Cyanide Studios haven’t had an easy ride since their Game of Thrones RTS, and subsequent RPG based off the same franchise. Both games were shoddy, cheap, and lacking in polish and depth. After failing to create an enthralling RPG adventure based on one of the most enthralling stories ever told, Cynaide Studios are back with another gimmick USP, and this time it isn’t a TV show, it’s an original IP.

Published by Focus Home Interactive, Of Orcs and Men thinks it’s relatively unique in that ‘this time the story is told from the perspective of the Orcs, rather than the humans’. A concept that – should the mechanics and story be good, should have been interesting – it fails in itself to carry Of Orcs and Men alone into the green, and instead arrogantly presents itself as though mere concept alone should have you overlook the other problems that plague the game.

Laced with gratuitous swearing and poor writing and voice work, Orcs and Men tries very hard to be that gritty and alternative RPG for a mature audience, but is inevitably held back by two cookie-cutter protagonists; Arkail, an Orc of the Bloodjaw tribe, who basically looks and talks like The Hulk, and a Goblin, who specializes in stealth and ranged attacks. Needless to say, this fit-for-sitcom duo don’t get along all that well, and what I assume is supposed to be a juxtaposed chemistry just comes across as the pilot to a TV show that really shouldn’t be made.

Humans are a-holes

The story is thus: the humans, naturally, want to maintain power of the land. After many battles, the humans purge the world of Goblins, and capture to enslave the Orcs because of their superior strength, and their ability to work for long periods of time. Being of a neutral(ish) clan, the Bloodjaw (no relation to the Bloodmaw) seek to kill the institution that perpetuates the ongoing war. Arkail, being a tough and particularly angry Orc, is charged by his leader to seek out the leader of the humans and kill him. Styx, the Goblin character, is tasked with escorting Arkail through the country to the location of the human leader. They are thus bound together by charge of deed and contract.

On paper, it’s a pair of unlikely heroes, and all of the hilarious situations they get into. Every Hollywood movie from the 80’s.

The game starts with a contextual tutorial, which introduces the battle mechanics. The best way to describe Orcs and Men‘s fighting mechanics is a sort of budget Dragon Age: Origins. Whether or not you’re using a mouse and keyboard or a game-pad, you set a limited number of actions by entering the action wheel, and stacking attacks or defenses. During this period, time slows down dramatically (but doesn’t stop) as you navigate a needlessly chunky and large series of wheels, just to pick out four attacks. There is a wheel for defense, contextual (such as interacting with Styx) and offensive attacks, which you can select by hitting the arrow left or right which will change the attack wheel. It sounds needlessly long winded, because it is, and brings battles to a crawl. What’s more, there really aren’t any impact effects (such as an animated thump, etc. Swords just go right though people), and the heavily compressed audio makes the entire charade seem about as meaty as running your finger through custard.

The fighting is mixed up a little bit by way of allowing you to control Styx, too, who has his own two wheels: ranged and offensive. Styx is more of a rogue class, so can’t take as many hits. Further than this, Arkail can enter a ‘rage’ mode where you can’t control him – he just goes ape. This happens when the meter fills, or when you pick it from the context menu. The combat mechanic is relatively unique – but not really - and it isn’t well executed at all.

One of the major problems with Of Orcs and Men is that everything is inconsistent, and everything lacks polish. Let’s be serious for a minute here, this is a AAA title on PC – or at least it’s priced as one at £29.99 – yet, although occasionally pretty, the textures are awful in places and the human models in particular are really quite bad. There are some effects, such as rain on the characters, that look really nice, but there are as many terrible graphical effects as there are nice ones, and that’s only the tip of the ice burg.

Now, I really wanted to like this title, and of course graphics don’t ‘make a game’, but it didn’t have the mechanics to back it up. For one, the story is incredibly linear and you are tunneled through the quite short campaign via invisible walls and spontaneous stacks of barrels and unopenable doors and buildings. Secondly, the animations are really, really horrible. Styx helps to alleviate this, because of his relative size and speed, but piloting Arkail is no fluid affair. His movement free-roaming is very clunky, and he almost feels like a cheap plastic toy with little articulation. On top of that, in basically every line of dialogue he smacks his fists together as though it’s the only animation they could muster.

Every. Damn. Guard: “Oh, a dead ally, oh well, I’ll pretend I didn’t see it.”

