Filthy orcs, flea-bitten bloodthirsty savages that deserve nothing better than slavery or death. We have seen this picture painted many times before. But what if you were that orc?
Banished from your clan, exiled away from your family, with nothing left to lose. The humans, the Kwhars, have been methodically laying siege to the war bands and camps of orcs for decades now. Many clans are gone, back with the Great Breath. Others teeter on the brink, their young taken away to build towering structures and slave away until death for the humans. You are a Bloodjaw now, an elite band of orcs that will go down swinging to the last. No one else wants you, with your crazed bloodlust. They Bloodjaws will try to bypass the Wall and kill the emperor. The end is nigh, one way or another.
But to get past the wall alive, Arkhail, the Butcher, will need someone with a bit of tact. An unlikely ally. A goblin. That can talk.
So begins the tale of Arkhail and Styx. A tale of regicide, friendship, honour, acceptance and betrayal. Set in a racist, gritty fantasy world, the duo will have to work together to reach their goal. Which wasn’t easy to begin with. At almost every turn, Arkhail is foiled or in some way impeded. What sounds like a basic mission becomes ever more complex as Ark learns how sordid the world is behind stone walls. Styx is an enigma, the only goblin anyone has ever heard speak. His motives seem to lie solely on coin, and he relies on his grizzled wisdom and sharp daggers to carve his way through life.
Similar to the last samurais in Japan, Arkhail is an old relic, a weapon to be discarded or destroyed by those ushering in a new age, one where Orcs can have station, while still being slaves of men. Unable to accept these ideals, Arkhail, with a reluctantly following Styx, act like a beacon for chaos and foiled plans. Before long, they attract the attention of the inquisition, a fanatical group of racial purists.
Using a system of combat similar to that of the old KOTOR games, much of your planning is done in a state of heavily slowed down time. Both Arkhail and Styx have two stances, which vary their attacks and stats and both can queue up to four moves at a time. I say heavily slowed because the action doesn’t ever freeze, meaning that while you have ample time to decide what actions you should perform, that sword is actually inching closer towards you.
Arkhail can either tank or DPS, but takes extra damage if you choose the latter. This also results in his rage bar filling quickly, which is a double-edged sword. A raging orc is indeed a scary sight, capable of doling out massive amounts of punishment and backbreakers all around. However, he becomes computer controlled and attacks anything in range, including little Styx. He also changes targets on a whim, often nearly killing several foes. If his rage runs out, he is left stunned and defenceless for a while, often resulting in his death if you allow him to rage too early. This results in a lot of choices being made to weigh up the risks and rewards of your play style.
Styx is an agile rogue, dishing out lots of damage while dodging attacks to survive. Switching between his trusty daggers and throwing knives, Styx is a deadly flurry. Before combat, however, is where he really shines. Go into stealth mode and Arkhail will hang back. Sneak around and assassinate a few unwitting guards on the fringes, so that your fight has slightly better odds. Be wary though, those guard dogs can smell old goblin from miles away and you don’t want Styx fighting alone.
The world is portrayed in amazing graphics: from hovels and shanty towns to huge icy caverns, there is always something to look at, even if it is just the jostling gait of your 8 foot tall wall of green muscle. All of these greatly detailed locations, however, are mostly out of your reach due to the level design being very much about tunnels. Even doing side quests will show your characters arrive at a new area, which is the beginning of a tunnel towards the objective, the amazing vistas and points of interest mockingly call to you as you trundle along a narrow street.
The game suffers heavily towards the end with regards to checkpoints. The final encounter, if failed, results in a return to before several groups of enemies and a long cut scene that can’t be skipped. The snarling, cussing orcs, with their shamanic beliefs and sense of honour, will have you begging for a sequel as your sift through the wreckage of execution for the light of ambition.
The queue system becomes a large part of your game, as the AI controlling your partner is extremely limited, doing nothing more than auto attacking. A string of commands is lost if your opponent dies, which can become annoying if you are trying to focus on one target to get rid of the biggest threat as quickly as possible. The inventory and barter system is well done, even if a bit too much on the frugal side. You get to toss Styx as a power attack! Flying Goblin is the most dangerous goblin in the world!
Design and presentation: 5.5/10
Thanks to being able to choose exactly how you level your character, I found my play style working against me at a few points in the game. My duo was unconquerable if they stayed close to each other, something the game decided to forcibly prevent at several points in the story. Being faced with an impossible fight with Styx alone near the end of the game, I eventually had to choose between dropping difficulty or exploiting a glitch in the AI to beat two elite soldiers, something that nearly resulted in a tossed controller. This could have easily been avoided in playtesting.
With all the side quests tossed in as well, Of Orcs and Men took me 14 hours to beat. While not overly long for an RPG, the story is well worth the trip.
Of Orcs and Men is an ambitious game that tells a story well, with good graphics and attempts to go back to more old school RPGs. Sadly in the end it is a bugged, unfinished tunnel simulator that never reaches the full depth and potential of the world it is set in, or the mechanics used… If you want to experience a good story and don’t mind several odd design decisions, this game is worth a try. Sadly, it could have been so much more.
A caveat: Arkhail and Styx drop more f-bombs than your typical rapper. Don’t play this with your children in earshot!
Of Orcs and Men was reviewed by Garth Holden