Orcs Must Die! 3 (Xbox Series S) Review

Does the long-awaited third (mainline) game in the Orcs Must Die! IP introduce enough new mechanics and personality to justify your time?
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Orcs Must Die! 3 – developed and published by Robot Entertainment – is the third numbered installment in their long-running series that blends tower-defence with third-person action (there was a short-lived, free-to-play game too). It’s been a long time coming, with the prior two numbered titles released only a year apart in 2011 and 2012. Thankfully, Orcs Must Die! 3 succeeds in providing a ton of entertaining levels, bigger scenarios, more traps, and hero upgrades. However, it feels better balanced for co-op play and still plays much the same way as it always has.

Set 20-years after the events of Orcs Must Die! 2, Maximillian is nowhere to be found. A pair of young Order apprentices find themselves under the tutelage of the evil-turned-good sorceress Gabriella. Although the constant presence of magical rifts and the need to defend them from the “Mob” has long been accepted as the norm – they’re responsible for the presence of magical energy – the sorceress detects a new force stirring behind the rifts. Now, it’s up to her apprentices to defend multiple rift fortresses while she investigates this new threat.

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The new protagonists are young, goofy, and more than a little annoying but they’re just as proficient as Maximillian when it comes to wiping out orcs.

Orcs Must Die! has always been light on narrative, but Orcs Must Die! 3 goes the extra mile with several entertaining cutscenes that flesh out the new characters and old lore. On top of that, several “flashback” levels delve into the relationship between the original master of The Order, Cygnus, and his Elven compatriot, Vorwick. The flashbacks are used to introduce the new “War Scenario” levels and establish the new villain that Egan and Kelsey must defeat in their campaign.

Once you’ve completed the lengthy “Old Friends” campaign, which covers the rise of the new war mage and sorceress, you’ll unlock another story campaign. The 5-map “Drastic Steps” campaign – with its own War Scenario map – has Max coming out of retirement, pairing up with Gabriella, and tackling tougher stages that have a strong focus on flying enemies.

However, if you’re just after a short play session, there still plenty to keep you busy. There are “endless” maps, developer challenges with leaderboards, and the new “scramble” mode. Scramble mode randomises the experience, allowing for any enemy mix, on any map, with the addition of buffs and debuffs to ramp up a greater challenge. Any of these modes are fantastic for brief multiplayer sessions – well, all except the endless mode maps if you’re really good.

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There are plenty of new, oversized traps and turrets to deal with the massive hordes you’ll face in the War Scenario levels.

In short, Orcs Must Die! 3 offers a ton of content at half the price of a “AAA” release, but is the gameplay still engaging and satisfying? The simple answer, for fans of the prior games or those interested in a streamlined tower-defence action hybrid, is most definitely “yes”. However, you’re going to want someone along for the ride to get the most out of the experience.

The basics haven’t changed much in a decade but, if you’re new to the series, here’s a brief overview: Enemies emerge from one side of the map, typically from more than one point as you progress, and march relentlessly towards the rift portal (if enough get through, you lose). You’re tasked with placing traps along their path and engaging them in somewhat clunky combat. Points earned from kills, collectable drops, and bonuses for keeping enemies out of the rift, are used to buy new traps. As a result, the more efficient you are, the better prepared you are for the next wave.

It’s a simple formula and repetitive but it works brilliantly for quick, intense sessions. Each stage consists of 5-8 waves and, depending on the difficulty, you’ll either be building traps on the fly or making use of a few break periods to craft a murderous gauntlet. It’s a forgiving system too, as traps can be “sold” for the full price, allowing you to quickly correct a misplaced trap or change up your strategy.

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One of the best things about the Orcs Must Die! IP is that creating elaborate death-traps never gets old.

For the most part, interior levels are small, and the layout is simple, with multiple convergence points that are easier to defend if any kobolds, orcs, ogres, or trolls make it that far. However, these stages begin to include multiple entry points, multiple paths, and you get less and less space to trap the area directly around the rift if enemies manage to break through your earlier chokepoints.

If you want to survive, the bulk of the hard work needs to be done by your traps. These can be simple floor-mounted spike traps and tar pits, wall-mounted dart traps and blade launchers, ceiling-mounted laser beams, and even static guardians – think archers – that’ll shoot at nearby enemies. The early waves provide you with only enough cash for a basic layout but, as you earn more credits, you get to create more elaborate death traps. Conveniently, before the start of a level or during a mid-level break, you’ll see an outline of where the Mob is coming from, allowing you to position your traps more efficiently.

When the traps fail to do their job, it’s down to the player and a competent but unremarkable range combat system. Each hero gets a basic attack and secondary abilities limited by your mana pool. The system still rewards skillful players – headshots that do plenty of damage – but you can go far simply backing up and pummeling advancing ranks of enemies with basic attacks. When you’ve got the mana, spamming area-of-effect spells is a viable approach to buy some breathing room.

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That might just be enough wall spike traps. Now for some tar pits to slow enemies moving past them…

The stakes are upped during the new “War Scenarios”, which introduce massive environments, a huge number of enemies spawning continuously, and super-sized traps to even the odds. There are only a half-dozen War Scenarios, but they often feel like the most creative and replayable levels. You can simply use the space to create super-long gauntlets that whittle down the Mob, but you can also use a smaller number of devastating large traps and player-operated turrets to equal effect.

