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SummaryA very fine old-school RPG treat
The GoodOrcs & Elves is a refreshingly old-school RPG. I had not played the predecessor, the DOOM RPG, but the game clearly was an answer to my (highly unlikely) plea: "I wish there was a game that had all the action of DOOM, a little bit more leisurely pace, and a fantasy theme". It is a pretty good mix of action and leisurely-paced free exploration of a dungeon complex. You can play it both ways: Race to the finish as fast as you can, or explore every nook and cranny at your own pace.
Game system is, in my opinion, nicely done and has a sufficient depth, considering how humble the origins of the game are. You need to think of the approaches on how to defeat each type of a monster, make sure you have enough items, and scour the levels for all of the very necessary loot. There are monsters that are easy and fun to frag, monsters that are pain in the neck and satisfying to take down... and monsters that are kind of scary and tough to defeat.
The graphical style is a fascinating mix of old and new. Even if the sprite graphics remind me of old games, this is only a good, even nostalgia-inducing thing, and the sprites are not ugly as such. The sprites and textures are detailed and pretty enough for all intents and purposes. It is fascinating how the 3D objects and camera runs work seamlessly together with the sprite graphics; the jump from pseudo-3D to true-3D does not alarm at all and works nicely. Finally, an answer to another of my (highly unlikely) pleas: "What would have Dungeon Master looked like if it had had modern 3D camera effects?"
On the normal skill level, I did run on some tough spots, but generally, I just went forth, sentient-magic-wands blazing, swords swinging, and getting tons of fun out of the game. I can rarely say that a game has kept me on the edge of the proverbial seat, through and through. The game is quite addicting.
The BadThe game has its roots in a mobile phone game, and it really shows: There are not many different weapons or types of equipment, not too many varieties of enemies, and not a whole lot of sounds or music. If I pick up a game I probably expect twenty different types of weapons, a hundred different magical items, and umpteen monster variations - but, well, the makers decided that they could make a decent game with a little bit less variety, and they more or less succeeded, so I am not complaining. Yes, you can say "If I buy a role-playing game I want to play an axe-wielding barbarian without pants, battling masses of giant ice-breathing rats in the Tundra Wastes"; well, you got an elf with a magic wand, sword and a few extra trinkets, and the rats will not breathe ice - because that was the tale the creators managed to successfully cram in a cell phone. I do not know what the fans of barbarians say, but I can only say the game is still good no matter what character concept you had in mind. Some people might say "direct ports suck"; I will not, because this happened to be a good game to begin with! At least it gives us DS players a chance to see the incredible DOOM RPG engine in action.
The game is primarily an action game and less of an adventure. The plot is very straightforward. The NPC dialogues are not exactly extensive and twisty either. Yet, there are some diversions in the plot, so the game is not exactly a direct run-through, and the discussions are somewhat amusing in their own right, so they are not exactly that disappointing either. A more problematic thing is that the game is pretty short: My first play-through took only 7 and half hours on the easiest skill level. On the other hand, some might say that, for good or ill, it also meant that I did not really have a chance to get bored with it. It also made me think - is it really too short? I suppose 40€ for a competently built 10-hour game is a more reasonable price than 60€ for an exquisitely built "100-hour game" that I will never find enough time for... but I digress.
In summary, I have to say that I don't think any of these traits wreck the game in any way. When porting the game from mobile phones to the DS, the developers got the increased 3D rendering power covered to an extent, but the touch screen and larger ROM capacity haven't been put to best possible use. I just wish that the developers remember to pack more stuff in the DS version of the sequel that is under development right now.
The Bottom LineOrcs & Elves is a short but sweet RPG. The plot is fairly usual, the game experience is thoroughly old-school and tried-and-true, and the game system works. There is not a great deal of variety, but over its whole duration, it works quite well and keeps you in its grip - I know I was pretty much addicted. It is not too hard, not too easy, not too short, not too long.
Simply put, it is a tale of one elf who goes in a dwarven mountain stronghold to kick some orc and monster butt. With a recipe like that, you know it has to be fun. With a recipe like that, however, you also know that you should not get the hopes too high.
We easily have the impression that game companies are obligated to make massive games that yield massive amounts of entertainment. We expect game companies to produce, every time, AAA Titles that we will be playing for the next ten years. But the fact is, not every game is a great massive success. Not every game needs to be a great massive success. Sometimes, it is refreshing to run into a Neat Little Game - one that you will pick up every year or two, and play through it for the fun of it. Regrettably, many of these games are just that: fun for a little while but not a whole lot more. Most games relegated to this category tend to have some sort of a tiny, yet very annoying flaw.
Orcs & Elves is a game that certainly isn't an AAA Title of Lasting Impression. It certainly is, however, a very positive example of a Neat Little Game. And unlike many Neat Little Games, there are also no damning little flaws, aside of the length and a slight lack of breadth; the game itself is a joy to play. This game works perfectly at what it does, in its own short and sweet way.
I know I will pick this game up again in a year and not be a least bit ashamed or annoyed to play it. I will pick some other games over the next year, and I will probably say "This game is good, but oh boy, the movement system was a bit clumsy", or "oh man, this was a nice game, but those random encounters were a little bit aggravating". I do not think I will grumble when I play this game the next time, however. There is little to grumble about.
I think I will stick to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for now if I need Great RPG Entertainment®. However, I am happy to have Orcs & Elves game in my bag if I ever get bored - *it could happen!*