There's been a trend towards games involving visiting a violent fate upon untold numbers of fantastical creatures, but the mass, cheerful slaughter of Orcs Must Die! was arguably the precursor. Just nine months after its high-speed blend of tower defence and third-person action proved to be a pleasant surprise, here's the sequel, with the disappointingly pun-free title of Orcs Must Die! 2. On a more than superficial level, it's very much business as usual, but a collection of thoughtful tweaks and a much-needed co-operative mode save it from being a cynical cash-grab.
Lest the name doesn't make matters entirely obvious, the first (and indeed second) Orcs Must Die! is a game about slaying vast hordes of orcs. You achieve this by building giant, deadly traps in combination with having at them directly with the Warmage character you control. It's your job to keep the orcs - plus assorted, and far more deadly, gnolls, ogres and trolls - from reaching exits and portals as they rampage around the dungeons you guard. Clever, intricate trap combinations are necessary to avoid being overwhelmed by the greenskins' sheer numbers.
Half tactical and half frenzied button-spamming, OMD manages to engage both brain and adrenaline, and despite the high body count has a cartoonish quality and sardonic tone. It's there to entertain, and it's there to tax the grey matter at least a little.
OMD2 retains the same essential formula, the same appearance and even the same, slightly irritating soundtrack. The requisite new trap and enemy types crop up, but the most important tweak is in the upgrades and unlocks. As well as buying new trap and weapon types, you can upgrade and specialise each in order to make them better fit your preferred strategy.
So you might have floor-fitted spike traps that also briefly stun anything that walks over them, allowing you to then either subject your foes to another trap from above or pick them off yourself, or you might prefer to have them cause a bleeding effect that will damage their victims over time. Your main weapon, meanwhile, might be able to temporarily charm one enemy to fight for you, or perhaps you'd rather the one that summoned a huge Bone Golem to keep the orcs busy.
It's highly unlikely any two players will have the same character build, but equally unlikely you'll stick with one for long - there are more gizmos and weapons in there than you could ever hope to unlock yourself. That said, OMD2 is far more geared to long-term play than its predecessor, with a new Endless mode added specifically for earning new unlock points.
The campaign is merely a taster of the real, far more challenging game, there to help familiarise you with the maps and traps and getting you rolling on a few decent upgrades. Just as well, as its story is perfunctory and its manic dialogue grating as often as it amusing. In Endless, though, you get to experiment with the most elaborate setups you can devise/afford and watch them in brutal action.
The other headline addition is a co-op mode, which is both a good opportunity to share the merriment of particularly effective/horrific orc take-downs and to make managing maps with multiple enemy entrances that much less stressful. It feels natural, and the most effective way to play the game, but without any match-making mode you're restricted to playing with friends who also own the game. No way to just jump into a game with a stranger feels like a huge missed opportunity.
Also a bewildering oversight is any significant tweaks to the interface to reflect that you're playing with a partner - for instance, no low-health alerts or means to instantly compare who's chosen which traps. Sure, OMD2 isn't far off being a bargain at eleven quid, but it's hard not to feel that a couple more months in gestation could have made it feel so much less perfunctory.
Still, it's certainly a better, more elaborate and flexible game than its predecessor, and will probably make anyone who simply craved more rampant orc-slaying very happy. If you've played neither game, go directly to this one. Ideally, convince a friend to do the same.