The original Orcs Must Die! certainly lived up to its delightfully murderous name. Stemming the tide of marauding orcish hordes by laying out a complex network of spring-loaded spikes, arrow traps, and other deadly hazards proved a titillating pursuit punctuated by flying limbs and snappy one-liners. The third-person perspective and hands-on approach to grinding up insane numbers of charging foes set Orcs Must Die! apart from most games in the tower defense genre, but a lack of multiplayer held it back from true greatness. It's good to see that this flaw has been remedied in Orcs Must Die! 2. Tons of crafty traps primed for maximum orc slaughter and an all-new co-op mode featuring a saucy sorceress companion add some serious weight to this rowdy sequel.
Sealing up the orc-spewing magical rifts that allowed the rampaging green menace free transit between realms turned out to be only a temporary duct tape-style solution in the first game, but that's no biggie for the returning doofy War Mage protagonist. You see, with all the rifts closed, he's taken up a gig as a lowly underground miner and misses the thrill of cracking orc skulls. Fate obliges his desire for action, when a new rift mysteriously opens and out hops the slightly reformed evil sorceress from the previous outing--followed by teeming masses of bloodthirsty orcs and their beastly pals in hot pursuit. The unlikely duo pair up to stem the tide once again, resulting in plenty of humorous dialogue and more fleshed out story sequences that play out between rounds of gratuitous orc dismemberment. More importantly, this new plot development gives you a much broader range of killing options and also sets the stage for some truly excellent multiplayer co-op.
The flow of battle has changed very little from the original outing. That's nothing to complain about, considering how enjoyable it was the first time around. Every stage requires you to defend your portal from lumbering foes that pour in from different rifts plunked down along the map. With the limited cash at your disposal, you spend rounds laying down insidious traps to protect your turf, earning money for every orc you slay that can be used to continually improve your defenses between waves. Setting traps on the fly and watching the fruits of your labor unfold is a blast, but these doom devices only whittle down a fraction of the massive enemy forces that pour in, since each has a brief recharge time between uses. You have to get your hands dirty, and it's this constant need to dive into the fray while keeping an eye on the bigger picture unfolding around you that makes these encounters so intensely addictive.
Skulls return as the morbid currency of choice, and there are opportunities aplenty to earn more than your fair share by racking up kills in the new Endless mode or meeting certain achievement-like goals within the campaign. Spending them to unlock goodies for boosting your orc-mangling potential in the redesigned spellbook is a more user-friendly process, thanks to separate tabs that filter traps, weapons, trinkets, outfits, and your current gear for easy access. Practically everything can be upgraded now too, from boosting weapons damage to increased trap reloading speed, which multiplies the range of options you can pick from significantly.
With lots of crazy new traps and gadgets to wield, it's fortunate that Orcs Must Die! 2 doesn't penalize you for being indecisive. You can refund all of your skulls at any time, which resets your gear selections and lets you re-spend all the cumulative skulls you've earned however you choose. The fact you can do this an infinite number of times is great, as it lets you constantly adjust your strategy until you find a killing groove that feels just right.
What's especially cool about Orcs Must Die! 2's dual protagonists is that they both provide a different style of play and tactics on the battlefield. Though some of the same gear does carry over between characters, each comes with a handful of their own unique unlockable weapons and traps to unleash. The War Mage is still very much a close range brawler, with his shotgun-like blunderbuss, melee weapons, and mechanical-minded gizmos. The new dwarven hammer, which lets you spend mana to spin around and turn a crowd of orcs into hamburger within seconds, is a great weapon addition, and some of the War Mage's traps have been re-worked and expanded too.
The beguiling Sorceress, on the other hand, is better at long-distance combat and trickery. In addition to zapping foes from afar, her Scepter of Domination can charm enemies into attacking their comrades. She can also unlock a crazy polymorph ring for transforming her foes at random or turning herself into a giant ogre. Both characters make entertaining picks for plowing through the solo campaign, which creates some replay value, but pairing them together by teaming up with a friend really opens up the strategic variety.
Most stages are clearly designed with multiplayer in mind. On a lower difficulty, the solo campaign is still fun, but juggling everything on your own with normal settings can get frantic when you're scrambling to fend off throngs of attackers from all sides in the bigger levels. It's not totally unmanageable--just a real bear at moments.
Working in tandem is a lot more enjoyable, particularly as you come up against tougher groups of foes. Surviving in the face of new beasties like trolls that regenerate, swarms of venom-spitting bats, and hulking earth elementals that divide and multiply into smaller forms when defeated make teamwork all the more crucial.
At times, Orcs Must Die! 2 looks and feels very much like its predecessor. This is only truly grating on the audio front, since the frequently campy quips and cheesy metal soundtrack that blasts when battle begins are repetitively recycled. Otherwise, there's more than enough new content here to justify digging back into the orc killing glee this tower defense/action strategy hybrid provides. With a good deal of replayability between the extra modes, dual playable characters, new gizmos, and great multiplayer co-op, this excellent sequel improves on the original in almost every way.