ORX is a unique take on the classic Tower Defense genre. It mixes in deckbuilding and roguelike elements to create a one of a kind experience that stays fresh every time you play through it.
It’s currently in development by the Russia based team at Johnbell and is being published in partnership with CRITICAL REFLEX. The game currently plans to ship sometime in 2022, but for the time being the game’s demo is currently available on Steam.
I stumbled upon ORX not too long ago. It was coincidentally, shortly after I mentioned being in the mood for a new Tower Defense game and as soon as I caught a glance of the game’s style, I knew I had to give it a shot. The demo takes you roughly 30 minutes at most to complete yet I have closer to three hours into it currently, and plan to continue playing it for the foreseeable future.
A Melting Pot
Many developers attempt to blend popular genres together in an attempt to drive traffic to their games. As with any strategy, it doesn’t always pan out but fortunately, ORX is a great example of a development team taking multiple, seemingly unrelated genres, and managing to create something special.
The roguelike elements are subtle and if you are worried about spending a lot of time with a game and feeling essentially no form of progress, don’t. ORX uses the roguelike elements to help generate a unique experience every time someone picks up the game.
By blending the roguelike and deckbuilding mechanics together, you wouldn’t even be able to tell that the game is part roguelike until you finish a run, as they perfectly complement the main mechanics of drawing cards each turn and adding new cards to your deck which in deck building type games, is already a randomized feature. Where the roguelike elements become more apparent is when you abandon a run, as you’ll lose your main progress. Such as any new cards you added to your deck or the relics that you acquired. Essentially landing you back at square one.
After playing ORX for as long as I have, I’m honestly a bit surprised there haven’t been more games taking the deckbuilding format and mixing it with tower defence. Rather than having a fixed set of buildings and defences that you can spend your accumulated resources on, you have to manage your hand by choosing the best time to use each card, as any mistakes can have serious consequences to your run. By doing this, the developers add an extra layer of depth to the gameplay that I really appreciated. Learning the best time and ways to utilize each card was one of the most fun aspects of the game.
The progression of the game helps solidify these varied genres together as well by allowing you to earn new relics in between levels, opening vaults during levels to earn special cards, increasing your home castle’s defences as you continue, and making you adapt to different clans of Orcs depending on the area that you choose to go to next.
There are so many layers to this game, and I found myself constantly peeling them back. Thirty minutes is simply not enough time to learn everything ORX has to offer, even if that’s how long it takes to “beat” the demo. For example, during my fourth playthrough of the demo, an attacking army of Orcs chose to retreat and flank my defences from a weaker direction rather than marching straight into death. It was such an incredible moment that left me a little awestruck as I was not anticipating this high level of AI design.
Build Your Walls High
I touched on some of the side mechanics already, but the core gameplay is where ORX shines brightest. Each level starts you off with a home castle and a small portion of a road. Your goal is to place walls around your area to create large fortifications. You will have to use at least two wall pieces to create a fort and there is no limit as to how large of a fort you can make. Due to diagonal walls and connector pieces, there’s also a large variety of shapes you can attempt to make forts into and during my time with the game, figuring out new, more effective ways to build forts was one of my favourite aspects to explore.
You slowly generate gold as the game goes by and placing pieces such as villages or farmland can help you generate gold faster, with there also being some relic cards that assist with it as well. This means not only are you restricted in what you can place because of the deckbuilding mechanics, but you also have to manage your resources. Running out of gold at the wrong moment can be a run ending mistake and you’ll more often than not be attempting to fight off a hoard of Orcs during all of this.
Luckily, when an Orc wave is ended your buildings and troops regenerate their health in anticipation of the next wave. There are some mechanics in place that can make the next challenge you face a bit more intense. There are curse cards that get added to your deck and the only way to remove them is by using them or being fortunate enough to be granted the ability to remove a card as a benefit from unlocking one of the vaults shown on your map. Vaults are special tiles on your map that you can unlock by completing its listed requirements. They typically allow you to add or remove a card from your hand. The curse card seen most often in the demo doubles the size of the next wave, which can be devastating to any run if you’re not prepared.
