Before John Carmack went and founded id Software (essentially creating the FPS genre with Wolfenstein and Doom), he was just another kid who liked to play Dungeons & Dragons with his friends. However, rather than playing set scenarios, teenage Dungeon Master John Carmack began developing his own fantasy universe. Years, indeed decades, of playing in John’s own scenario led he and his close friends to create the world of “Orcs & Elves.”
In 2000, Carmack would marry female gamer extraordinaire Katharine Anna Kang. With her help, Carmack slowly but surely began to map out a solid idea of what “Orcs & Elves” would look like as a game. Though this piece of mobile software only reveals a minor faction of what is stirring in the couple’s imaginations, it is an important first step. Even better news is that it is a good first step. I was (and am still) shocked to say that a game with a title as simple and bland as “Orcs & Elves” has made more progress in mobile content than any other game in the genre to date.
You are Elli, a dark elf and son of a king. Wielding a talking wand and a sword, you are on your way to help the dwarves because of recent orc attacks. Their King, Brahm, knew your father, and you move forward (perhaps as a debt of obligation). Unfortunately, the first person you encounter when you enter is the ghost of a dwarf. He lets you know that inside the dungeons you’re about to traverse, you won’t find many living dwarves left… there might not be any left. The only living creatures you’ll find are hostile, and all your friends are mere shadows of what they once were. Why the dwarves appear to you as ghosts is a mystery all its own and one that will be solved before the end of your quest.
The depth of the game’s plot isn’t what makes it so praiseworthy. After all, for a five hour RPG on a mobile phone you can’t expect too much in the way of dramatic climaxes or twists of events. But, what you can look forward to is decent dialogue and interesting scenarios. I was especially fond of two ghost dwarves: one would only help you if you got drunk, and the other one was convinced he was still alive and would charge head first into any battle, unaware that he wasn’t helping one bit. This, coupled with a fearsome dragon as the game’s shopkeeper, made for a fairly humorous adventure.
Those who take the time to read through the game’s official site will learn more about the world Carmack and crew created. It’s a good start, and the story is simple yet effective for the platform.
Like a game for PC, the graphics of a game depend on the performance of the hardware running the software. EA Mobile published multiple versions of the game to run on both low-end and high-end phones. I had the joyous experience of playing it on a low-end phone, and let me promise you, the game is infinitely better on a high-end phone. If you’re playing on a cheap phone, not only are the load times terrible, the graphics are pretty sad as well. It’s like, why is it taking so long to load if it’s this ugly?
But that’s not a problem if you’re playing the game on a platform with the intended specs. At its best, the game looks brilliant with vibrant colors and solid animation. And, best of all, no frame-rate slow down! The game sports a number of cut scenes that involve the camera moving every which way to introduce special characters (usually villains) or display an intricate room (usually because there’s a puzzle). Color me impressed.
I would have liked to see more attention paid to lower-end phones, as many consumers may look at the screens and think “wow I want this on my phone!”…then get completely ripped off with a subpar game. But if you spent the money on a nice phone, this game looks great on it.
Like with graphics, sound suffers if playing on a phone at the lower end of the spectrum. You get a theme song at the opening screen, a few different sound effects, and little jingles for leveling up etc. That’s it. Nothing impressive.
High-end cell phone gamers will experience a “fuller” soundtrack, with music throughout the game. However, it is my professional opinion that the music composed for the game is, simply put, unimpressive. They could do better… a lot better.
And here is where the game shines. No one expects a game on a mobile phone to have impressive aesthetic value, but the game darn well better be fun. Fortunately, much like its developers’ predecessor (Doom RPG), this game packs a decent amount of simple, sometimes unique, fun.
First-person perspective? Check. Turn-based dungeon crawling on various tiles of a simple grid-based map? Check. Giant war hammers that allow you to use different abilities depending on the number of foes in your presence? Check!
If there’s one thing I appreciated about Orcs & Elves, it was Elli’s arsenal of weapons. Here’s the rundown for you: sword, flaming sword, vorpal sword, bow, crossbow, phoenix eggs (grenades), dragon’s breath, Medusa scroll, magic wand (Ellon), and giant hammer (Abraxas). Of course, you start with just the basics: sword and wand. As you navigate the many areas within the game, you will be presented with these neato artifacts. Some weapons are optional, as you receive them only by purchasing them from the dragon Gaya.
While Elli doesn’t cast any sort of magic spells, you’ll be hard-pressed to finish the game without using a few magical potions or wearing some rings with lasting effects. I constantly found myself using potions of haste, avoidance, and strength to get the edge on my foes. And this isn’t just simple hack and slash combat, my friends. The dungeons are designed such that you find yourself constantly in need of a proper strategy to move forward. The sheer variety of enemies, their tactics, and their weaknesses, are sure to keep you on your toes. Boss fights are even more exhilarating, and each usually requires a certain gimmick to win.
And then there are puzzles. Most of the puzzles are simple, but making a mistake costs you your life in most cases, so it’s important to save often! There are also a couple of doors that you can only unlock by entering the proper code. I liked this system a lot, as it required you to have a good memory (or check your log often).
Carmack and friends did a great job designing this game. I’m usually not a fan of dungeon crawlers, but I really had a lot of fun playing this game.
The user interface of this game is lifted right out of Doom RPG, and that worked. If you’re on a low-end phone, the controls are occasionally unresponsive, due to loading issues. Again, high-end phones won’t experience this problem.
If I were to do a mean average, this game would get a terribly low score. But honestly, I can’t fault the game for having subpar sound or graphics when it’s developed for a platform as unexplored and unused (at least in Northa America) as the mobile phone. The game itself is great fun, and for a mere five or six dollars it’s certainly worth the price. I award Orcs & Elves an 83% and I await some sort of follow-up to Carmack’s D&D world.