What does the perfect Steam co-op experience look like? It’d be nice if it was a good game, of course, but that’s a secondary factor. Above all, it’s got to be convenient: downloadable in the space between a lunchtime WhatsApp exchange and an 8pm start time. It should require coordination, but not so much that you can’t have a chat about Loki. And ideally, it should already be sitting there in your Steam library—having presumably gone cheap in a previous sale, though you have no memory of buying it.
About a decade ago, Orcs Must Die! 2 ticked all those boxes (swapping out WhatsApp for Facebook Messenger and Loki for Breaking Bad, in accordance with the cultural zeitgeist of the time). The trashy fantasy look and action-tower-defence premise made it easy to parse, and easy to enjoy. Nobody cared what your gear level was—only that you were trying your damnedest to keep the horde out of the rift.
After that, the series dropped off the radar of most PC gamers. Lured by the likes of League of Legends, its developer reimagined Orcs Must Die! as a live service built around competitive multiplayer. As you’ve probably guessed, it didn’t work out—with no playerbase to speak of, Orcs Must Die! Unchained shut down (opens in new tab) in 2019.
Orcs Must Die! 3 brings an end to that ignominy. It comes to Steam on July 23, after a year on Stadia—during which time I’ve come to know it well. A safe sequel, it’s bound to satisfy anybody with residual muscle memory for flipping and laying down traps in elaborate patterns. The standout new addition is the War Scenario, which upscales the action in Helm’s Deep-style siege maps, matching larger hordes with ballistas and barrel launchers.
It’s not the supersized weaponry I love War Scenarios for, though, so much as their lack of restriction. You can forgo the ballistas and splash your budget on scores of regular-sized traps instead, building football fields of hot coals and circular saws. With so much real estate, the potential for combos is extraordinary—you can tar, burn, throw, and hypnotise the same orc in a string of slapstick misadventures, and watch your score grow exponentially.
The leaderboards that host those scores are a reminder of Orcs Must Die’s ephemerality: this is a rare 3D construction game that takes place in timed levels, rather than a permanent open world. I’ve wound up loving that about it: you build a handsome killzone, sharpen it against the hide of oncoming orcs, and expand on your vision as the rounds go on. Perhaps your teammate adds some inspired embellishments—a swinging mace on the ceiling, maybe, or a trapped tornado in the floor. Then, once it’s perfect, you let it go. Like a sandcastle or chalk drawing on the pavement, it’s washed away at the end of a match. And I think that’s beautiful.
Here's the best bit: because the whole thing takes place on grids, it’s easy to visualise, and you can let your designs live on in your head, playing Orcs Must Die! 3 on your bedroom ceiling like her off of Queen’s Gambit. I’d thoroughly recommend ruining your brain in this way once it launches next month.