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Hands on with Orcs Must Die, my favorite little game at E3

One of the best parts about E3 is finding that hidden gem. I found this game tucked away in the outer reaches of the South Hall. E3 has become a show about big blockbuster games on big consoles, but some of the best games are simple and fun. Robot Entertainment’s Orcs Must Die is not a $60 game you’ll buy shrink-wrapped from the store, but it’s certainly just as fun.

Created by some of the guys responsible for Age of Empires and Halo Wars, Orcs Must Die is a complete blending of tower defense style games and third-person brawlers and shooters. Literally, it is half action and half strategy. Surprisingly, it works on all fronts.

Here’s the set-up: You’ve been charged to defend the inside of a medieval fortress from an onslaught of big green orcs. These guys are pissed and they desperately want to break in and take your giant crystal…thing. Honestly, I’m not sure what you’re defending, but it looks priceless and there’s no reason orcs should get their hands on it. You play as a human “War Mage” and have been solely tasked with defending the inner keep of this fortress. What a job, right? Dozens, perhaps hundreds of orcs are headed your way. Luckily, you have a second to prepare, and a wad of cash to buy some defenses.

The door to the inside of the fortress isn’t going to hold for long. Your goal is to make the pathway toward the castle so deadly that nigh a single orc makes it through. To do this, you select from a ton of different booby traps and set them directly in where the orcs will have to run through them. Floor spikes, arrow walls, spring traps, wind belts (blows them into the wall), exploding barrels, and elven archers are just a few of the weapons in the E3 demo, but the trailer below shows a lot more.

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Placing a trap is as easy as selecting it in the one-button inventory and looking at the place where you’d like to put it. If the outline of the trap is green, you can place it. If it’s red, then perhaps you’ve already placed a trap on that particular section of the wall, floor, or ceiling. It’s surprising how well you can place traps from the viewpoint of a character on the ground. Usually these types of games have a top-down viewpoint, but because you’re a character, you can also participate in combat yourself, shooting arrows at enemies that bust through your barriers or slicing and dicing them with melee attacks when things get bad. Later on, you learn a number of spells and special attacks as well.

It’s already quite fun to slice and dice up those nasty orcs, thanks to the games physics and half cel-shaded, World-of-Warcraft-like art style, but you’re rewarded monetarily as well. The more orcs you kill, the more money you get, and the more traps you can set to defend yourself against the even bigger siege of orcs headed your way.

The game doesn’t have an official publisher yet, but Patrick Hudson, CEO of Robot Entertainment, told me the action-strategy game will have more than 20 fortresses to defend and should be available for download on PC and Xbox Live in the next few months.