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Why you should buy it: To have a treasured RPG that you’ll drop more hours into than you should
Why you should rent it: If you’re only looking to beat the main storyline, then it’s possible in a rental period provided you play all day everyday
8.9What is This?
Written by: Andrew Giese | Tags: Overlord, PC, Codemasters, Triumph Studios
August 9,2007 – Bored of the traditional fairy-tale genre? Well then, look no further than Overlord, Codemasters’ answer to your boredom. Playing as an evil anti-hero, players can’t help but get a sense of guilty pleasure ridding the land of all the good and returning their evil empire to what it once was. Minus a few slight catches in the gameplay, Overlord delivers on all fronts as the RPG of the summer.
The game starts out with the Overlord being uncovered and revived by his minions, loyal-to-the-death gremlin creatures. After being equipped with some armor and a menacing mace, Gnarl, the leader of the minions, runs you through a controls tutorial. As it turns out, you are not the real Overlord, but a successor to a former Overlord whose menacing rule was shattered by a band of heroes who then pillaged and destroyed his evil tower. The main push of this game is to extract revenge on these heroes. Woven in the storyline are all sorts of tongue-in-cheek humor as Codemasters pokes fun at traditional stereotypes found in fantasy worlds a la the Shrek series. Elves are proud Emo pansies, dwarves are angry drunken beer-swillers, and villagers are helpless imbeciles. As players move through the storyline, they realize that the seven heroes who killed the Overlord’s predecessor have all been corrupted by the seven deadly sins. The Halfling hero Melvin is obviously guilty of gluttony as he waddles about and attacks with a fork; Sir William the Paladin is overcome by lust, evidenced by his amorous relation to a succubus queen; Kahn the 12 ft tall warrior is a victim of wrath, smiting all those around his girlfriend Jewel with his Morning Star larger than the Overlord; and the list goes on.
Gameplay consists mainly of strategic use of the minions, which can be spawned by collecting the life-force of dead enemies. Brown minions are the main muscle and can overcome most enemies with simple hack-and-slash; red minions are immune to fire and can throw fireballs from a distance; Greens can disable poisonous plants and have a handy assassination move, provided you can get them on the foe’s back; and Blues are the only minions that can swim in water as well as revive dead minions. At first you’ll be able to control 10 minions, but as you collect pieces of a broken minion totem pole and upgrade your armor, you can ultimately control 50 minions. Not all enemies can be rushed – some require careful planning and execution. This sometimes means precision control of your minions. You can ‘sweep’ minions through an area via the right joystick but they automatically avoid obstacles, which can lead to problems when they avoid left instead of right and vice versa. Additionally, you can place them in guard posts and move them to certain locations as a group where they’ll stay. Without a guard post, minions automatically return to you if you haven’t moved them in a couple seconds. Overall, minion control is hard to get used to, and you’ll never get it perfect. The Overlord himself also suffers some control issues due mostly to the loss of camera control. You can only center the camera behind the Overlord with the left bumper but it will still move with a mind of its own which oftentimes leads to a view in the opposite direction you want it, assuming it doesn’t begin spinning wildly in circles because it’s too close to a wall.
But minions aren’t the only weapon you have. The looming Overlord has a bit of hardiness to himself. For the first half of the game you’ll be mostly weak due to low health and mana, though you will have cheap, starter armor. After you’ve collected pieces of the mana and health totem poles, plus the smelters, you will start to feel a little more like an all powerful tyrant. The Overlord can be equipped with three types of armor and weapons: steel, durium, and arcanium, arcanium being the strongest. Furthermore, you can sacrifice minions into the smelters to receive extra bonuses like knock back and mana regeneration. Mana is used for a few spells like fireballs and shields to aid (limitedly) in battle. It drains rather quickly so it is only a backup weapon at best. The weapon you have decided to wield (sword, axe, or mace) can definitely be swung to effect on enemies. However, there is practically no variation or combination of attacks that produce different effects. One certainly gets the feel that Codemasters intended minions to be your lifeline, especially considering that they are the only ones that can open most doors, turn wheels, and pick up objects.
