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Review: Overlord

Russ Pitts | 13 Aug 2007 21:11
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To exert your evil influence, you're initially given one of four breeds of minions (brown), a forge in which to build weapons and a few magic powers. Exploring Overlord's vast world will reveal more minions (red, green and blue), more magic powers and statues that extend your life and magic bars. You will also find money, which you can use to decorate your evil tower; new forges, which allow you to make stronger weapons and armor; and a mistress, who only tells you what to do and occasionally invites you to bed.

The meat of the game is in the slaughtering. Each race of minions has individual strengths and weaknesses, and once you've acquired a healthy number of them you can effectively rampage across the countryside, sending them out ahead of you like a team of forward linemen, blocking your enemies and killing them while they're at it. Collecting the "lifeforce" of various creatures throughout the land (including humans) allows you to summon more minions. Chasing flocks of sheep with a horde of brown minions, or setting them on fire with the Reds (flaming sheep!), is one of the most fun things I've ever done in a game, and, since it's the only way to acquire more browns, it's useful to boot.

There's linearity to the game, which both saves it from becoming boring boredom and makes it seem as if the game is longer than it actually is. Although, in spite of the seeming vastness and a clunky save system, the game is surprisingly playable. Few of the game's enemies (even the bosses) are truly difficult, and only the dwarves (nasty, drunken gear heads with giant axes, flamethrowers and bombs) gave me controller throwing fits. Still, at each encounter there were at least two ways to go about my business, and with a full compliment of minions, the number of strategies one can employ are staggering. I won't go so far as to say this makes for built-in re-playability, but the initial play was the better because I was able to play as I chose and not be railed into the developer's Intended Method of problem solving, proving that even within a linear game it's possible to create scenarios that allow for actual choice.

A lot has been said about games offering choice, but few actually do. Overlord won't change the world, or even invent a genre, perhaps, but at a time when too many games are busy chasing the shadows of greater games or trying too hard to offer gamers something they only think they want, a game that does almost everything right and offers more fun than frustration, with wit, charm and humor to boot, comes as a breath of fresh air.

Overlord gets a score deduction for having no other choice but to abscond with manual camera control (the right thumb stick controls your minions) and for a needlessly repetitive section toward the endgame (I remember all the places I've been, I don't need to fight the same frustrating boss enemy more than once in each place, thank you), but were I to assign numbers to my reviews, Overlord would still be looking at double digits.

***

Russ Pitts is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com.

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