I was playing Orcs Must Die: Unchained when I was confronted with the age-old question—one that’s puzzled philosophers since the dawn of time: “If you take the isometric camera out of a MOBA, is it still a MOBA?”
The answer is “Yes.”
Orcs Must Die: Unchained is a little bit action hack-and-slash, a little bit tower defense, and a lot of MOBA. Each team consists of five heroes who have to work together to kill AI enemies and each other, all with the purpose of opening a path to the enemy base down one of multiple lanes. So yeah, it’s a multiplayer online battle arena game.
But as I said, it’s not a straight MOBA. This isn’t yet another Dota clone, and that’s refreshing.
Let’s start with the camera. Defense of the Ancients, or “Dota,” was born as a WarCraft III mod—and thus the entire MOBA genre has its roots in the real-time strategy genre. Even as MOBAs have transitioned from a custom WarCraft III map to standalone games that rake in millions of dollars, they’ve kept most of the hallmarks of the RTS genre: an isometric camera, hotkeyed actions, and click-based movement.
Orcs Must Die: Unchained eschews two of the three, opting for a standard WASD and mouse control scheme similar to any other third-person action game (and to the earlier Orcs Must Die games). Actions are still mapped to hotkeys, but that’s not dissimilar from how you’d play any other standard third-person action game.
It’s a small change, but greatly affects the feel of the game. Rather than the removed, clicky combat of your standard MOBA, you’re down in the field with a limited view of the battle. It also might be a friendlier control scheme for those who play a lot of third-person or first-person games but skimp on strategy titles.
And there are other changes. Since the Orcs Must Die series is largely a tower defense game, scoring is different in Unchained than other MOBAs. In a standard MOBA, AI-controlled creeps are used mostly for experience and gold, and the game is played until the enemy’s base is destroyed. In Unchained, you’re responsible for spawning creeps from your own base, and your objective is to escort creeps into the enemy’s base. In our demo matches, we had to get twenty of our AI buddies across the map and into the enemy portal to win.
Lanes are also split down the middle, with one half marked as “offense” and the other as “defense.” Your own creeps travel down the offense lane while you escort, but your team simultaneously has to defend the other half of the lane from an enemy onslaught. You can also purchase and set traps in your defense lane, like a tower defense game—for instance, laying down lava on the floor to burn enemy heroes and creeps.
It’s a lot of systems to keep track of at once, and I haven’t even begun to talk about how you need to run back to your base and upgrade it to spawn higher level creeps or how you have a bunch of passive abilities you upgrade throughout the game or how you can eventually spawn a group of bears and become king of the bears.
King. Of. Bears.
I’m not the biggest MOBA fan, but I enjoyed my time with Orcs Must Die: Unchained. Maybe it’s the action-oriented camera, or just my fondness for bears. Either way, you can sign up to maybe get into the beta here and (hopefully) see for yourself.
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Hayden writes about games for PCWorld and doubles as the resident Zork enthusiast.