This week – Overlord
Overlord is a neat little 3rd-person action/adventure/roleplaying/minion management/whatever else game that came out in 2007. The basic premise is that you are the Overlord, a Sauron-wannabe who can summon 4 different flavors of goblin minions, all of which are good for different jobs for battles and puzzle-solving. You set out from your dark fortress to go ravage a version of Middle-Earth that I would describe as broken. It’s a lot like Lord of the Rings would be if the humans were all stupid, the hobbits were all greedy jerks, the dwarves were militaristic and money-grubbing (so nothing’s changed) and the elves are so high-minded and pacifistic that they’ve all been killed off. Basically, everyone except the major antagonists and you are useless, which is usually played for comedy, and I think it works pretty well, as long as you don’t mind that it’s pretty cynical and dark.
You are the main villain of the story, but that doesn’t mean that the “heroes” you fight are actually good, in fact, every main enemy leader represents one of the 7 Deadly sins (a gluttonous hobbit, a slothful elf, an extremely wrathful and warlike human and his perpetually envious and thieving girlfriend, a lustful and hedonistic ex-paladin, an exceptionally greedy dwarf with a tank made of gold, and a wizard who is too proud to entertain the notion that he might have become a villain without noticing it). You can choose to kill or help anyone you meet, and make choices to do things that are either evil or less evil, so you might be the most heroic character, depending on how you play it, even if you do walk around causing destruction and sporting a helmet covered in spikes of obsidian, sending your minions into certain death with every command.
The game has a pretty generic high-fantasy setting with a cynical twist, and an interesting angle (you playing as the villain), but what really sells the story and characters is the writing. It’s punchy, witty, and silly enough to be fun in a game that really isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. No one really has depth, and you never speak so you don’t have character development, but you can still enjoy the moronic townsfolk asking you to rescue their food from the hobbits, or laugh at the apathetic ghost elves as they drone on and on about how their forest is now corrupted (spoiler, you don’t care). Also, there’s violent and bloody unicorns. It’s got solid writing, and I was never bored. And even though there’s no development that you witness, you can hear the back stories of all the main antagonists and see how they were once great heroes, and understand that you’re meeting them at the end of their character arcs, where you kill them in appropriately-themed boss battles that are generally part puzzle and part actual fight.
Your minions are a large part of the entertainment as well, their voice-acting has a certain impish charm and it’s fun to see them cause mayhem in towns and mess around when looting. They can pick up armor and weapons to increase their usefulness, and when they get stuff or bring you loot they say short lines like “For me?” or “For you!”, and it’s cute and sort of endearing, even if they are mean little goblin jerks. You almost feel bad when they get killed in droves, but you can usually just summon more, because evil Overlords should always have expendable minions when out causing trouble.
So other than the writing, what I really felt was refreshing about this game was the playstyle. You’re a strong melee attacker and can use various bits of magic, but the way you really deal damage is by attacking with your minions. Browns are sturdy melee fighters, reds throw fireballs, greens can be angled to backstab enemies for massive damage, and blues can resurrect dead minions if sent in fast enough, but also they have super-dying skills, as even a weak kitten could kill a blue. The game’s combat has a lot of potential that is largely untapped, since most fights can be won by swarming the enemy with browns, but bosses usually have a puzzle element that makes you use your minions strategically, which is a neat idea that maybe was a bit rough in practice, because the controls are a little clunky. It’s hard to separate your different colors and place them quickly, and this sort of hamstrings enacting battle tactics on the fly, which is a shame.
Overall, however, the combat and action parts are different and original, letting you run in with your army to cause maximum damage, and the setpieces are often cool and well-designed, so the game is an exciting experience. This is definitely one of the more interesting and innovative games I have tried recently, and I would definitely say it’s worth a try. Also, the graphics are gorgeous, when the bloom lighting isn’t burning your eyes out. Case in point:
So on Wednesday I want to compare Overlord to an older game with similar gameplay mechanics – Pikmin. Then, on Friday, we’ll see how Overlord 2 measures up to the original, and whether or not it brought anything new and interesting to the table.