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Orcs Must Die! 2 review: Co-op and then some

Matt Hughes

Somehow, they're through. Despite my spike traps, acid sprayers and brimstone, a small contingent of the orc horde is now within hugs-n-kisses range. The blunderbuss shotgun smears some of the frontrunners, but their numbers are simply too great. With my life bar on its last pixel, an orc, axe raised high overhead, prepares for the final strike. Then my smarmy buddy steps in and blasts that sucker into oblivion, because this is Orcs Must Die! 2, and co-op is glorious.

Considering the unanimous cry for multiplayer in Orcs Must Die!, Robot Entertainment could have merely added the two-player co-op and a few minor additions, packaged it up, slapped a "2" on the end, and tossed a relative regurgitation to the hungry mob – especially given the small 10-month gap between games. But to the developer's great credit, Orcs Must Die! 2 is more than that. While the changes and additions fall short of revolutionary, nearly everything – save for the meager, repetitive soundtrack – has been enjoyably enhanced and/or refined to the level of sufficient sequel justification.

Gallery: Orcs Must Die 2 (7/6/12) | 5 Photos

Once again, the orc horde has become a threat to mankind thanks to newly opening dimensional rifts. The goal is the same here as it was in the first game: stop waves of enemies as they rush from A to B by employing a combination of resource-based tower defense (static traps and NPC heroes) and third-person combat. Running around using various spells and weapons to deal with the poor saps who make it through your improvised gauntlets of death is irresistibly fun, and what makes this series unique.

As expected, the War Mage returns with all his hit-or-miss humor, but the saucy Sorceress (the villain from the first game) steals the show. Stranded and forced to fight or die in a world of uncontrolled orcs, she is now a reluctant ally and playable character. Seeking as much variety as possible after many hours spent in the original Orcs Must Die!, I chose to start with her. It was a good choice.

The Sorceress' chargeable blaster, the Scepter of Domination, offers a unique new way to make orcs die, and its secondary charm function turns any enemy (even the strongest of foes) into temporary allies that explode when killed. This one weapon altered the strategic dynamic so much that I almost didn't want to lay traps – until, of course, the game threw out too many minor minions and some intimidating new ones. Time to open up that Spellbook and set up some defenses.

Orcs Must Die! 2 review Coop and then some
Spending skulls (awarded currency) to buy and upgrade traps and weapons works in a way similar to the first game, only there's far more content. Along with new items come alternate costumes and, more importantly, gameplay-altering accessories called trinkets, which take up an inventory slot and have both passive and active benefits. I relied on the Trap Reset Trinket, which passively increases the speed at which traps reset. It can also reset all traps instantly at the cost of half your mana.

All traps and weapons now have multiple upgrade tiers and can take advantage of one of two unique abilities. For instance, the classic Spike Trap can be rigged to make enemies bleed or to slow them down. Such customization leads to a startling depth of strategy, which may not be necessary for the medium-difficulty campaign, but is definitely required in Nightmare or Endless mode.

With more things to buy, the skull system has been revamped to further reward skill and encourage replay. Your performance is still ranked on a scale of one to five skulls, but bonus skulls are granted for achievements like remaining untouched, surpassing a high score, or reaching a killstreak milestone. And, unlike the first game, I never had to worry about misappropriating my upgrades. At any point, you can reset all skulls and reallocate them as you see fit. Through trial and error I eventually found a strategy that worked well for me, so I refunded all of my skulls and poured them into the traps I needed to create my personally perfect setup: a repeating series of Brimstone, Spike Traps, and Freeze Vents supplemented by wall-mounted Acid Sprayers.

Orcs Must Die! 2 review Coop and then some

The streamlined reward system illustrates the true brilliance behind Orcs Must Die! 2: an extreme level of player accommodation. Too easy? Hop into the new endless mode. Too hard? Grab a buddy or replay early levels for bonus skulls. Getting bored with the same old orc-dispensing methods? Impossible, because between the traps, trinkets, weapons, and various combinations of all three, there are countless creative approaches for every stage.

And though each stage can be conquered alone, most were clearly designed to be tackled by two. The game balances nicely when a friend jumps into the fray, allowing each player fewer item slots – forcing actual teamwork – and upping the orc output. With no public matchmaking at the moment, however, finding someone at a similar power level is a challenge in itself, unless you just happen to be a Steam celebrity.

Normally, I'm no sucker for the dangling carrot, but given the many incentives to persist – all delivered through a system of refined mechanics void of tedium and full of pure fun – I have spent and will continue to spend hour upon hour playing Orcs Must Die! 2. After all, I need my archers fully upgraded and looking sharp before I'm invited to the next co-op session.

This review is based on the final version of Orcs Must Die 2, provided by Robot Entertainment.

Matt Hughes is a freelancer based out of chilly/balmy/apocalypse-hot Michigan. He's written for GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, GameFront, IGN, and more. You can follow him on Twitter (@MottHoos) if you haven't already done so by mistake, thinking he was the famous MMA fighter.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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