Frankly, RPGs don't always have the best of plots. They can be wordy and nonsensical at the best of times and don't often seem to know when to stop. Orcs & Elves II has no such problems, though. As the follow-up to last year's widely declared success of a dungeon crawler from John Carmack (legendary man behind Doom and Quake), Orcs & Elves II is both a massively old-skool dungeon romp and a firmly tongue-in-cheek retro outing.
Whichever way you look at it, though, it's a game that will appeal to anyone; both fans of the genre and newcomers. Because while Orcs & Elves II might be a member of a niche genre, it expresses it in the friendliest of ways. There's no complex party management, needless reams of stats or baffling numbers of potions and equipment. In fact, everything is perfectly balanced for a mobile game – from your inventory to the plot, which is entertaining while not going on for pages and pages. Essentially, this is one of the most perfect games of its type you'll find on phones.
Of course, the game's plot and dialogue might be unobtrusive and generally funny at times, but that doesn't stop it being completely bonkers. Following on from the original, it sees you as a novice thief trying to rescue a talking wand with the help of a mouse you've named Bob. On your lengthy trek through a range of forests and caves, you encounter all sorts of fantasy types (orcs, elves, dwarves – you know the sorts); some helpful, some happy to flog you all manner of wares and others who, well, are just drunk.
There are also, of course, plenty of enemies keen to knock down your health points. The game works by letting you move one grid square at a time, which gives it the feel of an old-skool game, albeit one that's is still quick-paced. Enemies loom from all directions – some can be snuck up on if they have their backs turned, others pop out from around corners or from the ceiling, while others you might spot in the distance (or you can send Bob for a quick scout ahead to check the lay of the land).
However they come at you, your inventory of weapons – from a dagger to the talking wand itself – can be used to hack away at their health. As in all types of games of its sort, some thought needs to be given to a few other methods of death-dishing-out other than straightforward hacking and slashing. A range of potions give you added defence and attack for a limited number of moves, as well as more inventive powers such as being able to shrink an enemy. Then there are rings and armour that can be bought and a lockpick to upgrade to get you into new areas and treasure chests.
All of this, despite being reasonably in-depth, is incredibly easy to both get to grips with and control. Weapons are scrollable with two buttons, while '0' takes you immediately into a menu with inventory, map and quest log (where all of your current side missions are listed). But a game that is simply well thought-out and a decent example of its genre type does not necessarily an outstanding game maketh.
The reason Orcs & Eves II is so compelling is that it's easily as moreish as any console RPG. Every new area contains numerous secrets, puzzles and new enemies, not to mention colourful elven characters keen to persuade you to help them in some way. You can choose to play it straight or go around nicking stuff but – and this is a typical example of how clever the game is – nick stuff and you might be thrown in jail. And every jail cell needs escaping from in a different way. So you might need to frighten a guard as Bob the mouse, or beg another prisoner to let you out, or just pick the lock of the cell door.
What we're saying then is that around every one of the game's corners there's something new to encounter. This might be a dungeon crawler that takes place in the most generic of environments, but it never feels in the slightest bit generic to play.
There's really very little not to praise. Sometimes a particularly tough enemy will flatten you before you've had chance to even get your inventory up. But, as long as you remember to save regularly it's not a problem, and learning what's ahead and experimenting with different items to get past things is just part of the experience.
It's likely too that some players will just be too put off by those orcs (and indeed elves) to even consider buying this. Which is a shame, because Orcs & Elves II manages to be something for everyone just by being such an incredibly playable and charming game. Essentially, stinking giant rat-infested caves filled with piles of twigs and collectable tat have never been such enjoyable places to frequent – and, trust us, we're pretty choosy about the sorts of places we hang out.