You know Orcs right? They’re those green skinned, perennially angry blighters that you have to cut down in droves before rescuing the Princess/swiping the loot/finding a plus five magical robe that is JUST your colour (delete as appropriate). Not this time though, as you find yourself stepping into the rather large boots of a fearless Orc warrior, and the rather smaller boots of his Goblin travelling companion. Luckily for us the developers from Cyanide were on hand to run us through some of the game.
Co-developed by both Cyanide and Spiders, a pair of French studios, this is a novel spin on the tried and tested fantasy genre in gaming terms. The story is fairly straightforward, as explained by our guides, “ After decades of fighting, humans decided that to prevent further war they would wipe out all orcs and goblins.” Seems completely reasonable, and not amazingly over the top genocide, but obviously the greenskins are not going to take this lying down as our chum from Cyanide went on to explain, “So to prevent that from happening you undertake a suicide mission to kill the Emperor who started it all. Someone has to do it.” So it’s an Orc themed Dirty Dozen, but with two people? Count us in.
The game revolves around the massive Arkail, an Orc with anger management issues, and the smaller, smarter Styx, a Goblin with a penchant for slitting throats. Cyanide explained further, “We wanted to focus on two heroes, Arkail is very straightforward and direct in his approach. Whereas Styx is quite wise and has a few more tricks up his sleeve.” The whole game is trying to be “a more dark and mature universe” which means it's quite rare to see any characters using magic, with most of the action revolving around a very medieval world that just happens to have pissed off, fantastical creatures with swords running around. That’s not to say that you won’t have the odd spell lobbed your way, but it's not a major focus.
Instead the developers wanted you to enjoy controlling two unique characters and guiding them through a variety of main missions, plus a large number of side quests should that take your fancy, until they reach their goal. Arkail is your tank in combat and also has the ability to smash apart objects and use his brute strength to your advantage. Styx on the other hand, can use stealth to scout out locations, backstab foes and attack them from afar. Combat is a mixture of real time actions and carefully stacked commands, much like Dragon Age, and players can slow down time at any point to issue commands and switch between the two characters at will to gain a tactical advantage.
The combat actually looks pretty good at this stage, with the hefty Orc able to draw the fire of enemies while the crafty Goblin sneaks around and blindsides them. You can also use choose to grab Styx and launch him into battle or onto distant enemies for aerial ambushes – with the ability to still slow time while he's in mid air and issue a plethora of commands on the fly (geddit?). Let Arkail get pounded too much though and he could fly into a rage. Meaning he gains significant buffs but you lose all control of him and he could potentially lash out at Styx if you get too close. The idea behind this is that, “Rage can save a situation for you, but it can also mean game over if you let it build up too early in the combat.” So careful management of your dream team is vital
Each character has two combat stances they can switch between that confer different benefits and you can also level up your abilities as you progress. Though the developers are keen to make players choose a certain style of fighting and stick with it, so if you're offered a choice of two upgrades then the one you don’t pick is gone forever, which is sure to force players into some hard choices. You can also snag new equipment or barter, as money is useless amongst greenskins, with other Orcs and people you meet along the way in order to acquire new things.
We were also told that dialogue choices can have a major impact on the game and how it pans out, as can certain side missions. So, as we were told, “Depending on which character you choose to initiate dialogue and how you answer questions and complete quests you can have a major impact on how the story branches and plays out throughout the five main chapters.” Choosing to beat up a goblin rebellion can have repercussions down the line, as can helping out some human mages or even failing to wear that lucky pair of pants (ok – we made that one up). Quite how different the story can diverge remains to be seen, but it does seem that, no matter what choices you make, there is only one ending to the game – which raises the question of why choice is allowed at all if it just leads to the same outcome? Time will tell whether or not everything is suitably explained.
For now though this looks like Of Orcs and Men could be a surprising diversion from the usual fantasy RPG fare, with a mature storyline, interesting characters and a novel and unique combat system. Hopefully the sense of originality and uniqueness that shone through in the demo also makes it into the finished product, or we could be left with a feeling of disappointment that no amount of Orc style rage would help us through.
Prepare to be lobbing Goblin chums at nefarious human evil-doers when Of Orcs and Men butchers its way into stores in October 2012. Until then you can pretend that all humans are nice and greenskins are our natural enemies – you monster!