Often relegated to the background as evil fodder for the blades of do-gooder humans, orcs don't usually get a chance to shine on center stage. Of Orcs and Men changes that, instead painting greenskins in a very different light while tackling heady topics of genocide and oppression through the eyes of its dual protagonists: a brutish orc, Arkail, and his reluctant goblin sidekick, Styx. Their dynamic relationship is the central pillar holding aloft a fun-but-flawed adventure that packs impressive depth in some areas, yet struggles with shallow design in others.
Turning traditional fantasy tropes on their head, humans are the villains in this tale. War ignites across the continent when the power-hungry human empire shows its monstrous tendencies by imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering the green-skinned inhabitants of the land. Brought together by a common foe, Arkail and Styx begrudgingly team up to push deep into the empire's territory and assassinate the emperor. Their quest sends the duo on a lot of wild tangents--one minute they're burning a church filled with inquisitor scum, the next they're rescuing an imprisoned wizardess to aid in their quest. Lines between good and evil are blurred constantly, often by the protagonists themselves. Despite their questionable methods, these fellows are oddly likeable, thanks to their strong personalities and enjoyable camaraderie.
The colorful interactions between the burly anger-prone orc and his witty comrade also provide some comic relief that helps counterbalance the somber tone of their bloody mission. Unfortunately, the humor seems forced and at times it misses the mark. Dialogue waffles between witty remarks and excessive F-bombs to the point where it feels juvenile and distracting. It's a shame, because their backstory and ongoing development throughout the adventure is genuinely interesting. They're compelling characters that hold up even as the pace of the story shifts gears--and it does so frequently. The ham-fisted attempt at extra edginess wasn't needed.
With an orc and a goblin walking around amidst a bunch of greenskin-hating humans, the vast majority of the encounters devolve into combat with ease, whether you intend them to or not. Of Orcs and Men's battle system blends action-heavy encounters and more thoughtful RPG strategy by letting you instantly dial down the excitement to a slow-motion crawl at the touch of a button. This gives you time to queue up different attack moves, change between offensive and defensive stances, and trigger abilities for both characters before letting loose again.
Since you can only directly control one character at a time, and the friendly A.I. isn't the most competent, a lot of micromanagement juggling comes into play. But instead of being tedious, it's actually fun to continually swap characters, switch up your strategy, and adapt to the flow of battle as it unfolds. It keeps encounters fluid and gives you a big strategic toolbox to pull from.
Both warriors' distinct personalities also play into their vastly different fighting styles, and it's these differences that make each one enjoyable to play when the need to swap them out arises. Arkail is a powerful but unpredictable melee fighter who wields giant blades and bludgeoning weapons. Every hefty blow he delivers or receives pushes him closer to flying into a berserk rage. When he does fly off the handle, all hell breaks loose. He's uncontrollable for a brief time, his damage is ramped up significantly, and he attacks anyone within range--friend and foe alike. Afterwards, Arkail is momentarily stunned, opening him up to attack, which is why managing his anger level so it peaks at just the right time is an important challenge.