For me, a man-child circling the final tight spirals of the drain that leads directly into my 40s, the acronym OMD refers to the '80s band Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. You may recall them if you’ve ever watched Pretty in Pink, or listened to any ’80s compilation packed dense with Duran Duran and Tears for Fears that has ever existed in the history of mankind ever. Their “If You Leave,” which some percentage of you who likely owned parachute pants at some point in your life will now have stuck on repeat in the most annoying centers of your cortex for the remainder of the day, was a quintessential ’80s song.
Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, which is admittedly a terrible name for a band, has nothing to do with our discussion today except to counter-point how much the Orcs Must Die brand, which is what OMD will now mean for me from here on out, has invaded my mind. It actually takes a lot to reset the underpinnings of my youth in music, which is why Rio will forever be identified first as a song and secondly as a pretty big city in Brazil, so for a measure of how impactful OMD is to me, there are worse metrics.
I should have been more excited about the launch of Orcs Must Die 2. I should have had it as one of the key releases of the year, up there with massive games like Big Dissapointment 3, and Huge Blunder 3, and Eff That Guy 3. But I did not because I had assumed that I had already killed all the orcs. Like a gladiatorial Russell Crowe, I stood amongst their bodies, arms outstretched, blade-staff in hand and shouted to the madding crowd, “Look at all the orcs I’ve killed! Are you not sated in their blood as I?”
But I was to learn that my hubris, my middling effort at orcish bloodlust thus far had not been the main event. It was the opening act, and there were still a lot of orcs yet to die. A whole lot.
Like sixty hours worth of orc deaths. I’m not kidding here. Sixty hours of killing orcs have been packed into my past couple of weeks. We’re talking Skyrim timeframes here, people. And I don’t think I’m done. I still need to get to level 50 on endless mode, and I still need to five-star one last level on Warmage difficulty, and I still need to beat a couple of Spunior’s top scores, and I still need to unlock a couple of upgrades on the Wall Blades trap, just to freaking do it.
The thing that surprises me is that the game is basically the same as the first. It is first-person tower defense. Monsters come out of a thing, follow a path toward another thing, and your job is to populate the in-between with traps that kill them before they get from point A to point B. It’s certainly not the most inventive concept, and even if it were, OMD makers Robot Entertainment are far from the first to implement it. But they do it better than anyone has to date — not only in implementation, but in style.
The tone of OMD is spot on. It is comical, even whimsical, in its endless propensity for dishing out heinous violence against orcs. They burn, break, fly, explode, collapse, shout and cavort delightfully across the screen, simple-minded in their singular pursuits. There is a beating of joy in my heart as they inch ever closer to the smorgasbord of death I have laid out like a hate-filled buffet for them. The game is constantly reminding you in subtle ways to have fun, rewarding you and encouraging you at every turn. Hey you just laid a trap! Great job. That’s a good one. Oooh, you just made that orc sail off into a nether-y abyss. Listen to him howl as he soars toward untold perils! You used like five different traps on that one orc, here’s a c-c-c-combo and a bunch of money to go with it to spend on more traps! You’re doing great, buddy.
Orcs Must Die 2 isn’t just a vehicle for orcicide. It’s your friend, and it cares about whether you’re having fun.
So, what does OMD2 do that the original did not? It’s best expressed in metaphor. Imagine you had a good friend, who one day came over and asked, “Hey, would you like a million dollars? Well here ya go, friend. Have a great day!” That guy, he’s Orcs Must Die the first. But you spent your million dollars, and you have great memories of Caribbean bacchanals and Mediterranean indiscretions on the Riviera Coast to keep you warm in bed at night. Then, sometime later, the doorbell rings again, and it’s a familiar, if slightly older, face at the door. He says, “I heard you really liked that million dollars I gave you, so here’s ten million dollars. Also a friend to enjoy it with. Also your friend is a smart, witty, super-model.”
That guy is Orcs Must Die 2.
The bullet point list might look like any other sequel. Hell, you could’ve written it by yourself if you were just guessing what OMD2 might involve: new traps, new weapons, new upgrade system, co-op, new enemies, new levels — bigger, better, badder and so on like that. What’s really great though is that all of those things work. They aren’t just bullet points, they are meaningfully and lovingly crafted into the game. The co-op isn’t just slapped on, it’s implemented so seamlessly and so well that you’d be forgiven for entirely forgetting that the series hasn’t always had co-op. The traps aren’t just new, they fit into the system as if they’d always been intended to be there. They aren’t pointless and forgettable, nor do they make the previous traps obsolete. They enhance; they coordinate; they blend.
The thing about this game, and I will leave you with this, is that it doesn’t just make you want to play it more and more and more. It encourages you to do so, and then rewards you every single time you make the choice. That’s rare.
Bottom line, if you pressed me against a wall right now and threatened bodily harm if I didn’t pick my Game of the Year to date, it wouldn’t take me long to come up with the answer of Orcs Must Die 2.