There’s some stealth in Of Orcs and Men, with Styx able to go invisible indefinitely, leaving Arkail behind. You can assassinate targets by going up behind them and killing them, littering the place with corpses. In one area, I killed 3 guards and watched as an emotionless patrol walked around the corpses… literally over the corpses… with about the same amount of realism as the scientists following animation in  the original Half Life. This surprised me so much that I’m 50/50 on it being a bug, but no, the game is filled with quirks of poor polish such as this.

Of Orcs and Men is a terribly cumbersome affair. The slow and clunky battle mechanics; the awkward and emotionless animations, and the poor impact in combat all point towards the same lack of care and attention to detail. The chunky menus and lackluster leveling up all point toward the same conclusion, and it’s as though Cyanide didn’t learn a thing from Game of Thrones: The RPG. Once Arkail or Styx is down, you can help your ally back up, but during this, you’re getting attacked by the (mostly) melee combatants in the game, which means that then Styx will soon have to revive Arkail, who will then have to revive Styx. Each time it’s a vicious cycle, and the combat systems arbitrary assignment of skills in the action bar mean there’s no real strategy other than basically picking whatever, aiming for whatever, and hoping you do the right thing. For instance: say an enemy is about to swing a strong attack, you want to stun or block against it, right? Well, what if you have 3 other skills lined up before it? You have to cancel them all. Then what’s the point of stopping time, when you’re planning for events that you can’t possibly forsee? It’s as though the combat system is there merely as a USP on paper, because a standard hack-and-slash affair, similar to, say, Viking: Battle For Asgard would have made this stale and slow affair more interesting.

It’s actually ludicrous to be presented with enemy data, considering all you have are about 7 variations of ‘hulk smash’ as your attack. I mean, we’ve already talked about the stun (which can’t really be planned) and the defensive skills, but most of all you want to kill everything before it kills you. The easiest way to do this, invariably, is to let the PC control Arkail, and just stay as Styx and hold back out of the battle, using his powerful ranged skills. Keeping Styx alive, and Arkail tanking, is basically like playing a Beast Master in World of Warcraft – except you’re pausing every 3 seconds to navigate a pointlessly clunky skill chart, instead of having them all in front of you at the click of a button. Tell a lie, you can bind up to four skills to keys or buttons on your game-pad. Only four.

The writing is something that particularly rubbed me the wrong way. I’m all for swearing in videogames, and often I think it adds to the evocation of insanity and freedom gained from exploring a mad, violent and vibrant digital world – but these guys just took it too far. Styx is the main offender, talking like some depressed drunk in a bar about his memories. The problem is, it’s voiced by someone who almost sounds like he’s embarrassed by the copious amounts of “fuckin” before every adjective. To put it bluntly, it feels as though the writers used swearing as a way to market their game, rather than as a method of expanding upon the depth of the characters. Look at our combat system, look at our swearing.

Dialogue choices ranging from “angry dumb Orc” to “angry dumb Orc 2″

There’s the classic Mass Effect style dialogue scheme, where you’ve the choice to sound angry, or angrier. Make no mistake, your choices don’t genuinely affect anything in the game other than a few times where a fight happens about 24 seconds before it otherwise would have, but I sense the designers just wanted to bloat the dialogue at least a little to keep the player awake. There’s no controlling who your character is, so there’s really no need to fuss about the choices.

This linearity is mirrored in the quests. There are some hubs to buy goods and sell your unwanted wares, but these areas are merely stepping stones to re-gear and move on for the story. You can, as you’ll have gathered, use different types of weaponry and armour to about the same extent as Darksiders 2, for both characters, but don’t expect to find anything incredible throughout your journey, other than a few obviously places chests which are accessible with Styx’s smaller stature.

The best thing by far in Of Orcs and Men is the cello rich soundtrack which is truly beautiful, and something to admire.

Plagued with inconsistent visuals, very shoddy animations all round, questionable, clunky combat mechanics and a linear, 10 hour(ish) campaign, Of Orcs and Men is a game that relies far too hard on its self insistent promotion as an original and mature title, but doesn’t have nearly enough to back it up. It feels as though the game needed three times the budget to pull itself off, and RPG’s such as Risen 2, The Witcher 2 and Divinity 2 have handled swearing so much better – better than anyone else in fact. With poor dialogue, terrible character development and RPG elements stripped to the bone, Of Orcs and Men is impossible to recommend – but I feel that many people will be able to look past its problems. These people will inevitably be hardcore in their love for RPG’s, and simply enjoy the story for what it is.

Anyone who can look past all of the substantial problems with Of Orcs and Men might enjoy the game for what it is, but what it is is not £29.99 worth of game. It is an unpolished, linear, clunky game that tried to rely far too much on on-paper concepts, which were poorly translated into a videogame of this type.