One of my favorite genres of games are dungeon-crawlers. I love the atmosphere of being stuck in a dungeon, looking for secrets, solving puzzles, battling dangerous monster, and hope in vain that I will make it out alive. I am also claustrophobic, so I am not sure how this really could appeal to me so much. Made by id software, best known for Quake and Doom, Orcs and Elves was originally released for mobile phones using the same engine as Doom RPG. However, since many of these mobile-games are not available to play legitimately anymore, I decided to at the very least give the DS-remake a look and see how well it has held up.
Would make a DM smile at least
An odd message from Brahm, the king of a Dwarven realm, has been bestowed upon you. As the descendant of a highly-regarded elf, you decide to travel deep into the mountains to his kingdom with your talking wand, and figure out what has happened. When you arrive, you meet the ghost of one of the dwarfs who informs you that orcs and dark elves have attacked their kingdom. It is all up to you to save what is left of it. This is pretty much all there is to the plot, with no real elaboration on the situation or what has happened. It feels a bit shallow, which is a shame as it could have either been made into a simpler tale or try to expand upon it. However, it falls in the middle, making it almost just there for the sake of having a plot.
While the plot is nothing to brag about, the characters you meet are often whimsical, silly, or over the top. You will meet up with a drunk dwarf that wants you to share drinks with him, thieving rats that can’t be trusted, and of course your talking wand. The wand is a quite handy companion, functioning as your tool for communication and support throughout the game. You play as a silent protagonist, so it is nice to see your wand being a conversation-starter towards other inhabitants that varies in mood and personality. This makes the adventure somewhat more memorable as the characters are enjoyable to talk to, and your companion is one with more than just one personality. He actually feels like a genuine person. However, while you will encounter events throughout the game such as your wand being stolen or having a rat helping you find a hidden treasure, they simply exist to make the journey varied and none really contributes to make the overall plot move forward or become a goal to strive for. It simply exists for the sake of creating a reason for you to start the adventure, but at least you will have fun on the journey from time to time.
Story Score: 6/10
Dungeon-crawler for the newcomers
Instead of the more hectic shooting-genre both Quake and Doom were known for, Orcs and Elves is a first person dungeon-crawler, with a turn-based setup. Each time you move, attack or basically do any action except for checking what items you have and options, it will count as a move and the world around you will move after your turn. You can also skip a move by pressing Y, which is handy for making strategy.
This setup is great for making strategic encounters. Enemies are very diverse in their abilities, with some being able to resurrect others from death, some can poison you, and dark elves can do two moves in one turn. They all also present certain strengths and weaknesses, making it important to not just remember who might be smartest to deal with first, but also how. You will be able to acquire different swords, crossbows, and more weapons throughout the game and all feel useful. However the strongest weapon you will have, is your wand. It unfortunately is a bit too powerful, as ammo for it is refilled each turn when you are not holding it and most enemies are weak against it. If that wasn’t enough, you will eventually learn stronger magical attacks throughout the game, which makes the encounters even easier.
You can also find different kinds of potions and ales that vary in effects, from making you stronger, more durable, invisible and heal just to name a few. Besides your HP-bar, you will also have to be aware of your armor, as it will neglect most damage against you, but won’t last forever unless you buy better armor for more defense and durability, and repair them. This can be done with the only merchant in this mountain: a dragon. You can bargain with him, and giving him more money or gems will pleases his mood, making it possible to buy the next item for cheap. This is a really nice system as you won’t be able to purchase everything, but will have a good chance to become stronger for less money. Again however: all these items make the game very easy as potions are not hard to come by and unless you are more of a hoarder, you won’t have much of a hard time dealing with the enemies. It does get more challenging towards the end, but it is highly recommended to crank up the difficulty slightly to get a more decent challenge.
You will be taken to many different locations, each containing new designs and gimmicks. One area might have traps you must avoid and plan your turns accordingly, others might have an enjoyable puzzle, and one area will have your wand stolen. All of these are great additions for varying up the dungeon-layouts. Included with this, are some well hidden walls that can be pushed for secret rooms with hidden goodies. If you get all of the secrets and/or kill every creature, you will get some bonus XP, which is a neat extra. Your enhanced map will always highlight where you have been and make the map as you go, with objectives and notes being kept track of. Experience points function as expected by upgrading strength, accuracy, and health for example. Luckily, there is no grinding and the progression is always present, so no part of the game feels like a halt.
As far as taking advantage of the system’s unique features, most are basic, but functional. The top-screen represents the action in first person mode, while the bottom screen is for all of your items, including the enchanted map, weapons, potions and so on. This is a really nice setup, making it easy to acquire the item you want right away by simply scanning which item represents what. The touchscreen is also used for casting powerful-spells, but is nothing more than a game of Simons Says without consequences. What is very unique however, is that Orcs and Elves is compatible with the rumble-pack that was released for the system. It works really well, making the game come much more alive with different strength of rumbles.
While it is short, it lasted as long as it was varied enough to become satisfying and did not feel like it ended too early. It is quite easy until the last part due to giving you strong magic and potions, which can easily make parts a bit too straightforward. However, thanks to the great amount of variation, enjoyable exploration, and enemies being varied and intriguing, it all comes together to make an enjoyable dungeon-crawler. Just crank up that difficulty.
Gameplay Score: 7.5/10
Charm over technology
As a port of a mobile-game, we get better visuals than what the phone at the time could offer, despite it not being near what the system can handle. Both the environments and items are presented in 3D, while enemies and your weapons in hand are done with 2D sprites. While this is no technical marvel, it is in tone with early shooters and it gives the game a great charm to it. Since the locations, enemies and items have a consistent style to them while at the same time have variation to their visuals, it feels like a style chosen for the sake of paying a good homage rather than being lazy. The only exception are the dwarfs which could be nonuplets for all I know.
We visit different locations inside this mountain, such as plant-infested areas and a huge armory, all being inhabited by different enemies that fit in perfectly. What gives these environments life to them are the sound effects. There are grunts from the enemies, weapons being fired or swung, and ambient sounds of the environment you are in, such as bubbling lava and critters on the wall. The atmosphere it provides is very effective, making the game very intriguing. There is some music in this game and it’s all orchestrated and action-packed, but only used for certain occasions, making these moments feel more special. By showcasing how smart it can be with the limitations, this is artistically great.
Presentation Score: 8/10
I WILL SHOW THEM!
Through some secret paths, you can find pictures to complete a gallery, but those don’t include anything interesting that can’t be found with a google-search. The real replay value for me, came at the end of the game. You will then be ranked on how well you did it throughout the journey, from finding secrets to how many steps you took. This actually gave me a reason to show that I was more than just a squire and went for a harder difficulty. The difficulties change up the game in great ways, with dangerous encounters, and even make it so that you must destroy enemy corpses or they will be reborn again on nightmare-difficulty. This is a nice way to make the game much more challenging and encourage replay value with higher difficulties, which I honestly can’t say for many games. However, that is about where the replay value stops, which makes me believe more could have been added. There is also a ton of artifacts you can find that have no purpose except giving you a better score, so more depth for those would have also been welcomed.
Extra Score: 7/10
Orcs & Elves is definitely an enjoyable dungeon-crawler for on the go. It has enough variety to become addictive, the presentation is charming, and while the plot is not interesting, the characters are fun. It is unfortunately easy and could have gone somewhat further with its concept, but what is here is good. I hope we will one day see the sequel remade for a handheld-device, but until then: this is certainly worth playing through.