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Of Orcs and Detectives

I don’t inherently hate orcs. I’m not an orcist. Ditto for goblins. If I kill orcs and goblins in a game, it’s because they’re the enemy. I go to the red marks on the map and kill the red marks and nine times out of ten, said red marks are either orcs or goblins. It ain’t personal, it’s just business.

In this spirit of loving my green skinned brethren, I was excited to visit the Focus Home Interactive booth at E3 to get a look at Cyanide’s upcoming action-RPG, Of Orcs and Men. The fact that the upcoming Sherlock Holmes adventure game was also at the same booth certainly helped. I may not hate orcs, but I despise mysteries. Stupid mysteries.

Of Orcs and Men has you switching between two characters, a huge orc warrior and a diminutive goblin assassin. The game is set in a time after orcs and goblins have been defeated by humans in a great war and the humans, in their stunning capacity for benevolence, have decided that rather than risk another green skinned uprising, they’re just going to kill of anything that isn’t human. Your mission is to make your way towards the current Emperor and teach him the error of his ways. Actually, you’re supposed to kill him, but if a teachable moment shows up while you’re killing him, feel free to take advantage of it. The more you know and all that.

As you might expect, the warrior is big and lumbering with various melee skills and attacks while the goblin is acrobatic and stealthy, able to sneak up behind soldiers and kill them quietly as well as bounce around the battlefield, blades a-flashing. While in combat, you can switch between the two characters at will and assign combat moves via a queuing system. One interesting twist shown was the ability to take control of the orc, pick up the goblin, chuck him towards an enemy and then switch to the goblin in mid-air and manually make with the stabbing upon landing.

In the typical RPG fashion, skills can be upgraded in one of two ways, allowing for some specialization. Similarly, the game gives multiple options for completing certain missions, allowing you to stay with the dynamic duo or split the team up and stick to one character over another for a while. The game’s mission structure will follow that of The Witcher 2 in that each chapter will have a central hub from which you can take on story and sub-missions but once you move on to the next chapter’s central area, the previous area’s missions are no longer available.

From what I saw, the game looked good, the combat looked easy enough to pick up yet with enough tactical requirements that you can’t just take the orc all of the time and wade into battle soaking up damage and breaking human spines. My only concern at this point is that while this is a joint development effort between Cyanide and Spiders, Cyanide is responsible for the design and creative direction. Cyanide’s games often end up unfinished in some way or another and this is such an interesting concept, my hope is that they can follow through with it throughout the whole game. I’m also a little concerned that they won’t be up to the task of handling the AI correctly for whatever character you won’t be using. An interesting story won’t mean much if combat is hampered by a poorly controlled AI character.

Still, even with these reservations, I’m definitely keeping this one on my list of games to watch for when it releases this fall.

While at Focus Home I also got to see the Testament of Sherlock Holmes, the new adventure game featuring the world’s most famous detective. Note I said “most famous” and not “greatest” as everyone knows that Batman is the world’s greatest detective. It’s true. Look it up.

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is not a quippy adventure game featuring a standoffish Robert Downey Jr. or a modern take a la the BBC’s excellent Sherlock series, but a mature and particularly brutal look at the chief resident of 221B Baker Street. Where previous Sherlock Holmes adventure games focused more on those perpetrating the crimes, this game focuses more on Sherlock himself, and the lengths he goes to to solve his latest assignment.

The demo showed a particularly gruesome crime scene in which a bishop has been murdered, but not just murdered but bound, tortured, stabbed and somehow forced to eat the flesh off of his own forearm. It was pretty gross and definitely not something I’ve seen in a Sherlock Holmes game before. In true adventure game fashion, investigating the crime scene is a manner of talking to witnesses, looking for clues and examining evidence. Frogware has added a system by which the player is notified via differently colored icons whenever they’re hovering over something or someone that has already been investigated, as well as a notification whenever a crime scene has been fully investigated. I can’t tell you how excited this makes me as nothing is worse than revisiting everything in a room simply because you think you’re not done yet. Once all the evidence has been collected, the deduction board from previous Sherlock Holmes game returns, allowing the player to get inside Sherlock’s mind and narrow down suspects and motives based on the collected evidence.

