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Orcs Must Die! Unchained's latest beta is a bit simpler, more refined

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

There's a lot going on in Robot Entertainment's Orcs Must Die! Unchained, and the studio knows it. I felt lost when I played an early version of the class-based MOBA-like game nearly a year ago, and Robot has been doing closed alpha and beta testing since then, looking for ways to help players grasp the complexities of the experience. The company is launching Phase 2 of its closed beta on March 24, and a lot has changed over the past year.

"We wanted to simplify the game so people have a better sense of what they should be doing on a moment-to-moment basis," said Paul Hellquist, lead game designer on Orcs Must Die! Unchained, in an interview with Polygon following a hands-on demo at PAX East 2015.

Robot found that players were overwhelmed by Unchained's playable heroes, and specifically, by all the different tasks they had to accomplish over the course of a match. So the studio split up the roster into offensive and defensive characters, and gave each side its own currency: defenders buy traps with "coin," while attackers spend "leadership" on war camps. Hellquist said the goal with this change was to give players defined roles so they wouldn't have to understand everything in the game.

Unchained is still a fast-moving game, but Robot has slowed the pace since the alpha. You're no longer able to use all your abilities at the same time, and animations now take time to play out. Asked if these changes increase the length of an average game, Hellquist said no — Robot wants to keep rounds to between 15 and 25 minutes long. That's a marked difference from MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2, where games can take 30 to 45 minutes, or even longer, to play out. Blizzard is taking the same strategy as Robot with Heroes of the Storm, validating the idea but providing some stiff competition.

Those titles are huge in the eSports scene, and Robot would like for Unchained to become a competitive experience as well. However, said Hellquist, while the studio has many ideas for competitive gaming features in Unchained, the developers haven't begun making those tools yet. At this point, they want to focus on refining gameplay and building up Unchained's community of fans. Hellquist noted that the game has to be good enough on its own to attract an audience, and if Robot can manage that, the eSports interest will grow organically from there.

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