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Orcs & Elves (DS) artwork

Orcs & Elves (DS) review

"The turn-based system of roguelikes ... is put to good use here."

We hear a lot about roguelikes these days. Many games are borrowing roguelike elements and mixing them with some other type of gameplay to create fun and interesting hybrids. Orcs & Elves is that type of game. It mixes roguelike elements with FPS elements. But in this case, instead of taking some of the higher level concepts of a roguelike, such as random level generation and permadeath, it takes the basic physical mechanics of a classic roguelike's turn-based gameplay and shoehorns that into a first person slasher game.

A few years ago I had never heard of a roguelike. These days it is a buzzword (and rightfully so), but the permadeath and random elements are what are focused on. The turn-based system of roguelikes is just as interesting and is put to good use here. If you've never played a game that uses this system before, it is really simple. Basically, you take an action (such as taking one step on the grid-like playing field, attacking, shooting an arrow, casting a spell, drinking a potion, whatever) and then each enemy in the level takes an action right after you. The enemies take their turns very rapidly. So quickly, in fact, that if you are just walking around, the game will appear to be moving in real time. Of course if you stop moving, the game is basically paused as the enemies wait for you to take your turn. The system is simple and elegant and leads to all kinds of interesting tactical considerations and manipulations. So, onto this game...

Orcs & Elves is a dungeon crawler. You play as an elf guy who has a talking wand. You are going to visit a dwarf king who the wand is friends with, but when you get to the mountain stronghold, it has been attacked and is now crawling with monsters. The story is actually somewhat good and interesting, at least enough to keep you a little interested.

You go through the various levels of the mountain using the above described turn-based system from a first-person perspective. You can move forward or backward, swivel to the left or right (which does not count as your turn), shift to the left or right with the shoulder buttons, attack with your sword, attack with your wand, or drink a potion. Each time you do something, any nearby enemies will be charging at you one step at a time. Some enemies can fire projectiles at you while others need to walk up and hit you. Some can move and attack in the same turn or move more than one space at a time. Out-maneuvering the enemy is key, and classic roguelike strategies such as fighting in chokepoints so you can't be surrounded and moving so that enemies have to come to you allowing you to get the first hit are all valid here.

You are also going to need to buff yourself quite a bit to get through. The game features many potions with lots of different effects. There are basic potions that heal you or make you stronger or more accurate and more exotic ones that let you do two actions in a turn or turn you invisible. Each buff is tracked on screen and lets you know how many turns you have left before it wears off. It's fun to get caught between a lot of monsters and then to figure out a weird combination of potions that lets you survive.

You'll start to pick up a bunch of different weapons and spells as time goes on and after awhile you'll have quite an arsenal. The weapons actually work differently and provide nice variety and tactical options. You end up with a long range crossbow and grenade-like phoenix eggs and weapons that can attack multiple enemies at once and a few other more exotic things. You'll often be rapidly switching between many weapons and spells to get through a situation. Some of the more exotic weapons do really cool things and can also have really cool unintended side effects if you used incorrectly or used in combination with other items. My only complaint is that you can only scroll through your weapons one at a time. The game makes great use of the touch screen to manage most parts of you inventory, but the fact that you can't instantly select any of your weapons from icons on the touch screen is a huge oversight.

The game is about 5 hours long and builds steadily in difficulty all the way up to a few really tough encounters at the end (I should note that I was playing on hard mode). Having enough potions of all different kinds is key, as is knowledge of how to most effectively use each of your weapons. The length is just about right and the game is fun throughout.

There isn't much music in the game, and what is there is not that great. The sound effect design on the other hand is really great. The nasty creatures of the dungeon (wererats, trolls, spirits, sorcerers, spiders, and more) make all manner of gross and nasty sounds. Even when the game is “paused” because you are holding still there will still be nasty rumblings and gurglings in the distance, often giving you a clue that a baddie is about to come running around the corner at you or that a nearly invisible enemy is creeping up on you if you look closely. Especially impressive was an area that had great stereo effects as you walk past anvils being worked by ghostly hammers and the tremendous sound of the huge dragon that you barter for goods with filling its powerful lungs with air and then exhaling in a gush of wind. It really gives you a sense that you are standing next to a gigantic, powerful living creature.

The visuals are sprite-based FPS graphics, like Doom and Minecraft. And by that I mean that they are pretty awesome. All of the enemies are big, pixely, nice-looking sprites. Speaking of Doom, this game was made by Id and John Carmack. Pretty cool.

Orcs & Elves is a fun dungeon crawler. It's sound and graphics draw you in, and the plethora of tactical options the multitude of weapons and interesting potions gives you make it so you can face truly challenging situations and then find your way out of them. I'd love to see more games borrow the basic turn-based system of roguelikes instead of just their other attributes, and Orcs & Elves is a great example of why. It's a 3 out of 5.


Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (September 26, 2015)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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