There will be more than sixty puzzles to work through and twenty locations to investigate as you switch between Holmes and Watson to get to the bottom of a mystery involving stolen jewels and the dead bishop. If that’s not exciting enough, for the first time, Sherlock’s canine partner Toby, first introduced in “The Sign of the Four” will be available to help sniff out evildoers, such as men who make terrible puns like “sniff out” when talking about fictional dog detectives.

I quite enjoyed the last Sherlock Holmes game, Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper, so I’m really looking forward to this one. The game looks gorgeous and it will be interesting to see Frogware’s take on Holmes as a character, warts, drug addiction and all.

Finally, before I left the booth I sat down and played Realms of Ancient War, the XBLA/PSN/PC co-op action RPG from Wizarbox. I knew nothing about this game before entering the booth, other than what I just told you. I picked up a controller and started playing as a barbarian before being summarily dispatched by wolves. Undaunted I started a new game. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, yawn, another ARPG” and I hear you. But here’s the thing: I picked up that controller and couldn’t stop playing. Special attacks are mapped nicely to face buttons, downing health potions is easy and there are plenty of enemies in which to bury your bladed weapons. As I played, I kept checking my watch to see how much time I had left before I had to move on to my next appointment and every time I looked, the professional side of my brain told me that I needed to stop so that I could make my next meeting on time, but the larger, more fun focused part told the other part to shut the hell up and to just play for five more minutes. And so I played for five more minutes, and then five more minutes and then five more minutes and then holy hell I am late as shit for my next appointment, an appointment that sucked and one in which I spent wishing I could have been playing RAW instead.

This is why we need to play games at E3, because that paragraph hopefully told you more about Realms of Ancient War than any press kit ever could.

Realms of Ancient War is slated to release some time this summer, with The Testament of Sherlock Holmes following in September and Of Orcs and Men rounding out the trio in September/October.

Of Orcs and Men Screenshots

Hey it’s a Cyanide game that isn’t a licensed property! I don’t know too much about this one, other than Cyanide lists this as a Q2 2012 release and it has orcs and men in it and that it’s role-playing game. The official website is more a teaser site right now but Focus Home sent out a batch of new screenshots for it today and if it didn’t look at least a little interesting I wouldn’t share it with you guys. You’re busy. I respect your time too much.I admit I like the perspective that this one takes — the humans are basically orc slavers. So the greenskins are the persecuted and the humans are the ones who are playing the baddie. At least that’s how it sounds.

That said, that is one big orc.

The PR and screens follow.

Of Orcs and Men immerses you into a brutal world at war, where the Empire of Men’s oppressive threat looms over the territories of the Orcs and the Goblins. Goblins are systematically persecuted and slaughtered, while Orcs not killed in battle are captured and enslaved. The game first puts you into the role of an elite Orc soldier from the legendary legion of Bloodjaws, a league of warriors deeply involved in the war opposing the Orcs and Goblins on one side to their persecutors, Humankind. As a veteran warrior who has seen the most brutal of battles, you are appointed by the Orc commander to complete a mission that could change the course of the war: kill the one man responsible for all of this bloodshed, the one who has, for years, exhorted the human masses to loath and fight the green-skinned people: the Emperor himself.

A Goblin will soon join you to aid you in your mission… he is everything the Orc is not. But you find that this works to your advantage as you fight on the battleground and off. Taking advantage of their natural traits, they have their own skill trees you will develop. While the Orc focuses on power, reflecting his incredible strength, the Goblin will benefit from darker powers and stealth abilities, making him the perfect assassin.

From the filthy alleys at the foot of the Great Wall, to the depths of the Empire of Men, your two infiltrated heroes will face the greatest dangers through their epic quest. They will commune with the Wizards, fight the assassins and soldiers of the Empire of Men, and oppose the powerful Sisters of Laments.

As you face a cruel and merciless humanity bent on eternal persecution of Orcs and Goblins, your unlikely duo will have one last chance to change the course of history and, hopefully, bringing peace between your peoples.

Of Orcs and Men is scheduled for 2012 release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.