Much like tabletop games, videogames have long had a fascination with high fantasy adventure. For more than thirty years gamers have been invited to don their warrior’s sheet armour or take their green tights and pointy ears out into the woods for an adventure to fight a great evil, but what about the other side of the story? What would happen if the tale were told from a different perspective?
Of Orcs & Men takes the path less worn, offering players the opportunity to look at things from the side of the greenskins. As legend tells it, the humans went to war against the orcs and goblins and emerged victorious. Upon doing so, they decided that the only way to ensure such hostilities are never necessary again is to commit genocide, wiping all greenskins from the planet. You play as two of the few remaining of your kind, Arkail the orc warrior and Styx, a mischievous goblin. Arkail is a member of the formidable Bloodjaws military unit who, upon the tide of the war turning against the orcs, were commissioned with the task of taking out the human emperor in order to halt the bloodshed. Your unit may not have made it this far, but as a proud warrior you shall complete your mission or die trying.
With such stature Arkail is of course a brutish combat veteran, and this shows in the gameplay. Capable of taking out several foes with a single swipe, Arkail is not to be messed with. However, in the same regard the player must be careful of Arkail’s temper, as taking enough damage will engage the rage mode under which all control is lost, and our oversized greenskinned anti-hero will simply take down anything within range, friend or foe.
As a direct contrast, Styx is all about avoiding direct combat. Using stealth to his advantage and magical rebuffs on Arkail, Styx is best used to maintain a distance and keep the advantage squarely in your court. Throughout the videogame players will be able to change between direct control of Arkail and Styx on the fly as the pair travel together, and choosing the right character for any given situation will be paramount. Indeed, there will even be instances designed specifically for one character over another, with the story leading to moments in which the player will have to infiltrate enemy camps at one moment, and then wreak havoc the next. It’s easy to guess which character will offer the advantage in each scenario.
As the player works their way through Of Orcs & Men each character can earn new skills and upgrade existing ones. These skills can be preset to both Arkail and Styx for quick access on the controller, but also so that either one will act accordingly when the player is in control of the other. During Electronic Theatre’s time with the videogame we proposed the question of whether co-operative gameplay was ever an option and apparently Cyanide Studios did consider it, but it wouldn’t work with the story delivery the team had designed. Apparently, the player will have an influence over the storyline by way of player-interaction during conversations potentially altering the path the videogame will take from that point on, however no such examples were presented to Electronic Theatre so exactly how this will pan out remains to be seen.
What Electronic Theatre did see however, was a very good looking, fairly traditional action-adventure videogame in which the player is given the freedom to explore an entirely new side of the argument. A solid combat system and some intriguing level design leads to the only one conclusion: that Of Orcs & Men is nothing short of an intriguing prospect. That Cyanide Studios are ready to admit that they initially had a great amount of trouble finding a publisher is no surprise, but with the widening videogame audience its experiences like Of Orcs & Men that we hope to see more of. If the final product can live up to it’s almost overwhelming potential, hopefully Of Orcs & Men will be the first of a new wave of alternative action-adventure gaming on mainstream videogame systems.