"The Odd Couple"
Orcs. Those ubiquitous devilish fiends that pillage and plunder so prevalently in high fantasy settings that it is as if they are an inexhaustible resource of pure evil.
Interestingly, and quite unfairly, few fantasy stories in any medium that feature Orcs actually provide the brutish race with even the least amount of character. They act as little more than cannon and sword fodder for you to shoot and slice through. Take the very fun, but equally light on narrative of Orcs Must Die! as an example, whose arcade-like approach tasks you with killing as many of the green soldiers as you can with little to no backstory for either side of the battle. Contrarily, Two Worlds 2 is perhaps the only recent game that displayed the rough species as anything but that, offering consciences and respectable objectives to them and their missions. This dynamic went a long way to making a would-be mediocre game surprisingly engaging.
In Of Orcs and Men, the developers have done a great job of providing a diverse perspective to your typical fantasy war. The Empire of Men is construed as the oppressive and powerful entity that regularly engages in discrimination against both Orcs and Goblins, who are either commonly killed or enslaved.
It is your mission, practically designated as a last-resort / suicide one, to eliminate the Emperor who has, for so many years, taught mankind to judge the other races with extreme prejudice. The problem is that your side has just lost a major battle of the war, and the Emperor has declared that the best course of action in avoiding future struggles is to completely eliminate the other, "Greenskin" races.
Of Orcs and Men casts the player as both the elite Orc soldier, Arkail, and the devious rogue Goblin, Styx. Playing as the dissimilar duo offers a quickly alternating variety of gameplay as you can swap between them at any time. Arkail handles as one expects him to: slow, lumbering, but with deliberately placed and incredibly powerful attacks. Behaving as a "tank", his skill set is focused on crushing offense and unassailable defense.
Styx, by contrast, moves much faster, and his comparatively smaller size allows him to traverse areas in a more covert manner. Sections dedicated to him act as simple environmental puzzles. He is also no slouch in battle, bringing with him an array of dirty tricks – one-hit kills are possible in the mirage-like stealth mode – to even the playing field. His abilities are more concentrated in quick melee or long-ranged attacks.
Of Orcs and Men's combat is fantastic. At any point during battle, you can and will slow down the action and set orders for how you want your companion to react. Instead of focusing on an endless supply of enemies to mindlessly cut through, most battles are an intimately confined affair where you really have to put thought in how to take on your adversaries.
You can set up a variety of skills for each character in Of Orcs and Men, with upgrades offering branching paths, giving you the opportunity to tailor your characters to your own specific playstyles. Using a character's abilities depletes your Rage bar, while taking damage or assuming an offensive stance builds it up. Let it fill completely and that character temporarily goes berserk and you lose direct control. This mechanic encourages you to try out different moves as you strategize on the fly.
Admittedly, despite the great combat and the intriguing narrative of relatable plight, the game does feel rushed in the latter half, ending much too soon. Regardless, the game's positives make Of Orcs and Men such a standout title. It is unlikely to garner much attention due to its portrayal of humanity as the villain, and the timing of its release certainly did not help, but the game deserves notice from anyone looking for something different in their gaming experience.
GameDynamo's Score for Of Orcs and Men (PC)
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