revive the downed character. I guess the combat was adequate, but nothing special. I never felt overly frustrated, but I never felt very satisfied either.

Now for the graphics. The first fifteen minutes of the game are amazing. The lush forest and the tall grass combined with some really nice lighting effects made my jaw hit the floor when I first booted up the game. Unfortunately, time in this area is very short, and for the rest of the game after everything is brown. Brown city streets. Brown sewers. Brown mining tunnels. Brown castles. Brown dungeons. There are some very pretty segments near the end of the game that take place in snowy mountains, and on a rather lush island a bit reminiscent of the starting zone, but nothing really comes close to the first fifteen minutes. That's not to say that Of Orcs and Men is an ugly game. The lighting is really nice, and the art design actually feels pretty unique. It's just that the opening sets up a bunch of expectations that are left unfulfilled. I also want to mention that the UI is done really well, in the sense that it is not there at all when you are not in combat, and when you are, you only see as much as you absolutely need to. I wish more games did this.

The story tries to be original, and succeeds for the most part although it does start to feel a bit generic near the end, which felt extremely rushed. Some bits of side story were done really well and contained plot twists that were properly built up to that I still did not see coming, but there were also a lot of plot twists that were glaringly obvious hours away. Also, there is a choice system which seemingly results in different things happening, although I once went back and redid a major choice, only to find that the only change was in how the first two minutes of the next cutscene played out. I don't expect all of my RPG's to have a branching narrative, but having fake choices in a game really does not make anyone happy.

OK. I realize that most of this review so far has been a lot of complaints with few compliments. Technically, I suppose Of Orcs and Men isn't really a good game. Yet for some reason, I really enjoyed myself. I could not put it down for it's entire (admittadly rather short for a game in this genre) eleven hour length. The interaction between Arkail and Styx is amazing, and Styx is one of the best non-human characters I have seen since the Mass Effect games. I have put down a lot of “better” games out of boredom, and that did not happen in this case for some reason. In spite of all of it's issues, I actually really enjoyed Of Orcs and Men. It does have issues, but there hasn't been a good RPG out since The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition came out last May, and Of Orcs and Men does manage to scratch that particular itch. If you want a fantasy RPG that is a bit different from what you usually get in this genre, you could do worse then Of Orcs and Men provided you temper your expectations going in. I had fun. I want this game to at least do well enough to get a sequel with a bigger budget for animation and voice acting, because the world presented is interesting, and the characters are unique enough for me to want to spend more time with them. Of Orcs and Men is available no on PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3.

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