Hands-on with Orcs Must Die! Unchained

Robot Entertainment has always done a splendid job with its Orcs Must Die! series, smoothly blending fast-paced action with defensive strategy, as players fend off hordes of orcs using whatever traps they can get their hands on. The original game did wonders for Xbox 360 and PC, and its follow-up, Orcs Must Die! 2 was great when it came to introducing a co-op factor. Now, the game is going into full-fledged mayhem with Orcs Must Die! Unchained, which just launched an open beta on PC.

This time around, the team at Robot is going for a total assault on multiplayer, as five-on-five competition is now available through the game's Siege mode. While this wasn't the focus of our recent hands-on with the game, it sounds very promising, with teams going up against one another in the hopes of overtaking capture points and eventually winning the match, using whatever traps they can get their hands on midway through the match.

The main mode we got to try out was Survival mode, a full-on five-player skirmish where we literally took on hundreds of orcs storming the gates. Before each match began, we'd have an opportunity to purchase and lay down traps for the orcs to walk into, ranging from launchers that send them flying across the room to spiked walls that impale any enemies that come near them for a surprise attack.

Of course, each of the characters in the game also have specialty attacks that they can use, from Smolder's brutal axe swipes to the ability to use distance weapons more effectively, launching a full-scale assault on anyone before they can even enter your castle. They are limited, of course, with "cooldown" windows that require a quick recharge before you can utilize them again, but it's fairly balanced based upon what we've played thus far.

Traps, traps, traps! 

The trap purchasing system is addictive, as you can use currency earned over the course of each map to purchase and set up new traps however you may please. Obviously, the more expensive traps are more effective, as they can nail more Orcs trying to pass through them – although more powerful creatures and "boss" characters show up, posing more of a challenge than the rest of the pack. You'll have to plan how you take them on very carefully, lest your character get wiped out and they close in on your defensive points.

Orcs Must Die! Unchained brings several characters back into the fold, including the War Mage and Sorceress from previous games, along with new favorites like Blackpaw, Hogarth and Stinkeye. Each one has several abilities that you can learn and master, as well as special techniques that can clear out a horde of Orcs faster than any given spiked wall could. (Although it certainly does help when a crowd of them come along.)

The multiplayer aspect of Unchained works really well, at least in Survival mode. We didn't get too much of a chance to check out Siege, but based on previous impressions from a PAX Prime demo, it definitely has potential to be a huge romp for fans of the series, as well as newcomers. The balance seems just about right between characters, and seeing what each one is capable of is a real treat – it enables you to learn a thing or two and pick some particular favorites as a result.

Unchained also looks like a lot of fun, making the most out of its fantasy setting while keeping its tongue firmly planted in cheek when it comes to certain characters. It has fun with its multiplayer surroundings, but keeps the gameplay quite serious when it comes to cleaning house on an invading wave of Orcs. Fans will be quite pleased with the evolution of the game series, while at the same time enjoying the whimsical approach Robot Entertainment continues to utilize.

Orcs Must Die! Unchained will be invading PC first over the next few months, followed by a return to game consoles (well, the PlayStation 4) sometime later this year. If you're a fan of the series, you're in for a real Orc-killing romp. And if not? Well, this game just might make you one.

More details on the beta can be found here.