Being an RPG, Overlord comes with puzzles that need solving to advance in the game and complete objectives. Unfortunately, these puzzles never go beyond an obvious “turn this wheel” or “push this rock” task. The real challenge in the puzzles is keeping your minions alive to perform these tasks before enemies decimate your horde so much that you’ll need to backtrack and summon more. While the puzzles aren’t especially challenging, it didn’t hinder our anticipation of getting to the next room to loot and plunder it after slaughtering any foes that resided inside. On the subject of slaughtering foes, you’ll be given moral choices at the end of most quests. These black and white choices usually consist of choosing to kill or let live some people, while the more creative ones have you completing quests without damaging things like a sacred grove. Even when you choose the most evil choices, there are no long-term effects outside of villagers fearing you and the end-game cut-scene. This leads to a feeling of shallow evil—we felt that if we were an evil badass that would make Sauron shake in his greaves, then we should be able to perform some truly evil tasks instead of simple slaughter. Another hiccup in the quests is the fact that some are a bit glitched. Documented cases of a game-ending glitch have been found when players have been exploring the Dwarven Brewery, and Codemasters has recently patched it in the PC version. The Xbox 360 version is supposed to receive a patch soon, but no word has been released on when. Additionally, an occasional quest won’t update itself properly, leaving you thinking it unresolved until it magically fixes itself. We personally experienced a bug where the game thought we were supposed to enter an area that we had already been into, which caused a line of dialogue to be spoken by Gnarl every time we crossed multiple geometry lines in our tower.
The visuals found in Overlord are a little lax in detail, which give the game a sort of cartoony feel that lends to the fantasy atmosphere. While this was most certainly a design decision on Codemasters’ part, if players are looking for Gears of War level detail, look for another game. The true hilarity found in Overlord comes from watching Minions interact with enemies and environments. They’ll jump on top of sheep as they hack at the heads; pick up beer mugs off tables to get drunk; urinate on objects and people after said beer wears off; equip weapons, armor, and parts of enemies they’ve killed; and generally be the stars of the show. You’ll find yourself smirking as you watch a band of minions rush a sheep, half of them wearing pumpkins on their heads, some with antennae of bugs as clubs, and others with dwarven helmets on. Fire burns down wheat fields and kills enemies, and the particle effects are as sparkly as they should be. Weather doesn’t change from place to place, but instead reflects the atmosphere of certain areas. Lush fields have sun shining and blue skies while a forest is dark and gloomy. The land is mostly linear with set paths coupled with larger contained areas. Bizarrely, developer Triumph Studios did not include a map into the heads-up display, which caused us to be lost and wander aimlessly from place to place looking for our next task. Another downside to the graphics is small glitches. As mentioned before, the camera is clunky, but a really nagging glitch is the fact that minions sometimes get stuck in the map’s geometry. You can’t recall them, and your minion counter will constantly show that you have the minions, but they aren’t with you. Thankfully they’ll return when you find a new area to load into, or teleport. Speaking of loading screens, there are actually quite few, which is one benefit of using a linear design over a free-roaming one. Finally, your evil tower that was destroyed by that meddling band of heroes is not only rebuilt over the course of the game, but you can hand over some gold for a dozen or so customizations like golden statues, an evil throne (which you unfortunately cannot sit in), and a red carpet among, other things.
Overlord’s musical score is one of the best we’ve heard in a game with its moody orchestral sound. When you load your game, you are greeted by deep brass and horns that imply your forthcoming evil hand performing world-changing deeds. Fields where sheep frolic in the sunshine are met with exaggerated sappy overtones that add to the twisted fantasy atmosphere, and the action is filled with quick beats. The voice acting accompanying the soundtrack is actually quite nice – each actor delivers their lines believably, and the corrupted heroes’ tones are exaggerated just enough to mock the archetypal characters they play. Spells cast their own unique sounds to let you know what they are and how long they’re lasting, and the sound of dozens of minions hacking at an enemy rings true. The sound of weapons striking objects is also verisimilitudinous… if the object isn’t static. Indestructible items like walls and fences not only lack any graphical effect but will either sound like you’re hitting air or sack of grain. The audio does stutter a bit in the villager dialogue as well. It seems that all characters not involved in the main storyline are given one, maybe two lines of dialogue that are triggered when the Overlord crosses a geometry line. While we wandered about due to a lack of a map, you can guess we crossed these geometry lines many, many times. So many, in fact, that we were forced to commit genocide on towns just to save our own sanity instead out of evil desire.
Overall, Overlord is an exciting romp through a twisted fairy-tale land. While it lacks any incredibly difficult challenges, it delivers a laugh-a-minute story that is very well executed. As long as you avoid the admittedly random glitches, you’ll come away from Overlord with a great attitude and a desire to play it again just to see the different endings.
The Tolkienesque fantasy world that Overlord corrupts has been around and in use since J.R.R. Tolkien published The Hobbit in 1937.