IGN Review of Orcs & Elves
As the world of videogames advances through its years, so do the gamers' expectations. We want it big. We want it elaborate. We want it to blow our minds with all sorts of visual effects and stuff to do. Although we can certainly reminisce about the good ol' days of the dungeon-crawling games like Bard's Tale, Eye of the Beholder, and Lands of Lore, any game that'd attempt that more simplistic style nowadays would tank in favor of the boffo Square Enix productions, right? Wrong. Orcs & Elves is a surprisingly successful mix of contemporary ideas mixed in with back-to-the-basics game design of the classic dungeon hacker. Its no-nonsense presentation creates a quickly-paced, action-packed game that's full of energy. Even though its simplified gameplay, just like its mobile phone counterpart id Software's design works on the Nintendo DS. It has a way of sneaking under the radar; Orcs & Elves is a great nod to a genre that's been left behind.
Put Orcs & Elves on the same level as any other role-playing game and you might find yourself disappointed. You can't select your character's class, or name him
or even catch a glimpse of what he looks like. Your fate has been chosen for you by the scriptwriters
you're just a dude with a talking wand sent out to avenge the kidnapping of your king inside a mountain citadel with winding mazes of dungeons.
What the game lacks in story and customization, it makes up for it in a game design that gets straight to the point. You're thrust into got a sword for up-close combat and a wand to blast those far away targets. Movement is entirely grid-based: every step forward, left, right or backward, as well as every rotation is in 90 degree increments. It's also turn-based, which is really Orcs & Elves' biggest hook. Each move is a "turn." If there are other creatures in the general vicinity, they'll take their "turn" after you take yours. Specific creatures can make two turns to your one, moving one slot and attacking - but for the most part and with a few exceptions both the player and the creatures are on the same playing field, so to speak.
Even with its turn-based focus, Orcs & Elves is surprisingly fast-paced almost to the point of being a first-person action game. Its rigid movements are restrictive when compared to the usual first-person fare, but the way it's been handled in this game keeps the energy high - the frame rate is super smooth and the motion is quick, and the pauses between turns have been tweaked so there's no waiting. The turn-based gameplay adds a bit of strategy, and as a result removes some awkwardness of other dungeon hacking games - you can freely peruse your inventory of potions and items since looking doesn't take a turn. Using an object does, however, so you'll have to make your choice: potion, item, move or attack? The wide variety of potions that players can use in the game add a bunch to the strategy element, especially when you start hitting boss battles that'll require some serious enhancements to your character's abilities.
The game can be played via the stylus entirely, but honestly the traditional D-pad and button control is the much better, streamlined way of playing Orcs & Elves. The graphics engine is actually quite impressive despite the game's use of it in a more simplistic and rigid fashion: Orcs & Elves uses a 3D engine for its environments, but since the game stays on a harsh 90 degree rail system almost 95 percent of the time it's hard to appreciate the visuals on a technical level. But when the camera pops off its rails, it's pretty gorgeous - at specific points in the game the camera will flow with grace through the corridors to point out specific items or elements or events in the design. The use of simplistically animated sprites for the creatures might be a bit of a cop-out, but they're certainly not terrible
at the very least it enhances the "old-school" feel of the dungeon-crawling environment. The id Software influence is pretty obvious, what with its Doom-like sprite enemies and mapping system.
The games a lot of fun, but make no mistake: it can get a tad repetitive. The action is what it is right from the start, and other than the collection of different items and the occasional "push the rock" and "leap around the geysers" puzzles, the play never changes. The creature designs are constantly being recycled: a red rat in an earlier dungeon will be a "different" gold rat in a later dungeon. The graphic designers don't even bother to change the look of the different dwarves that you encounter on your challenges - the writers have a little fun with this limitation later in the game by questioning one's gender, but it's hard to not roll the eyes in parts of Orcs & Elves corner-cutting presentation.
Thankfully the game's been designed for the on-the-go mentality. Save anywhere? And in three different slots? And all the maps will rememeber every notch that's been traversed? Thank you very much, id Software.
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