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Overlord (Xbox 360) artwork

Overlord (Xbox 360) review

"Have you ever dreamed of being an evil ruler with an army of underlings to do your bidding? For most of us, Overlord is as close as we can get to fulfill those twisted fantasies, and it generally does a pretty good job. At first glance, it appears as if Codemasters has created a straight-up adventure game, but the central focus on using your minion army to accomplish goals adds a strategic flavour to the game. This fusion results in an unusual and enjoyable style of gameplay, though it isn’t wit..."

Have you ever dreamed of being an evil ruler with an army of underlings to do your bidding? For most of us, Overlord is as close as we can get to fulfill those twisted fantasies, and it generally does a pretty good job. At first glance, it appears as if Codemasters has created a straight-up adventure game, but the central focus on using your minion army to accomplish goals adds a strategic flavour to the game. This fusion results in an unusual and enjoyable style of gameplay, though it isn’t without its share of control issues.

The old Overlord of evil met his demise to the seven legendary heroes, leaving the forces of darkness in disarray. You are the successor to the title of Overlord and it’s your responsibility to restore evil to its former glory. Although your base of operations is in bad shape, the Overlord’s trusted minions remain at your command. These gremlin-like creatures will pillage, plunder, and pummel at your command with a gleeful enthusiasm that is strangely endearing yet mildly disturbing. The minions are your key to restoring the dark tower and exacting revenge on the seven heroes.

Only the warrior-like brown minions are available at the start of the game, but you’ll have access to a further three types after a couple of hours play. The red minions have a powerful projectile attack and can absorb flames, the greens are immune to poison and have stealth abilities, and the blues can survive in water and revive other minions. Your minions will follow you around, but you can control them in many different ways. Moving the right stick allows you to “sweep” your minions, giving you direct control over their movement. This is handy to lead them down winding paths or to steer them out of harms way. If you want them to stay put, you can lay down a guard marker to keep them still, but they’ll attack anything that comes too close to the marker. Using minions to attack is as easy as sweeping them to the target or locking onto the target and hitting the right trigger. Your minions will return to you with the spoils of battle which can include gold, health potions, and life force (used to summon more minions). They’ll also help themselves to their fallen foes equipment (and sometimes make shift equipment like a pumpkin helmet!).

Overcoming puzzles consists of interacting with the environment to progress further. When you’re an Overlord, however, it’s down to your minions to do the heavy lifting for you! Objects you can interact with have a number to signify how many minions you need to perform the action. A simple switch may only require a couple of minions to activate, but pushing a stone to serve as a bridge will require more minion power. Naturally, the skills of each tribe come into play. Many sections require you to make use of the abilities of all the tribes to progress.

Ordering your minions around is great fun, but there is plenty of scope to strengthen yourself as the Overlord character. You can cast various spells to assist your minion marauders. You can conjure up fireballs to support them in battle, or you can cast a frenzy spell which will increase the strength and armour of your minions. There are various artefacts scattered around the world that increase your health, magic power, and the amount of minions you can command at once. In addition to this, there are smelters that can be found and transported back to your tower. From here, you can forge new weapons and armour and upgrade your current equipment by sacrificing minions.

One of the game’s main lures is the ability to be evil, but sometimes you’re forced to act hero-like. An early quest sees you retrieving food for a starving village; does that sound evil to you? You have the choice to return the food or keep it for yourself when you find it, but a real Overlord probably wouldn’t have even gone searching. Apart from occasions like this, the morality choices are black & white so you’ll have little trouble distinguishing the good decision from the evil decision. A corruption meter measures just how evil you are; spells get power boosts depending on how good or evil you are. Generally, it’s best to pick one and stick with it for the game (especially because there are achievements for completing the game with zero and full corruption).

With all the minions running rampant, there is a lot going on. Unfortunately, the complex controls can be bothersome when the action speeds up. Switching between minion groups in the heat of an intense battle can be difficult, and you can end up losing a lot of minions. Perhaps most notable is the camera. In most games of this mould, the right stick would be used solely to control the camera. Due to the minion sweep feature taking up the right stick, you have to hold left bumper and then move the stick to pan the camera. In theory it doesn’t sound so bad, but in practise it feels quite cumbersome, especially if you’re used to playing adventure games where the camera is very easy to use. These shortcomings are by no means fatal, but you’ll need some concentration to overcome trickier parts of the game.

Xbox Live support takes the form of three game modes: slaughter, pillage, and survival. The first two are competitions to score the most points by killing enemies and collecting gold respectively. Survival is a co-op mode where two Overlords fight against hordes of enemies and see how long they can last. Leaderboards allow you to track your score for slaughter and pillage, but strangely not for survival. It’s nice to see that an effort was made to include multi-player, but they definitely take a backseat to the single-player game. They don’t feel tacked on, but they certainly could have been fleshed out a bit more.

The world of Overlord is very reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. The fantasy-inspired land has a range of different environments. You’ll travel through sprawling forests, rolling deserts, and giant castles over the course of the game. They really are great to look at, and it’s the same for the characters. The Overlord is a menacing and imposing figure, clad in black armour and blade in hand, while the hyper-active, homicidal minions provide an interesting contrast. The character animations of the minions are particularly impressive, whether they are frantically trying to open a treasure chest or hanging for dear life while hanging on to a troll’s back. This really adds a lot to the charm of the game.

The music that plays in the background isn’t particularly memorable; it really does stay in the background. You’ll find that although the music isn’t particularly good, Overlord’s voice acting is very impressive. Although your character doesn’t speak, your minions and the inhabitants of the world do. The mischievous character of the minions is heightened by the excellent voice acting, and the non-player characters are given a fair bit of personality through their voices. It really serves to maintain the fantasy setting and make the world seem more authentic, and it adds to the game’s charm.

Despite the sometimes-dodgy controls and the fact that you can’t always be as evil as you’d like, Overlord does a good job of what it set out to achieve. This minion-infested adventure will last the average gamer about fifteen hours, which are full to the brim with puzzle solving, money stealing, and hero killing. Add to that a fair attempt at online support and a solid audiovisual package, and Overlord is a game that any adventure fan should check out.

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Community review by PAJ89 (October 25, 2007)

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