Now, there is nothing making you use these cards but they do clog up your hand and make it difficult to play effectively if you earn too many of them. This is an intentional and effective mechanic to force the player to either deal with the consequences of the cursed card, or use a redraw to get a new hand.
When it comes to the level structure, there are a set number of waves you have to defeat to move on and if at any time your home castle is destroyed, you lose. It doesn’t matter how many other fortifications you have standing, if this happens you’re left with two options. You can either abandon your run, or you can restart. For the demo, there isn’t a big reason to abandon the run as you can learn from your mistakes rather easily and there aren’t any game-breaking decisions you have to make either. We do know that there are different classes that you can choose from as well before you start a run. The only class we know of currently are the Rune Wardens, but once the game is fully released, this will give a larger reason to consider abandoning runs as each class should have different stats, decks, and so on. Overall, the preview build of ORX does a great job of giving you a taste of what challenges it has to offer, while not overwhelming you either.
A Dark Fantasy Style
ORX embodies what someone would imagine when told to picture a dark fantasy world. It uses a rough style paired with bright colours that are given extra pop by black outlining. Contrasting the shadows with colours of units, Orcs, fire, and other various effects is what paints ORX as a stereotypical dark fantasy adventure while giving it a slight vibrant undertone, helping the style feel reminiscent to those familiar with the genre while allowing the artists to leave more of their own mark.
Graphically, the game looks great. Animations are smooth besides some small glitches caused by when you combine too many of the same foot units into one tile. Every unit has its own unique feel to it. I didn’t experience any frame rate drops, or lag either. For a demo, it was very well polished, which makes me feel optimistic looking forward to the full game’s release. and I’m particularly excited to see everything else the team is at work on, especially the 300 different cards you can build your deck around.
The music similarly captures the essence of gothic tones that the developers aimed for. The soundtrack bounces between a light, almost heavenly tone during times of peace, to a thick, thunderous song that clearly signals danger, during the night. This continues to show the developers consistency in using contrasting tones to create the diverse dark fantasy style. The rest of the audio design is more around what you would expect. A satisfying click when shifting through cards in your deck, the sound of battle as Orcs unleash their army on your defences and so on. If you’ve played another deck builder, chances are many of the audio design choices are going to feel familiar. This isn’t an inherent detriment, as it isn’t an aspect of the game that I feel is crucial for it to stand out. However, it is an area of the game where the unique flair is lost a little bit. Hopefully, with the addition of more cards, enemy types, and locations, we’ll be given a more diverse audio lineup.
Since this is just a demo, there isn’t a lot to dig into in terms of accessibility. That said, there are still some important features that I find worth highlighting. In the options menu, there are a few different ways to adjust how the pause feature in the game works as initially, it functions by either right-clicking the mouse or hovering over your cards. However, the options menu allows you to toggle the space button, turning it into a pause screen function. This allows you to view your field, make adjustments, see where Orcs are coming from, and so on allowing individuals who may not be able to complete the necessary fortifications or strategy planning more time to do so. In the settings, you can also adjust the music’s audio levels, in-game effects, and general sound levels. There is also a slider that affects the speed of the screen drag feature since it may be set too high for some people and I found myself lowering it a bit after being given the option.
It is also worth mentioning how many languages ORX is already available in. Besides English, ORX is already available in seven other languages. Those languages consist of French, Italian, German, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Russian, and Portuguese. Many AAA games struggle to have this many language options available at launch, so the fact that ORX has this many for the demo is very impressive.
ORX is already a mechanically deep, graphically polished, and unique experience. The way it blends genres together, utilizes contrasting elements across art and music styles and is working towards an accessible release all come together to create a great demo. I truly cannot recommend this game enough, especially if you consider yourself a fan of Tower Defense, deckbuilding, and/or roguelike games.
ORX should be available for release in 2022 and will be available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Switch. For now, you can go ahead and try out the demo, and wishlist the game on Steam.
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Reviewed on: PC
Publisher: CRITICAL REFLEX