Orcs, typically depicted as muscular, green-skinned humanoids (sometimes with tusks), were popularized in modern fantasy by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. Since then, they have exploded in popularity – most often as an "evil" race who are always your mindless opponents. It's convenient for the game designers to have an opponent you can kill without any remorse.
In recent years, however, there's been a growing conversation about the implications of "evil" races and the real-world racist thinking behind those kinds of assumptions. With all this in mind, we're gathering up the best, most prominent depictions of orcs in video games – whether they're your opponents or your allies – and looking at what we can take into the future with us.
7 Divinity: Original Sin
Orcs didn't appear in Divinity: Original Sin II, but they were in the first game. However, their God and creator, Vrogir, can be seen when the player visits the Hall of Echoes. Until he and the other gods left the world, Vrogir actually enslaved the orcs. And, in ancient history, orcs have been slaves to other races as well.
Eventually, they were recognized as a sapient species and given their own seat on the Council of Seven (which consists of the leaders of all seven races). They lived in the deserts of Yuthul Gor, until the forces of the Black Ring (a group of dark mages) chased them out.
6 Orcs Must Die!
Orcs Must Die! is a series of tower defense games that rely on your desire to violently kill your orc opponents. By dehumanizing the orcs, you can get all the fun of violence without any of the guilt of death! …Try not to think about it too hard.
Each installment ramps up the chaos and adds new, creative ways you can defeat orcs en masse. The latest one, Orcs Must Die! 3, came out in 2021. All the games come highly recommended by fans and critics alike.
5 Final Fantasy
Gamers who aren't avid Final Fantasy fans may not realize that orcs have appeared as enemies in a number of Final Fantasy games:
- Final Fantasy XI
- Final Fantasy Adventure
- Final Fantasy Dimensions II
- Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light
- Vagrant Story
- Bravely Default
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
They're a bit different in every game, and may appear more in one than another, but they're always opponents.
However, the orcs may not be exactly what you'd expect. Rather than the typical green appearance of orcs in other content, Final Fantasy orcs often look more like humanoid pigs!
4 Dragon Quest
Orcs have appeared in one or more installments of the main Dragon Quest games, as well as the Dragon Quest Monsters series, Swords series, Builders series, and Battle Road series. Depicted above is an Orc boss from Dragon Quest Builders 2.
Orcs are always opponents in Dragon Quest games, and were first introduced in Dragon Quest II. You can see that, like Final Fantasy, orcs that appear in Dragon Quest games are inspired by pigs.
3 Of Orcs And Men
Of Orcs and Men is like the yang to Orcs Must Die!'s yin. Instead of focusing on how much fun orcs are to kill, Of Orcs and Men actually asks you to liberate the orcs and goblins from their persecution by men! They're sick of being killed, enslaved, and worse by the human empire, so your job is to infiltrate it and kill the Emperor himself.
Of Orcs and Men released in 2012, so it will be 10 years old this year! As a result, the gameplay may not be quite what you're used to. Regardless, if you love orcs (and want to fight for their rights) we definitely recommend Of Orcs and Men.
2 The Elder Scrolls
In The Elder Scrolls, the race of Orsimer (more commonly known as Orcs) are a playable race. Orcs have appeared in 8 of the Elder Scrolls games at the time of this writing. Technically, they're actually a type of elves (like the High Elves and Wood Elves) because they all descend from an ancient species known as the Aldmer. However, this has been mostly forgotten or ignored.
Most orcs live in Orsinium, their capital city, but there are other cities in Tamriel as well. Orcs live in walled-off cities called Strongholds which, unlike other species', don't just allow other races to pass through willy-nilly. While not all Orcs live in Orc cities, their tribal roots make leaving very difficult and socially frowned upon.
1 Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
It's hard to talk about orcs without bringing up J.R.R. Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings, which popularized the classic depiction of orcs as large, green humanoids. Since Tolkien was a huge history and linguistics nerd, there are roots for the words 'Orc' and 'Orcus' in Old English and Latin.
In the latest Lord of the Rings game, Shadow of War, you'll have to deal with a lot of orcs. So many that you may never want to face down another orc (or their cockney accents) ever again! They come in a variety of ranks, from lowly Grunts all the way up to Warchiefs and Overlords.
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