Developer: Big Cave Games
Release Date: 7/25/12
Maybe I don’t have a very sophisticated palate, but I can’t really tell the difference between regular Coke and Coke Zero. And I don’t really care to know what arcane chemical mysticism produces a soda with the same taste but none of the calories. All I know is that I feel less guilty about drinking it. At my age, that’s enough.
So I was pleasantly surprised by ORC: Vengeance, the Coke Zero of Diablo clones for iOS. Developer Big Cave Games has produced a very solid action RPG which, while not particularly innovative, is well-executed across the board.
The nominal story of ORC: Vengeance has you starring as Rok, the aptly-named orc warchief whose quest to restore the orcs to their former glory will mean hacking and slashing his way through the requisite legions of spiders, skeletons, and demons. There’s very little here that won’t be familiar to fans of the genre. Rok accrues experience points by defeating monsters, which you can spend on upgrading his attack, defense, greed (likelihood of better gold drops) and vengeance (mana) stats. A variety of special attacks become unlocked as Rok levels up; deploying these effectively while managing your mana becomes more critical as you encounter more difficult waves of enemies. And of course, there’s the draw of loot, although it’s curiously limited here: Rok can only collect melee weapons and shields, instead of the usual array of trinkets.
Still, this minimalist approach suits the game well, especially given the iOS platform. Level design is similarly uninventive but effective, a series of dungeon treks punctuated by occasional boss battles. More frequently, you’ll become trapped in a room while waves of enemies attack, a design tactic that provides for challenge but also begins to feel lazy with repetition. Fortunately, the environments are gorgeously drawn and lit, and character animation is fluid. ORC: Vengeance is easily as visually impressive as Gameloft’s Dungeon Hunter series, its main competitor in the iOS action RPG space. Its sound design is similarly well-produced, with appropriately moody music and endearingly silly voice acting.
The game’s main curiosity (and stumbling block) is its control scheme, which eschews the virtual joystick and buttons approach of Dungeon Hunter. You move Rok by tapping where you want him to go, holding down your finger to make him run. Once Rok has started running, you can keep him going by tapping elsewhere, although this often fails to register, slowing Rok to a frustratingly slow walk. (One wonders why Rok doesn’t auto-run all the time.) Rok also fails to find routes around simple obstacles, meaning you have to micromanage his movement more than is comfortable. Simple gestures-swipe, double-tap, circle and zig-zag-activate his special powers, although the interface is occasionally confused by your input and either fails to register or performs the wrong action. A good amount of the game’s difficulty comes from wrestling with the controls rather than the enemies, which are largely unvaried and easily defeated.
Indeed, the lack of difficulty might reflect a design ethic geared toward the player’s convenience—something that, for me, is much appreciated on the iOS platform. Not having to micromanage loot customization means more time spent in action, which is important to those of us who like to game on the go. You can buy restorative potions at any point via the pause menu, and you’re guaranteed to have more gold than you need for most of your playtime. Level design might be predictable, but regular checkpoints are a relief when my train station is coming up and it’s time to put the iPhone away. (By contrast, I wish Diablo III had let me walk away from it more easily.) And ORC: Vengeance also syncs your progress via iCloud, a vital feature for players who want to get in some iPhone monster-slaying on the subway but pick up on the iPad’s larger display once at home. So what if it doesn’t have the caloric count of Diablo? ORC: Vengeance is still delicious.