If you're tired of waiting for Infinity Blade: Dungeons to come out and have already played the snot out of Dungeon Hunter 3, I've got a great fantasy hack-and-slash game for you. ORC: Vengeance will be released soon by Chillingo and Big Cave Games, a new developer with some extensive experience from the PC and console gaming world. ORC: Vengeance features gesture-based combat, highly polished graphics, a novel equipment upgrade system and a unique angle on the usual goody-two-shoes fantasy plotline.
ORC: Vengeance follows Rok, a green-skinned warlord that has been captured by the undead hordes that have taken over the lands of Argon. Human empires fell long ago, but there is still an orc resistance, faltering as it may be. Rok has to return to his clan, rescue his fellow banished warlords, and take the fight to The Dark One. The usual RPG elements are here: kill bad guys, earn experience points, level up, choose abilities to improve, and pick up new gear along the way. New equipment can be purchased between levels with the coins players pick up throughout battle or acquired through in-app purchases. Weapons and shields will also occasionally drop, though duplicate items are automatically translated into coin, cutting down on inventory clutter.
ORC: Vengeance breaks the traditional joystick mold for iOS action games. Players tap where they want to move, long press to initiate autorun, and tap on enemies once to start automatically attacking them. Instead of relying on an action bar for special abilities, they can be assigned to gestures such as double-tap, swipe, circle, and zigzag. This added level of complexity is key to making the game more than just tapping on bad guys until they die, but they can sometimes be a little too tricky to execute properly and quickly. It would be nice to be able to remap long-press along with the others, since for whatever reason I find myself double-tapping when I want to run. Auto-run also seems to automatically quit a little sooner than I would like.
Progression is more or less standard, with a circular experience graph letting you know how close you are to levelling up. Once full, players get four ability points to spend on attack, defense, greed, and vengeance attributes - wait, greed and vengeance? Yup, greed affects how much gold is dropped by enemies as well as the prices offered by the inter-level vendor. Vengeance determines how often Rok can use special abilities; it's expended when he uses an ability, and regained for killing enemies. Mana is for wussy humans. New powers are discovered in chests throughout gameplay, and can be upgraded the same way as weapons - spend some coin and go up a level, though upgrades are capped based on your level. My only qualm about progression is that it feels kind of lame when after levelling up for kicking open a barrel - should I really be getting experience points for that?
There's a particularly great equipment system in place. Every single piece of gear can be upgraded at any time with gold acquired from adventuring or through in-app purchase. There are five upgrade tiers for each weapon, with costs and level requirements increasing with every upgrade. Skills can be upgraded in a similar way, though they aren't limited to five levels. Between stages, players can visit the shop to offload excess loot and pick up new weapons and armor. ORC: Vengeance really cuts down on inventory clutter by automatically selling anything picked up that's already owned. Approaching items on the ground pops up a window that shows how it compares to what's currently equipped, and buttons to toss it in the backpack or start using it right away.
Kitting out Rok is perhaps a little oversimplified. There are only two slots that can be equipped with gear (shield and weapon), which is a huge step down for people that are used to other fantasy games where it's the norm to equip boots, leggings, body armor, helm, two rings, gauntlets, and either weapon and shield, dual weapons, or two-handed weapons. I've only played through until level 7, so more options may open up down the line, but nothing beyond the two slots so far. Axes, swords, and maces are the three weapon types, each with their own balance between speed and power. Though weapons don't have a laundry list of bonuses like many RPGs, some will provide a bonus to one of Rok's four stats.
The storyline deserves a shoutout. I have a soft spot for orcs, so maybe putting them front and center already engenders me to the concept of the game, but it's refreshing to have a party that's normally the villain taking up the protaganist's role while still maintaining a level of badassery. While exploring dungeons, players will find lore books with bits and pieces of the story that gradually paint a larger picture beyond the intro video. The action isn't bogged down with an excess of story, though - so far one level has moved on to the next without any cutscenes.
ORC: Vengeance is universal and has iCloud sync enabled for those of you that want to pick up where you left off between iOS devices. Game Center is enabled for leaderboards and achievements, but no multiplayer just yet unfortunately.
I was really, really impressed with the graphics in ORC: Vengeance. The environments are gritty, detailed, and full of dynamic lighting effects. Character animations are convincing and show a ton of personality. Environmental effects like weather and camera shake really set the mood. All gear is faithfully reproduced on Rok, which makes your loadout all the more personal. Many of you will be happy to hear that the visuals are optimized for the new iPad's Retina display.
The soundtrack is high-grade, and matches the dark, gritty atmosphere of an orc laying waste to the undead. Sound effects and the few bits of voice acting are equally awesome. There are lots of rain effects in the early levels, and aside from the continual pitter-patter, Rok's footsteps also have their own distinct splashing sound effects.
ORC: Vengenace manages to deliver all of the action and fun of a classic dungeon romp game on PC, while paring down just enough to keep things optimized for a touch interface. There's also a few new spins on the classic fantasy action game, such as new attributes, gesture-based attacks, a focus on orcs (traditionally the bad guys) and simplified equipment upgrades that make ORC: Vengeance a truly fresh experience even for grizzled gaming veterans. Multiplayer would be nice to have down the line, but as it is this game is great. I'd love to see the developers stick with the engine and expand with new episodes made available through in-app purchases. Microtransactions are done in a classy way - that is, buying coins with IAPs is entirely optional and not remotely required to succeed or have fun playing the game.
ORC: Vengeance comes out July 26 for $2.99. Get it! I double-dog dare you.