E3 2011 – Of Orcs and Men Preview
We’ve got at least another year until the French design and development teams Cyanide Studio and Spiders are ready to release Of Orcs and Men on U.S. soil but I had a chance to sit down with what they’ve done so far and it’s shaping up to be an exciting project for RPG fans.
A joint venture between two studios: Cyanide Studio handling universe, story, graphic, and gameplay design; and Spiders implementing the development and engine work, Of Orcs and Men is set in a low-fantasy universe of minor magic, focusing on three races: orcs, goblins, and humans. To see a permanent end to war with the others, the humans have set out on a genocide with the intent of total eradication. Only one orc and one goblin are known to survive and it’s up to the player to guide them both to the heart of the humans and take revenge on the emperor himself.
Little is known about the (at this time) unnamed protagonists except for their abilities in combat. The orc is the tank of the two and his skills are focused on causing and taking damage. His special ability is a unique take on berserk in which the orc becomes incredibly powerful for a limited duration but leaves the control of the player for this time. It is also possible for him to damage the goblin should he get too close. Upgrades to the orc’s tech tree will affect the duration of his rage, strength, and potential control, among other possible attributes.
The goblin is a much smaller stealth-oriented character with deficits in both defense and direct damage but with increased effectiveness in altering enemies or killing them outright from the shadows. His special ability allows for him to go invisible pending a stroll directly in front of a guard. In this mode he can instantly take out an opponent but gets exposed after the attack. So long as he can attack out of sight the goblin can potentially take down a chain of enemies.
Combat plays out in a pseudo-direct fashion. The player can slow down time at any point to bring up a selection wheel of actions for both characters. Up to five skills can be stacked for execution after the menu is closed. When no specific skill has been selected, both the orc and goblin will automatically attack (if already engaged).
Outside of combat the characters control like a normal third-person game with interactions available among the environment and between the characters. Just as the player can switch between the orc and goblin at any time, so too can either character be chosen during dialog sequences. This feature was not implemented as of the time of my demonstration but the developers promise that both characters will have a very different approach to conversations and the choices you make will have long-standing ramifications down the line.
I believe it will be through these conversations that much of the teams’ originality will actually shine. They are taking a strong stance against fantasy cliches such as the big dumb orc and the small weasly goblin, instead opting to focus on complicated characters in a mature and dark plot. Certainly the subject matter of racial genocide is no light topic and I feel confident the characters will be given appropriately serious consideration.
In another effort to steer clear of tropes, Cyanide is working to eliminate all superfluous side-quests. The idea is that every quest will tie directly into the main plot and tasks will avoid fetching and escorting. The team’s awareness of worn out fantasy and RPG standbys is an encouraging prospect. Whether they hold to it or not remains to be seen.
What is also very exciting about Of Orcs and Men is just how damn pretty the game looks after only 6 months of development. Spiders has built their own engine from the ground up and they’re going to have the goods to show for it. The engine won’t be making CryEngine 3 sweat anytime soon but it will (at least graphically) hold its own against any of the other big names. During my demonstration the orc in particular looked fantastic. His massive size allows for a ton of skin and armor detail that the artists are going to take full advantage of. In one level the orc was shown in alternate gear. The armor, made from the bones (particularly skulls) of various creatures looked realistic and menacing. The only way to make an orc look more badass is to give him clothes made out of his dead opponents. The shrouded goblin didn’t have as much to offer but his large nose was a great display for the impressive rain physics.
There’s certainly a lot to be implemented and even more to be tightened in Of Orcs and Men, but with a prospective release date of June 2012, the crews across the pond have plenty of time to get the most out of their project. From its gorgeous characters to its trope-trimmed plot and action-oriented combat, Of Orcs and Men is shaping up to be a surprise hit next year. Keep checking back for more info as we have it, and our full review on release day.