Orcs Must Die is undoubtedly one of the most fun games to play in co-op on PC. Not just in the Tower Defense category, but in general (you in the background whispering something about little cars and colorful, interactive versions of Takeshi's Castle, step outside please). It's not that single-player isn't entertaining, but it's in co-op play that Orcs Must Die (OMD henceforth) really takes off. The series' greatest asset was and is this unique amalgamation of action, strategy and tower defense which, if I'm not mistaken, was the first attempt at combining these genres and later was followed by other developers. After several years of absence since the very good second part (considering that Unchained is regarded as the black sheep of the series by the majority of fans, plus the extra year the third part was locked behind Stadia's bars), it's time to reset our traps and take out hordes of orcs in every possible and unlikely way!
The story in these games was never intended to do more than provide us with a reason to kill
dozens hundreds of orcs (and ogres and trolls and gnolls and other archetypical evil creatures). So the concept here remains the same: all these fiendish imps are trying to invade the human world, and the order of War Mages is the only thing that can stop them from getting through the portals (Rifts) that will lead them into it. The events of the third part take place several years after the 2nd game (Unchained is not considered canon). Maximilian has disappeared and it is up to the 2 younger members of the Order to find him and protect the Rifts from the hordes of orcs, under the guidance of Gabriella. Although the exchanges between the characters, especially during the battle remains humorous, I feel that they don't surpass the chemistry Gabriella and Maximilian had. The game also includes the free DLC-mini campaign "Drastic Steps" (unlocked after the campaign ends, and for which the developers have to be commended as it was originally intended as a pre-order bonus), which acts as a prelude to OMD 3 and adds 5 new maps, bringing the total number to 23.
The main mode of OMD 3 remains the main campaign. On medium difficulty (War Mage) it's noticeably easier than the previous parts, so you'll probably finish it in a few afternoons. Thankfully there is a higher difficulty level where things begin to get really challenging. The enemies are more durable and dangerous, and the pauses between attacks (waves) are practically non-existent. The goal of the game at whatever level you try it remains the same: set up the traps you choose before the first wave as efficiently as possible, and with the help of your heroes, try to withstand a certain number of waves, preventing the hordes of enemies that are pouring in from reaching the Rift. Each one that passes costs a certain number of Rift Points and if the counter reaches zero, then you have been defeated and must try again.
With the combos we create from the traps, from enemy drops and for each enemy vanquished, we earn coins every round that can be spent laying out our traps. Aiding in our efforts are the various weapons and trinkets we can equip on our characters, but the most crucial factor that leads to victory is still the trap setup we choose and their strategic placement, towards creating a "killbox" that gleefully crushes the ugly brutes. An interesting addition to the classic courses are War Scenarios. These are epic sieges where we are tasked with protecting a castle from numerous invaders by placing huge traps, catapults, etc. on the outside, while we can use "normal" traps to set up the last line of defense in the interior spaces.
Depending on our performance, we are rewarded with skulls which can be used to buy traps, weapons and trinkets. Some of these are unlocked as we progress through the story, while others require us to dig into our pockets. Skulls also serve to empower the aforementioned items. For example, we can make certain traps cost less, have a shorter cooldown period, or make certain weapons have a stronger secondary ability, and so on.
By killing a certain number of enemies with a particular item, we are given the choice between 2 unique upgrades for each of them. For example, Deep Freeze can be upgraded to have a longer range or deal acid damage, Haymaker can be active for a longer period of time or throw enemies around with more power, etc.
After you're done with the campaign, you can try out one of the other modes offered by OMD 3. First we have the Endless and Weekly Challenge, which are already familiar to fans of the series. The latter is self-explanatory, while Endless functions sort of like an arcade game where you play for skulls and achieve high scores against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. The Scramble mode, while seemingly a new addition, is essentially Chaos Trials from Unchained, redesigned and on steroids: we have 100 Rift Points available and are trying to survive on a series of 5 maps.
We start with a negative modifier/debuff (e.g. traps placed on the ceiling cost more), and each time we complete a map we choose a buff from 3 available (e.g. traps have a shorter cooldown, increased drop rate from enemies, etc.) and another debuff, so that by the last map we have 4 positives and 5 negatives. This mode is probably the fastest way to collect skulls, but needless to say how tough things can get in the end... I expect this mode to be monopolizing the interest of fans of the series for the longest time.
In the graphics department things have changed, although not dramatically. The cartoonish style is still relatively noticeable, but the pastel colours of Unchained are receding and giving way to a more realistic 3d display. Without a doubt this is the pinnacle of the series in the technical field. The optimization however, could use a little more work. Not only did the game raise the temperature of the test system GPU, but the Endless sessions occasionally saw frame skips in later waves where the numbers of traps and enemies on the map were inevitably large. The tunes, while not all equally memorable, fit the game perfectly, with the War Scenarios having darker and more epic music that better captures the intensity of the sieges and the rampage of the large armies.
We did not notice any serious drawbacks - it should be noted here that the impressions recorded in this text are the result of cooperative play with my brother. Some minor issues in A.I. did exist, as in previous games. For example, sometimes units that prioritize destroying barricades would ignore them and come towards us. Or during later waves in Endless mode, larger enemies would pause to attack barricades. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that they now had increased speed and even ignored the heroes to get to the Rift, that the barricades didn't form a straight path, or there was traffic jam from crowd control effects, but either way it's something that goes against the rules of the game.
Compared to the 2nd game, OMD 3 is more like 2.5, in the sense that it doesn't bring any earth-shattering changes. It has completely new maps (although most of them have a simple layout), some new traps (some old ones were removed, thankfully among them some which saw little use) and the War Scenarios that aren't utilized enough though. On the other hand, 2 compared to 1, apart from the expected additions in temrs of content, brought something very important: co-op. If you're one of those who played Unchained, you might be a little disappointed. Yes the free to play design with grinding etc was a kick in the nuts after the awesome second part. But if you put it aside for a while you'd see that Unchained made some steps forward, with multiple modes, lots of different heroes with distinct abilities, them upgrading during combat, having different decks-setups with heroes, traits and traps, complex maps, etc.
Is this enough to diminish the feeling you get from OMD 3? In my opinion, no. At the end of the day, what matters the most is how much fun you have with the game. A return to the classic formula is what the fans were asking for and that's what the creators delivered. They've promised, among other things, more heroes and maps in dlcs (some of which will be free), so the game will be keeping us occupied for a while longer. Yes it may follow the "more of the same" design but since it works properly, I don't see anything egregiously wrong with it. If you liked the previous games in the series or you are a fan the Tower Defense category, it's definitely worth a try.