Overlord - Staff Review  

Looking to Hire One Evil Overlord, Do-gooders Need Not Apply
by Adriaan 'omegabyte' den Ouden

Click here for game information
Xbox 360
25-40 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   For years, RPGamers have donned the boots of heroes, setting forth on epic quests to rid the world of evil and wrongdoing, and frankly the villains are just getting fed up. These plucky heroes barge into their homes, loot and plunder their hard-earned possessions, slay them, and head off into the sunset to live happily ever after; but no more! Evil always finds a way, and in Overlord it's your job to make sure that their happily ever afters end prematurely so that your supreme evilness can reign for years to come!

   As you open your eyes for the first time, your evil minions rub acid in them to freshen you up and then proceed to inform you that you are their new Overlord. Their former master met his end at the hands of seven heroes who subsequently plundered whatever they could find from your dark tower. As the new Overlord, it is your duty to hunt down these heroes and make sure they get what's coming to them, at the same time spreading your evil across the land. Pillaging, oppressing, and slaughtering are the preferred methods.

   While the plot is in no way spectacular and for the most part just a sidebar to the absolute delight of being evil, the world is impeccably crafted and it's in the little details that most of the game's charm emerges. Your chief minion, Gnarl, who stays back at the tower while you adventure, narrates the tale by pointing out important areas and suggesting ways in which they might be used to... well, be evil. These can range from going out and kidnapping slave girls for your tower to stealing the core of the dwarven brewery - just to make them mad. His anecdotes are usually amusing and often hilarious, and he, more than anything, is what makes the story so enjoyable.

   Occasionally, you will be asked to make a choice that will help determine how evil of an Overlord you are. Unfortunately, these choices are usually between good and evil rather than evil and more evil, but there are only half a dozen or so in the game altogether, and they don't impact the game very much. However, as you approach the conclusion of the game, the reason these choices appear as good and evil rather than just the latter becomes apparent, and the final moments are one of the few points where an actual detailed plot emerges.

You're our new Overlord! "You're our new Overlord!"

   Combat in Overlord is a bizarre combination of an action adventure and real time strategy game, but rarely is any form of micromanagement necessary. As the Overlord, you are equipped with armor and a weapon that you can attack with as well as a solid repertoire of offensive and defensive spells, but your real weapon comes in the form of minions, enthusiastically vicious little creatures that will happily lay down their lives at your beck and call. Initially, you are only able to control one type of minion, the Browns, but eventually you will be able to summon Blues, Reds, and Greens, and each of them has their own unique ability and specialty.

   Browns are the main foot soldier of your minion horde and have the unique ability to pick up weapons and armor that they find lying around and equip them. Reds are flame minions that throw fireballs and can clear burning wreckage from your path, and the Blues are the only minion able to swim and can also resurrect their fallen comrades, though lack any real form of offensive capability. The Greens are quick assassin minions that latch onto enemies and stab them repeatedly and can also clear away poisonous weeds. Enemies drop life force corresponding to these colors which you can collect to summon more of them. You can only have a set number of minions with you at any time, a number that grows as the game continues, but fortunately any extras you happen to acquire will happily wait for you at the tower until their colleagues meet their unfortunate, but inevitable, demise.

   Sending your minions into combat is as simple as holding down the right trigger button on your Xbox controller, but you can also select specific types of minions by holding the right bumper and pressing one of the face buttons, which, conveniently, share their colors with your minions. You can also tell your minions to hold their position by pressing the Y button, and this can come in handy with certain types that you want to keep out of harms way. This works great when you're formulating a plan, but is a bit clumsy in fast-paced situations. Fortunately, the minion AI is quite good, and they will generally do what you want them to, with some exceptions. The Blues' resurrection ability is slow and often they won't use it, and what's more, when minions die their bodies disappear exceedingly quickly, giving you very little time to get your Blues prepared to help them.

   Despite a few snags here and there, combat is fast, fun, and a riot to watch as your little minions wreak havoc across the countryside. However, when your minions aren't busy killing and plundering for you, you can also use them to solve the myriads of puzzles throughout the game. These puzzles generally involve using your minions to clear obstacles and retrieve objects that you can use to rebuild your tower and enhance your evil powers. Several of the boss fights also involve puzzles that need to be solved before they can be conquered, lending the whole game a feel not entirely unlike the modern Legend of Zelda games.

Being feared has its perks. Being feared has its perks.

   Overlord is not without its faults, though. The camera is a little odd at first, but you quickly get used to it, and there are occasional bugs that crop up such as an NPC freezing up or not being targetable, but they're usually easily solved. Your minions will sometimes get stuck as well, but it's fairly uncommon.

   Back in your tower there are several things you can do besides the main quest. For starters, you can fight any of the monsters you've slain previously in the tower's dungeon. You can also redecorate your tower and 'please' your mistress, and even forge new armor and weapons for your evil deeds. Forging is an unusual process that involves sending your minions on a Lemmings-inspired mass suicide run into a pot of molten metal. Different types of minions produce different results in your three pieces of equipment. Of particular note is your helmet, which can increase the maximum number of minions you can control, should you sacrifice enough lives to it. Life Force is readily available and easy to acquire, and spending a few hours upgrading your equipment is generally a good idea.

   The audio experience in Overlord is excellent. While the score is forgettable, it does a great job of setting the mood in the various locales you'll visit. Occasionally, a deliberate contrast is presented, such as the pleasant, cheerful tune that plays in Mellow Hills when you're slaughtering the exuberant, bouncing sheep that reside there. The real auditory treat, however, comes from both the superb voice acting and the excellent use of sound effects. Fire burning, crates and barrels breaking, vases shattering, sheep braying in fear... it seems like no detail was missed. The gleeful squeals of your minions as you send them out to ravage the countryside are especially delightful.

   Overlord stands out more visually than in any other area. The world and the characters within it are all detailed and expressive, particularly your minions, and to top it off the game allows for fifty minions on the screen at once (one hundred in the two-player game) in addition to your Overlord and the many enemies and friendlies. Even with all this packed onto the screen, the game suffers no slowdown, and the picture is surprisingly crisp. As mentioned before, your Browns acquire weapons and armor from enemies and objects, and all of this is shown visually on their person, including heavy battle axes, shovels, jack-o'-lantern heads, slug hats, and more! Animations are fluid and varied, and the whole game is just a feast for the eyes.

   Overlord can be surprisingly difficult at times, particularly towards the end of the game where your minions will start dying far more often than previously, but for the most part, there aren't any areas that should take you more than two or three attempts to complete. Fortunately, the difficulty increases at a steady pace and the learning curve is not that steep. The main quest will probably take most players around thirty hours to complete, and while there isn't anything in the way of side quests, players may wish to upgrade their equipment and tower to its maximum, which can add several hours. While those looking for a more traditional RPG experience should probably look elsewhere, fans of action adventure games, or even those who just want to be the bad guy for once, should definitely give Overlord a try.

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