Fable meets Pikmin
Overlord is a 3rd person action adventure game in which you play an evil chap who closely resembles Sauron from The Lord of the Rings. But unlike Sauron, you aren’t terribly powerful in combat, and instead will rely on the help of several minions whom you have complete control over. You are tasked with rebuilding your evil empire, and will need the help of your minions to gather numerous items for your castle which have been scattered throughout the world. The various game play elements come together for an experience that feels like a hybrid of Fable and Pikmin, but Overlord has enough humor to allow it to stand out as a unique entertainment experience independant of it’s roots.
Graphics and sound are both handled well. Stylisticly, Overlord reminds me a great deal of Fable. Visually it’s more or less a cartoon version of traditional Tolkein fantasy fare that manages to be both beautiful and cute all at once. NPC and minion voice work is great, and adds a lot of humor to the experience, and although the orchestral music is good, it is a bit sparse and there are large chunks of the game without music of any kind. Animations, textures and character models are merely average, but overall Overlord looks and sounds pretty good.
Game play centers around sending your comical crew of minions to solve puzzles and fight on your behalf. They come in four varieties: warriors, assassins, healers, and fire shooters. Minions will automatically pick up and equip armor and weapons for themselves, or bring you back treasure like gold or potions, saving players a lot of time. Minion actions are all context sensitive, which greatly simplifies things. For example, send them into a pumpkin patch and some of them will automatically don jack-o-lanterns as makeshift helmets. Direct them to an area scattered with mugs of beer and they will consume them with great gusto, even stumbling around a bit before relieving themselves. This is where Overlord really shines… the pleasure players will feel after seeing how minions comically carry out their nefarious work is undeniably entertaining and for the most part, easy to do.
Much of the game’s humor is provided by your minions, and their amusing interactions with the environment.
Even though you are an evil Overlord, you can choose to help many of the NPCs you will encounter on your travels. The villagers you rescue will give you money which can then be used to upgrade your character with new items or abilities. However you can choose to upgrade the Overlord by simply killing the villagers indiscriminately and using their souls to fuel your growth. So there is a bit of moral choice, but no matter which path you take, your interactions with villagers generally result in enhancements for your character, giving the game some mild RPG elements. It’s a little unusual for a game with an emphasis on being evil to allow moral choices, but it certainly gives the game some replayability.
Controls are a mixed bag. Performing the Overlord’s actions and moving around his minions is relatively hassle-free, but switching off between the different minion types can be a challenge in the middle of a fight, and the auto-camera leaves much to be desired. There is a reset button that re-centers the view, but other than that, you won’t have direct control over your perspective because the right stick is relegated to minion control.
Making matters worse, for some reason there is no map in Overlord. For a game that consists of constant travel, it can be rather difficult figuring out where to go next to complete your objectives, and I found myself back-tracking more than I would have liked to. On one mission, I was told to go towards a village to the East of my current location, but this directional information was meaningless considering the lack of an in-game map or compass. It took about a half hour of trial and error before happening upon my destination, and really cut into my enjoyment of the game. This problem is compounded by lengthy load screens which pop up with enough frequency to detract from the experience somewhat. Making matters worse, although the Overlord can teleport back to his castle and then warp to other locations from there, often the areas I wanted to return to were inaccessible for reasons I couldn’t fully understand.
You may look like a tough guy, but you won’t survive very long without the help of your loyal minions.
Following the recent trend for what are primarily single player games, Overlord’s online multiplayer component is tacked on and forgettable. It seems these days many Xbox 360 games just throw together an online portion simply to add to their feature set with little regard for quality. It may offer a few minutes of mindless fun, but Overlord online leaves much to be desired given the multitude of excellent multiplayer titles available on the console.
Although Overlord has personality in spades, restrictive controls and design choices sabotage an otherwise worthwhile experience, proving once again that the devil is in the details. If the game had included a map and a better camera system, it could have been a real gem. As it is, players will be drawn into the vibrant world of Overlord, but only the most persistent will have the patience to endure the games significant flaws. I guess personality can only take you so far.