Creating a labyrinth of barricades and tar pits was a favourite of mine, slowing down the horde and giving me time to launch barrel after explosive barrel at them from afar, wiping out dozens with each strike. Another useful tactic was creating elevated platforms with a legion of archers atop each, capable of raining down volleys of arrows onto the advancing horde and picking off stragglers that ran past.

No matter what mode you’re playing, you’re always expanding your repertoire of traps and improving their efficacy thanks to a shared progression system (including between the two campaigns). Depending on how you’ve performed during a level – the number of kills, limiting enemies that enter the rift – you’ll unlock “skulls” that can be used to upgrade traps and hero gear. Traps have a basic upgrade, one of two unique modifiers unlocked by hitting kill milestones, and an ultimate skill. It’s a system that allows you to find your preferred layout and enhance it.

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The shared progression system ensures no matter what mode you’re playing, you’re always expanding your options and getting stronger.

The aforementioned War Scenarios are the highlight of the experience but, just like the tougher interior stages with multiple wide paths, they’re a constant reminder that Orcs Must Die! 3 feels better balanced for cooperative play. Having a friend on hand to cover another path, or join forces when desperately defending the rift, makes for a more enjoyable and dynamic experience.

Sure, with enough trap and hero upgrades you could handle any challenge solo, but this can require grinding previous stages for perfect scores before moving on. With a teammate, the difficulty curve of the campaigns feels perfect. Unfortunately, grinding for upgrades when playing solo also highlights the mechanically repetitive nature of the basic gameplay, so you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. The point I’m trying to make? Orcs Must Die! 3 is a great pick for coop gaming sessions, but you can probably knock a point or two off the score if you’re going up against the Mob alone.

Orcs Must Die! 3 is built in Unreal Engine 4 but it can still look remarkably similar to the prior games in action, despite all the improvements to level geometry, character models, animations, textures, and all the new post-processing effects. Part of this is the cartoonish look, grid-like level design, and user interface, all of which have barely changed since 2011. That said, there’s no denying how satisfying it is to watch hordes of orcs shredded by traps, blown up with explosive barrels, or catapulted through the air into lava by flip platforms. It’s hard not to love exaggerated ragdoll physics.

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Despite the increased scale of the environments, the War Scenario levels often look the most dated.

The War Scenario maps are a notable exception, given their larger, outdoor environments, but despite being a step up for the series, the increased number of orcs is still underwhelming relative to what we’ve seen in other modern horde-based games. On the upside, the game runs at a near-solid 60fps on the new consoles. When it comes to the audio, the sound of battle, swelling music, and hapless orc banter are still great. However, no moment in either campaign comes close to recreating The Battle of Helm’s Deep in video game form.

With all that said, Orcs Must Die! 3 is still a great game if you’re someone who enjoys cooperative PvE experiences. There’s the tactical aspect of placing traps, clunky but entertaining hero-vs-orc combat, deciding on when to split up or join forces, the persistent upgrade system, and no shortage of content at a low price. However, Orcs Must Die! 3 feels less balanced and more of a grind when played solo and, despite the new engine, it can look and feel a little too close to the classic games. But then again, if all you were after is more Orcs Must Die!, you may not consider that a bad thing.

Orcs Must Die! 3 (Xbox Series S) Review

Orcs Must Die! 3 (Xbox Series S) Review
7 10 0 1
Orcs Must Die! 3 is still a great choice if you’ve got a mate to join you against the Mob, especially when tackling the massive new War Scenario levels. Creating deadly gauntlets, tackling the survivors with your hero, coordinating with your teammate – these moments are still as good as ever. That said, Orcs Must Die! 3 really feels best when played cooperatively and the balance feels off for solo players, with more time needed to grind out upgrades.
Orcs Must Die! 3 is still a great choice if you’ve got a mate to join you against the Mob, especially when tackling the massive new War Scenario levels. Creating deadly gauntlets, tackling the survivors with your hero, coordinating with your teammate – these moments are still as good as ever. That said, Orcs Must Die! 3 really feels best when played cooperatively and the balance feels off for solo players, with more time needed to grind out upgrades.
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    6/10 Normal
    Minimal but still as whacky as the prior titles, just a little goofier and less self-aware.
  • Gameplay
    8/10 Very Good
    The combination of tactical trap laying, hero-vs-orc combat, and coordinating with a teammate in desperate situations still make for a great time. That said, it does feel too formulaic when played solo.
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
    Technically speaking, they're a significant step up from the older games, yet the cartoonish visuals and classic user interface sometimes make it feel a little close to the prior titles.
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good
    The epic battle music, the entertaining orc banter, the woosh of explosive barrels, the crackle of laser traps, the cries of your orc victims - Orcs Must Die! 3 sounds great.

The Good

  • Massive, chaotic “War Scenario” levels
  • The combination of traps and ragdoll physics
  • Great for short, intense coop sessions
  • A ton of content at a low price

The Bad

  • Feels too formulaic and unbalanced played solo
  • Visuals and UI feel like they’ve barely changed from prior games
Total
12
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