We're all accustomed to role-playing games where you play as a noble human warrior who slays thousands and thousands of orcs, goblins and other beastly creatures. But have you ever stopped to wonder what it would feel like playing as one of these creatures, slaying humans? Sure we have beast races in games like Skyrim but your enemies still remain the same. Now Cyanide Studios, the company behind “Game of Thrones”, is trying to fill that void with Of Orcs And Men (OOM from now on).
The game takes place on a fantasy continent called Iserian which is ruled by a human Empire. The story starts when the human Emperor unites all the humans under his banner and invades the orcish lands, killing and enslaving most of its population. A remote clan of orcs, known as 'Bloodjaws', conceive a suicide plan to assassinate the Emperor to stop his murdering spree. The mission is entrusted to the toughest of the Bloodjaws, Arkail (also known as ‘The Butcher’) whom you'll be controlling throughout the game. The player sets off from the safety of his village to meet up with a goblin named Styx in a desperate effort to save his race from extinction. The main story takes some weird sidetracks that make no sense, almost ruining the otherwise good writing.
The game plays as any other 3rd person action RPG; you control Arkail and Styx with the keyboard and move the camera around with the mouse as you explore the few (small and extremely linear) maps of the game. You can talk to the (few) non-player characters on the maps and the dialogue is well written (although it features some pretty rude language). Sometimes you're given choice as to how to answer. On some rare occasions your responses actually make a difference and you can even skip a few battles with the correct answer. You can freely select which character to use and there are places only Styx can enter, thanks to his small size. The camera is a bit too close for comfort and especially Arkail blocks the view almost completely. The game plays just like Game of Thrones, even the combat system is similar.
Speaking of combat, the battles are fought in real time directly on the map you're exploring. You can even the odds by using Styx' stealth ability that renders him nearly invisible to sneak behind enemy units and assassinate them. You can put the game in slow-motion which helps with issuing commands to the dynamic duo. These commands are selected from a wheel and represent different stances the characters have; Arkail has defensive and offensive stances for example. The different abilities don't really matter since spamming the quickest attack over and over again is a sure way to victory. You can queue up to 4 abilities and also assign the different abilities to the number keys which helps a lot with combat, especially since your character occasionally just stands there doing nothing after their target is killed. Very irritating. The same AI problems are present when exploring a map; sometimes your other half gets left behind and you have to double back to get him, just to find him standing there doing absolutely nothing. The game tries to take a novel approach to combat by adding a rage meter for Arkail. This meter fills when Arkail receives damage and once it's full, the orc goes berserk. When berserk, Arkail does more damage but the player can't control him and he might attack even his own allies. After the rage meter has run out, Arkail is stunned for a few seconds leaving him vulnerable to attack. The rage meter fills at a slower pace when using the defensive stance.
Slaying enemies and completing quests rewards you with experience. Enough experience and your characters go up a level and you're granted with a single attribute point and a single skill point to spend. The attributes are your basic RPG attributes and include old classics like Strength and Stamina. Nothing special there. The skills on the other hand are a bit more sophisticated. As mentioned earlier, the skills are categorized in stances which represent the different fighting styles the characters have; Arkail has offensive and defensive stances and Styx is specialised with daggers and ranged combat. With a spare skill point, you can unlock a new ability or upgrade an old one. The skills are also very familiar to anyone who's ever played and action RPG; you have direct damage, area damage and healing for example. The game is rather easy on the easiest difficulty setting (excluding the final boss) so investing on fast offensive abilities is the way to go. Arkail also has a special 'Throw Goblin' ability which allows him to hurl Styx at enemies in long distance, doing damage to them in the process.
The game has very limited loot, I only found a few chests here and there and I'm positive I searched every single inch of every single map. On top of that there aren't any extra items in the game; the only items you'll ever find are gear and Trade Points. You can equip your characters with different armors and weapons plus a special trinket that gives you a buff to your strength for example. New gear can be bought from the few traders in the game (I think there were two of them) by using special Trade Points which can be obtained by selling old gear or found from chests around the game world. You can also upgrade your current equipment with the Trade Points. The loot system is very simple and it ensures there's no micromanagement in the game. Being used to finding tons of loot and cash, the system in OOM feels even a bit too simple. The upside to this system is that every new weapon feels like a lottery win. Too bad there aren't many.
The graphics are pretty good but look a bit too plastic and over-bright. At first I was excited when I saw the beginning village; lush green grass with excellent lighting and shadows. The feeling quickly subdued when I progressed in the game, most of it is played in dull, dark caves that show no signs of the beginning graphical splendor. And on top of it all, the game runs like crap; I had AA disabled and got an average FPS of around 55 with maximum settings. This in mind, the recommended GT 545/HD 5670 will never run the game with playable FPS even on medium settings. The animations are poor and look extremely clumsy; it's like your characters are made of stone and the attacking animations continue on even though your target is already down. Ridiculous. The character models look pretty good, the orcs in particular look magnificent and majestic, but the human models are copied over and over. I guess there were some inbreeding issues in the Medieval times…
The voice acting is excellent, particularly when Arkail and Styx start bashing each other. The voice actors do their jobs much better than in most games these days and even though there are lots of expletives, the dialogue is well written and the cursing doesn't feel excessive. The music is your basic fantasy fare with heavy emphasis on strings and violins, but it tends to get drowned in the background. The other sounds work well and swinging a huge hammer really sounds and feels like you are actually swinging a huge hammer.
The game is very linear and short (even by today’s standards). I completed it in about 12 hours and I spent a lot of time exploring the maps. If you ignore the (scant) secondary missions, you'll easily beat the game in under 6 hours. Despite the game being short and linear, I enjoyed playing it. Sure, there are some AI issues and gameplay quirks but there's something magical about playing as a huge orc, bashing human skulls, not to mention the chemistry between the main characters that glues you to your computer. I just wish it would have been a bit longer.