Not that a lot of people played the original Orcs Must Die for its story, but it was a quirky and fun little layer to give context for all the Rube Goldberg-esque orc genocide. Orcs Must Die 2 picks up shortly after the ending of the first. Magic has left the world leading to all kinds of problems for a society that was depending on it for everyday life, like to control the weather for crop growth and cure disease. However, a twist that I won’t spoil restarts the rifts, which in turn means the apprentice War Mage from the first game, and a new unexpected ally, must once again hold back the green-skinned tide of destruction. While that certainly sounds dire, the presentation still maintains the light-hearted nature of the first.

The voice acting is especially noteworthy, from the awkward oaf of an apprentice to all the little quips and death line of the orcs. You’ll hear the line “I’m too young to die.” dozens of time, but it just doesn’t stop being smirk worthy, because it’s delivered in a cheesy orc voice and given the fact that the orc probably just got set on fire, stabbed, squashed and tossed off a cliff by your traps.

I kind of imagine the developers went into Orcs Must Die 2 with a bit of a checklist. Hordes of orcs, deadly traps and challenging levels: Let’s just add some more checks next to all of those. The game is pretty much more fleshed out in all the areas a sequel needs. There is one big new feature this time around and that’s the addition of cooperative play, so now you and a friend can team up to slaughter orcs with twice the efficiency or fail twice as quickly as the case may be.

Orcs Must Die 2 plays like the happy marriage between a third-person action game and a tower defense game. Like a tower defense game, orcs spawn in progressively more difficult waves and travel towards the exit, and you’ll need to place a number of static trap defenses to stop them. The traps run a wide variety: acid spitters, tar pits, blast furnaces, ballista and spring board just to name a few. Like a third-person action game though, you control an actual character who is down in the thick of it and armed with various weapons, trinkets and spells. The addition of the “man on the ground” viewpoint creates a more dynamic gameplay than simply sitting back and watching the way you would in a more traditional tower defense title. You’ll need to maintain a careful balance between your traps and where you focus your character’s attention. The enjoyment and challenge comes from predicting where your personal efforts need to be directed and knowing where your clever array of traps can hold without your help.

It’s the game’s excellent level design that really expands on this gameplay. Levels will start out easy enough with maybe a single path or at least a good choke point, so you can simply stand behind your deadly array of traps and pick off anyone that sneaks past. Rather quickly as you progress into the harder maps, you’ll start needing to defend from multiple angles and you may no longer have perfect tunneled walls to maximize your trap placement. Missing walls or obstructions will force you to adapt your traps and strategy. There are also a number of environmental hazards that you can use to your advantage. For example, an arrow trap might take several hits to kill an orc, but you can flip an orc off a ledge to instantly kill it. However, those swing traps won’t work on larger sized monsters so you can never just bulk up on a single trap type. Another way that the game encourages diversifying is that you’ll receive bonus points for getting a combo kill with multiple traps. You need these points not only for bragging rights in the leaderboards, but they are also your currency for placing new traps. Early on it’s possible to sneak through with a single upgraded wall trap, but you’ll need to change things up to succeed down the line.

Co-op gives you all of that in a double dose, making it a ton of fun. The waves are more numerous and you’re thrown against the larger species more quickly. You’ll need to coordinate with your teammate about which traps and items you’re taking, where you’re placing them and what areas you’re each covering. Because everything might seem to be going fine until a wave of explosive sappers come and blow up your stuff and some health regenerating trolls just barrel on for the exit behind them. There is one unexpected downside to the co-op in that a few of the later stages feel like they were specifically designed with two players in mind, so if you’re running single-player it can be a little daunting trying to cover ground meant for two.

There is a fair amount of replay potential if you’re the sort to enjoy leaderboards, achievements, harder difficulties and an endless survival mode. The survival mode will even continue to reward you with skulls to upgrade your items, so it can be fun try out new different weapons, trinkets and traps. This also allows you to grind up some upgrades if getting a perfect rating on that last level is proving difficult with your current loadout. Even if you’re not keen on replaying the same levels over and over, for 15 bucks you’re still easily getting your money’s worth.

Bottom line: Orcs Must Die 2 continues to build on its predecessor which cleverly matched together two different genres into a fun and quirky title, and the addition of co-op dials the enjoyment up a notch.

Recommendation: If you liked the first game, pick up the second. If you never played the first, well you’re probably not playing it for the story anyway, so feel free to start with this more bulked up sequel.

[rating=4.5]

What our review scores mean.

Game: Orcs Must Die 2
Genre: Action-Strategy
Developer: Robot Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platform(s): PC
Available from: GameStop(US)

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