Orcs & Elves DS
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: id Software
Release Date: Out Now
Orcs & Elves is a first-person, dungeon-crawling RPG that first appeared on mobile phones but has been reworked and augmented for release on the Nintendo DS. You'll play the son of the legendary Elven adventurer Eol and the Valkyrie Fraiga. As your assistant, you'll have a talking magic wand named Ellon. On beginning the game you learn that an Orc army has joined forces with a powerful Dark Elf and together they are laying waste to the Dwarven realm of King Brahm. You arrive at Mount Zharrkarag to investigate a strange message that you believe to be from King Brahm. Orcs have already been through the place and only the ghosts of the slain Dwarves can provide you with any information.
As a dungeon crawler Orcs & Elves has its moments. Essentially you'll explore an area of the mountain defeating enemies, solving the odd puzzle and collecting as much loot as you can. You'll need to find a Fire Portal on each level too. Accessing a Fire Portal takes you to Gaya, The Great Copper Dragoness. Gaya has many weapons, types of amour and other essentials that you can trade for with the loot you've acquired. Her chamber effectively acts as a hub from which you can access other areas of the mountain. When entering and leaving Gaya's chamber you have the option to save your game. Thankfully you can save anywhere you want and the game provides you with three save slots.
Looking at the screenshots the first thing that comes to mind is how much this reminds you of the early id Software games such as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. It's not the look of the game that cause such reminisces. You turn in 90 degree increments (you can strafe too) and attack in a straight line. This may seem like a clumsy way to go about things but the game is turn-based and you're never left cursing the controls or directional control. The idea of a turn-based RPG does tend to put some people off (although personally I prefer them) but here it just means that your enemy will move in response to your moves and after they've attacked you get a chance to attack (or move) and so forth. It doesn't slow the pace of the game but it does allow you to play the game at your own pace, which is certainly a good thing.
Whilst Orcs & Elves isn't the most complex of RPGs, it is enjoyable. The turn-based nature of the game means it's not a game where quick reflexes are required and the game can be played in a leisurely fashion. For an RPG however, the game is very short. The game offers three difficulty levels which are labelled as Normal, Difficult and Nightmare. In fact they should be labelled as Very Easy, Comfortable and Challenging. Normal is the default difficulty setting and it's far too easy. Playing on this difficulty setting, you're going to be finished the game in around 5 or 6 hours. If you're playing on the Difficult setting you're probably going to be looking at around double that (well at least 8 to 9 hours) and therefore it's probably the best difficulty level to play on for the first time through the game.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, as the game began life as a mobile phone title, the dialogue in Orcs & Elves is text only. This means of course that deaf gamers will have no problems with the game. Conversations are displayed in dialogue boxes and the text remains on screen until you press a button or tap the touch screen meaning that you take as long as you want to read the text. The text and dialogue boxes change colour depending on who is talking. Ellon's dialogue for instance, is displayed in a blue dialogue box with yellow text whilst the Dwarven Ghosts' dialogue is displayed in a black dialogue box with white text being used. Occasionally you'll see a comment from Ellon appear in a speech balloon on the lower left of touch screen. Health bars are displayed for enemies. You'll receive text information for the items you collect. Any important information is stored in your Quest Log and can be recalled at any time. There are some digitized grunts and such like and there are not captions for these but this is hardly a problem. Deaf gamers will have no problems with Orcs & Elves.
If you enjoy first-person RPGs then Orcs & Elves is well worth a look. Yes the game has a rather dated appearance but in many ways that adds to its charm. That said however, it's very possible that the DS is capable of creating far more detailed 3D environments and some will probably wish that the game did look better. Personally, I'd be more inclined to pick out the game's length as its major problem. Less than 10 hours for an RPG is disappointing particularly as most RPGs manage to be at least 20-30 hours long. However this disappointment is offset by the fact that the game is enjoyable and engrossing.