It’s a dark time! When Orcs are the ones fighting for justice, things have definitely gone very wrong. Fed up with the slavery forced on their kind by the ever expanding Empire of Men, the remaining free orcs’ only choice now is to fight back in an attempt to salvage any strands of their tribes’ heritage.
Of Orcs and Men kicks off with players controlling Arkail, the Butcher of Bay Harbour from the Red Breathe tribe, in the picturesque surroundings of his tribal home. He is a Bloodjaw, the legion of orc warriors fighting the Empire of Men and their oppression of orcs and goblins. He’s really pissed off too.
The orcs only hope in the war at this point is to go straight to the top and assassinate the emperor at any cost, a task that now falls on Arkail. To get anywhere near the emperor will require assistance from various men and goblins not sympathetic to the ways of the empire, but all with agendas of their own no doubt.
We quickly see Arkail team up with a goblin, Styx, that is not only well connected in the underground, but also knows how to navigate the realm and is skilled in knife combat and throwing. This goblin becomes the other part of the two character team controlled by players throughout the game. Their union quickly sees an Odd Couple scenario build with arguments abound and copious swearing to boot. This also furthers the RPG combat elements into unique co-op style play, more on this shortly.
Arkail and Styx each have three stances which individually reflect their size and combat style. These stances start with only two or three attacks or moves in each and the rest being unlocked and upgraded along the way as players progress.
Arkail, being a massive orc, has an Offensive and Defensive stance, which give access to powerful hits, charges and swings of his selected weapon. His size makes him slower and less agile and therefore more susceptible to taking damage in combat. The Defensive stance allows him to throw out hits and weapon swings but maintain some chance to avoid enemy hits and therefore endure somewhat less damage. Whereas the Offensive moves go straight into the battle with little regard for his health but also delivering more damage to an opponent.
He also has a unique attribute, his rage, which can be triggered as a move or happens automatically once he’s been in the fight for a set amount of time and his rage meter has filled. Triggering this rage can be extremely useful if done at the right time and he goes into berserker style attack with all control lost. This could mean the difference between taking out a group of say three enemies or being taken out by them. Triggered too early with too many enemies still around and it could mean only taking out one of them while the rest basically beat him to death. He also loses sight of who is friend and who is foe when in this fit of Hulk-like rage, so if Styx is nearby he’ll get taken out regardless.
Enemy archers and crossbow wielders that are high up or even just on a balcony are untouchable by Arkail, whose size also limits his movement and ability to sneak around through small passageways. This didn’t really seem to impact the game with Styx always at his side and not many parts of a map needing Styx to go ahead solo anyway.
On the other hand Styx is small, agile and uses knives as his weapon of choice. His Range stance sees a variety of knife throwing options that allow him to maintain some distance from the fight and also target those enemies that maintain their distance, usually up on balconies. His Melee stance will make him go in for close combat with various knife combat options but obviously put him more in harm’s way.
Stealth is Styx’s unique ability, meaning he can become invisible to low level guards. This comes in particularly handy when needing to thin out the amount of enemies you will inevitably face to get through parts of a map. With the hoards of enemies often faced it’s definitely worth the creeping around to assassinate those that can be and if anything it adds the much needed variety to the game’s options for disposing of enemies.
The Special stance for both characters consists of a move that will respawn the other when down as well as one that sees the two join forces to throw Styx at an enemy, inflicting greater than usual damage.
In battle each character has four slots to assign up to four moves, beit Offensive, Defensive, Melee, Range or one of the Special moves. If nothing is assigned Arkail and Styx will repeat a basic automatic move. Some assigned moves will take up more power which means only a set number of those can be assigned into the four slots until the power bar recharges.
Assigning, or updating, moves slows down the battle almost to a halt to give time to assign as well as switch between Arkail and Styx and designate a target. This assigned moves technique in theory works but when usually faced with at least three or more enemies at once and activating a move sequence disables any option to run and get some distance from the battle it ended up being more limiting than tactical. Right and left (on Xbox) shortcuts can designate single moves to each trigger, but having only one for each side still proved quite limiting.
Along the way the two battle Men of the Empire, other goblins and orcs, dogs, shamans and sometimes friends turned traitor. All the while earning attribute points, unlocking and upgrading moves and collecting weapons, apparel, equipment and special objects.
Styx leads the duo to the first of the hideouts. Here side missions present themselves when talking to the other NPC’s and options for trade become available through the orc blacksmith. A wide range of visually enticing side mission maps are visited along the way and transporting to these is made easy with the help of the NPC’s around.
As great as the environments look, none of the maps I visited offered much challenge in navigation and were all very limiting and basic in what the characters could access. Each section felt very much on-rails with no option for variety outside of the linear approach.
Adding to this linearity are the many cut-scenes, which would usually have made me lose complete interest in a game with such limiting factors, if it wasn’t for the mild humour and the banter and arguing in each scene. The copious swearing and out of place accents - deep south, camp English, New Yorkese and Scottish - also added to each scene’s entertainment value.
Combine the linear environments, combat mechanics and cut-scenes and it feels more like watching an animated show or even reading a book about it all. If you can get past all this and even find the right stride with the combat mechanics it does make for an interesting storyline and the game gradually expands slightly. Without a decent amount of persistence, I can only see real fans of the genre and those really wanting a new story getting past the first few battles.