The tower defense genre was dying off quickly by 2011. After some huge successes like Plants vs Zombies, the genre had been marred by a slew of cheap tie-ins (particularly on iPhone) and a gameplay paradigm that never seemed to evolve. Then came Orcs Must Die, a wildly original and incredibly fun take on the same-old formula. It turned the world's slowest, most boring genre into a fresh and exciting new hit that was extremely popular with fans.
The Apprentice's incessantly snarky comments may not have won over our hearts, but gameplay that revolved around finding new ways to kill thousands of orcs certainly did. Now, just 6 months later there's a sequel in the works, and we had a chance to try it out this weekend at PAX East.
So far it seems like Robot Entertainment knows that they had a great title on their hands with the original OMD. The general gameplay remains mostly unchanged except for a few key tweaks and additions. First and foremost is cooperative play, the one thing that fans of the original had been clamoring for since first laying hands on the original.
We're happy to report that cooperative play is utterly seamless, and it's a revelation to be able to rely on a partner to help take care of things. In the original title, the more difficult maps could get downright stressful as the hordes mounted and you lost control of the mob. Being able to coordinate with a teammate cuts down on that substantially...if you coordinate.
Fortunately, it's much less essential to communicate during waves. The level my partner and I played consisted of two routes and a ramp in the middle. So it was fairly simple to block off the ramp then both of us could focus on one side independently. Only when things got especially hairy did we have to chat and strategize.
There are some tools that facilitate cooperation though. Players can bring a healing tool that restores their health at all times when it's equipped, but can heal their partner with its alternate fire. The developer leading our demo session said there are fewer ways to get healed now (though he didn't elaborate on what was cut out) so cooperation can be important.
We were also told that the weavers are gone this time. In the previous game they served as a leveling system, allowing you to select new powers and buffs in each level. They're being replaced by the ability to level up traps even more than before. Each trap and ability will have multiple levels to buy, adding more customization to the meta-game, but possibly less for each level.
You'll also notice some changes to the main weapon carried by the main character. It's now a much slower-paced shotgun-esque weapon, though our demo lead said that the original crossbow can be acquired later in the game. The sorceress co-op companion carries a much faster shooting staff that has four separate firing modes. The quick fire will be familiar to fans of the original orcs. It's bolts shoot at a similar rate as the old crossbow if you're rapidly clicking.
Holding the mouse will get you two different stages of power. The final stage becomes something of a magic missile that explodes enemies on contact and hits nearby orcs with splash damage. The alternate fire is the most interesting though. One click gives you a ranged charm spell which forces any enemy to fight for you for a few seconds.
Orcs Must Die 2 doesn't seem to be taking any risks at all. That said, most fans of the original will probably be extremely pleased to hear that. So while it's not exactly the most exciting new game on the horizon, it's a retread of a formula we're already love.