Orcs Must Die! 3 Review — Stranded on Stadia
Robot Entertainment's return with Orcs Must Die! 3 is good, but doesn't feel like a step forward from OMD2, and is hurt by playing on Stadia.
I’m a huge fan of the Orcs Must Die! series. When I first started gaming on PC, OMD2 was one of my first and favorite games. I sunk 70+ hours into it and loved it so much that I went back and played the original too. With that being said, I’ve been waiting years for Orcs Must Die! 3, and when I say years, I mean almost a decade. After all, OMD2 released back in 2012, and since then Robot Entertainment has been dead silent, aside from their massive misstep with tower-defense MOBA hybrid Orcs Must Die! Unchained.
Then OMD3 was revealed at Gamescom 2019 and I was ecstatic; until “Stadia” popped up at the end of the trailer. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely want Google Stadia to succeed–I want all platforms to succeed–but I felt like the service is yet another example of a product being marketed too soon. I say another example because the Epic Games Store, Mixer, and Facebook Gaming are three other platforms that fit under this same category in my mind.
Nevertheless, I was right to be skeptical. Orcs Must Die! 3 is a really fun game with flaws are far more often due to the Stadia service that it’s stuck on rather than the game itself. However, seeing as there are currently no other ways to play Orcs Must Die! 3 and Robot haven’t announced when the exclusivity window for the title ends, I must count these issues against the game.
The game features 18 levels, 13 of which are classic OMD. I mean this in the best way possible. Each of these levels is a brand new puzzle to solve, and each has different solutions. You could attempt to fling orcs into lava, funnel them into grinders with good barricade placement, or roast them with the classic brimstone tar combo. The first few levels are pretty simple, but the difficulty quickly ramps up; there were multiple levels that I replayed in order to progress or earn a five-skull.
The other five levels are new large scale war scenario levels. These levels typically only throw a few waves at you, but these waves are massive; we’re talking hundreds of orcs. In a sense, this takes advantage of Stadia’s technical capabilities pretty well; after all, I’m sure many devices would lag to all hell with a seemingly endless sea of orcs, ogres, and trolls on screen. While that may be helpful for some, it may also be harmful. For those playing on gaming PCs like myself, Stadia will still lag or drop frames on these levels; personally, these FPS drops really made me wish I could just download the game instead of stream it so I could have a better experience. Regardless, these levels are pretty exciting and intense. Additionally, there are new traps available in OMD3 that are only usable in war scenarios. Some of these traps are simply larger-scale versions of typical OMD traps, like the ice vent or archers, but others are creative and potent new defenses with unique uses.
Unfortunately, most of the game’s new traps are these war scenario traps. The rest of the spellbook consists primarily of series’ classics, although some staples like the floor scorcher are missing. I would’ve loved to see some more new traps for standard levels. Without new traps, I found myself essentially abusing the same barricade, brimstone, tar strategy that I often utilized in OMD2. Although, that strategy is much harder to effectively pull off in OMD3 as tar had a massive price increase and Robot added new fire fiend enemies that are completely immune to fire damage. These fire fiends end up being really annoying and added some challenge, since it feels like most of the game’s strong defenses use fire damage or have fire damage upgrades.
When it comes to enemies in Orcs Must Die! 3, Robot has made some other notable changes such as removing flying enemies. I always hated fliers, so I don’t mind them being gone, but more enemy variety would have been nice. There are more enemy types in OMD2 than in OMD3, which is one factor that stops the game from feeling like an evolution from its predecessor. The most interesting new enemies are essentially final bosses on war scenario levels; this is where OMD3 actually takes some inspiration from Unchained, as these enemies are stronger than typical enemy types and have unique abilities. However, they end up dying pretty quickly without making much of an impact on the battlefield.
The new war mages Egan and Kelsey are nothing too special. Egan wields a magically conjured bow, while Kelsey rocks the blunderbuss. The choice doesn’t matter much, as you can switch between the two heroes in the spellbook; a welcome change following OMD2 where game progress was separate for each character. Robot also has more playable characters in OMD3 than in previous entries with six current playable characters.
In terms of content following the main campaign, OMD3 is lacking compared to its predecessor. Only a small fraction of OMD3’s 18 levels are playable in endless mode, and the weekly challenge mode from OMD2 is completely absent here. That’s pretty disappointing considering OMD2 had 25 different levels in the base game and ended up having 34 levels after DLC releases. I assume Robot Entertainment is planning to add more levels in the future, as their website mentions that there will be free and paid DLC in the future.
I also had the pleasure of playing some co-op in the game pre-release with Tomas Franzese from Inverse (and former DualShockers news editor. OMD3 is certainly more fun with a friend. Honestly, some of the war scenario levels feel like they’re meant to be played co-op; one player can slow orcs down while the other barrages them with a catapult. However, co-op does have its issues. For example, I played the 17th level co-op with Tomas to help him out, and although my game recognized I had beat the level and rewarded me with skulls, I had to replay the level when I got there in single player. Additionally, on one of the war scenario levels, I had a nasty graphical error where my entire screen turned pink and green for about 10 minutes. That’s also not to mention that Stadia voice-chat is an absolute mess; neither of our microphones were detected, and we couldn’t find where to change the push to talk key. Needless to say, we ended up using Discord instead.
Following my completion of the campaign, I jumped into endless mode, a personal favorite of mine in OMD2. Endless was an absolute blast for maybe 15 waves, but then it became clear that you can’t truly play endless mode endlessly. Stadia starts lagging so badly late into endless runs that it’s unclear what will happen first – the rift becoming overrun, or Stadia crashing. I can only imagine these issues would be amplified during co-op play.
Orcs Must Die! 3 is such a complicated game for me to critique. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t have a great time playing the game, but OMD3 honestly feels like Robot Entertainment releasing a game they weren’t done with as a Stadia exclusive so they could make up what they lost on Orcs Must Die Unchained. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time, but what I played didn’t feel like a step forward from OMD2. After all, OMD2 had a longer campaign, more endless levels, weekly challenges, and more enemies. The biggest additions here are the war scenarios and the influx of new playable characters. The game is an absolute blast, it just doesn’t reach the high bar that OMD2 set.
Now the issues above aren’t anything too serious. Yes, the game doesn’t make many improvements over OMD2, but considering that OMD2 is widely considered an amazing game with a 94% user rating on Steam, staying at its level or being slightly lesser is absolutely not a huge issue. Unfortunately, being stranded on Stadia is. Graphically OMD3 looks worse than OMD2 because it’s being streamed. My internet connection surpasses all Stadia network requirements, yet the game is always just slightly blurry to the point where OMD2 does look better. Other issues due to Stadia include lag on large maps/waves, the inability to leave the game AFK, other graphical errors like the coloring one mentioned above, confusing voice-chat implementation, an impossible to find achievement list, and unexpected game crashes.
Stadia Pro subscribers will be thrilled to have this great exclusive game available at their fingertips. However, I certainly wouldn’t subscribe to Stadia Pro in order to play Orcs Must Die! 3. This is a really solid game, but the experience of playing it on Stadia only makes it worse, and it’s currently stranded there. I guess if you really want to play OMD3 on your phone then Stadia is the best option, but if you have built a PC in the last seven years, you’d probably rather play a downloaded version. Robot Entertainment hasn’t announced when the Stadia exclusivity period ends, but when it does, hopefully Robot will have added more content, made some improvements, and as a result, released the best tower-defense game since Orcs Must Die! 2 to a bigger audience.