Games that allow the player to exercise their evil side are nothing new. From KOTOR to Oblivion, the addition of morality to games adds another layer to pique the player’s interest. Overlord kicks it up a notch by simply allowing the player to decide how evil to be, and gives him an army of minions to enact his nefarious plans. Does Overlord slay the competition like peon begging for mercy, or does it fall to the forces of good?
Overlord follows the tale of the nameless Overlord, awakened by the evil minions after their last Overlord was destroyed by a pesky group of do-gooders. The first order of business is regaining control of the minions, and repairing the castle and recovering the loot that the heroes took after defeating the old Overlord. Along the way, there’ll even be a chance to attract a mistress, and the player can spend some time trying to find ways to “please” her. The Overlord is whisked away to different lands by a teleporter to recover his lost powers, while bringing the local populations under his control. One by one, he’ll have to confront and defeat the former heroes if he wishes to become the supreme Overlord. Along the way he’ll encounter your standard fare of fantasy creatures, from elves and trolls, to halflings and dwarves.
The gameplay centers around control of the minions. Using the right trigger the Overlord can send his minions out to destroy and interact with anything in their path. If they find an enemy or a destructible piece of the environment they’ll attack, but if they find loot or other goodies they grab it and return it to him. Minions are essential to moving around the world as well. They move large boulders, turn cranks and flip switches to allow the Overlord to advance. Mastering the use of the different types of minions is vital as well since each minion accomplishes different tasks. The brown minions are the generic fighters and are good for running out and attacking anything in their path. Red minions fling fireballs at their enemies and can also extinguish large fires. Green minions are best suited for ambushes and ganging up on larger enemies as well as being immune to poison. Last but not least, the blue minions are very weak fighters, but can resurrect fallen minions in addition to being the only minion capable of traversing through water. Mastering the composition of your horde and placement of the different minion types will make the game much easier.
In addition to the minion horde, the Overlord is quite capable in his own right. Four different magic types are available to the Overlord, fire spells, minion spells, domination spells, and shield spells. Minion spells buff up your horde while domination spells lower the combat effectiveness of enemies. Fire spells are the Overlord’s only attack spell, and shield spells create a damage barrier. While all have their uses, the fire spells, especially the third level fire spell, are the most useful and overshadow the rest. The Overlord can also increase his combat prowess by upgrading his armor and weapons. This is done by sacrificing minions to raise the various stats of the equipment. All the equipment types have a cap on how many minions you can sacrifice, and the player can find new material types to make new armor with higher caps.
By the time that the Overlord gains control of the 4 different minion types one of the game’s glaring flaws, the controls, will become obvious. The controls lack precision, and as the horde grows, they simply can’t keep up. The controls allow the player to select one type of minion and only send that type out of your horde, but it simply isn’t enough. There needs to be some way to make small groups with a preselected composition, and it simply wasn’t there. Additionally, the targeting system isn’t very good. You’ll often try to target an enemy only to target the inanimate object 20 feet behind him. The targeting can also easily lead to mishaps like mistakenly sending a large portion of the minions into a bonfire or ankle deep water, which to the minions are both equally deadly. Someone should have told the developers that including a small map in the game case does not excuse them from putting any kind of map function in the game. The map that is included is woefully inadequate, and can easily lead to the player wasting time running around in circles because he doesn’t know where he is.
Visually the game isn’t made to impress, but it gets the job done. The graphic style is heavily influenced by past fantasy titles like Fable. It finds a good balance between the more realistic graphic style and the overly cartoony style favored by many fantasy titles. Likewise, the game doesn’t have a great soundtrack, instead opting for a much more ambient feel with the music. Most of the time, you won’t even realize that music is even playing. The resources that didn’t go into the visuals and the soundtrack were put into decent voice acting and some well written cheesy dialogue. Hearing the minions chant the player’s name as they run off to die really adds to the atmosphere of the game.
Overlord offers three different multiplayer variants, Slaughter, Pillage, and Co-op Survival. Slaughter and Pillage are head to head game types. Slaughter challenges the player to do more damage than his opponent with points awarded for creatures killed while Pillage is all about who can collect the most gold in the time limit. Most of the games polish went into the single player, and it shows in the head to head multiplayer variants. Both have a fairly steep learning curve and suffer from balance issues. If the player happens to run into his opponent, it’s simply a matter of whose horde gets to who first since there really aren’t many effective ways of surviving being surrounded by a horde of minions. Survival is the most entertaining of the three. The players are stuck on a small map and have to survive for as long as possible. Team work is essential as the game ends when either player falls.
Overlord takes an original, for the 360 at least, concept and ends up with an entertaining title that offers gameplay unlike any other 360 game. The atmosphere the game creates succeeds in sucking the player into his role of Evil Overlord, and contributes to the immersion of the title. The controls and the targeting system take away from the game as a whole, but not enough to keep the game from being a fun adventure.
Overlord’s single player campaign clocks in at around 20 hours, and is essentially all the game has to offer. This is sad since the campaign is really easy and never really offers up a challenge. The vast majority of enemies can be dispatched simply by swarming them with a sufficiently sized horde. This might be a good thing since the controls don’t really allow for strategies that get much more complicated than that. While Overlord sets itself apart from other 360 titles by offering a genuinely unique experience, it suffers from a lack of execution. Despite this, Overlord is still worth a shot if you have the patience to deal with its flaws.
Final Score: 7 out of 10 - Above Average (How do we rate games?)