Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Breaking Stuff To Look Tough

I was planning this for a while, but with today being the launch day for Overlord 2, I decided I had better get around to discussing the original Overlord.

The story (written by Rhianna Pratchett, daughter of Terry Pratchett) is that a bunch of Tolkien-esque cliche RPG heroes have killed the previous Overlord and wrecked his evil tower of evilness. Of course, the minions of evil aren't going to stand for that, so a bunch of years later they find themselves a new evil Overlord. I would also like to congratulate you on your promotion to management. Your job as the new Overlord is to re-establish a dark domain by rebuilding your tower and butchering the heroes who had inconvenienced the previous Overlord by killing him.

As the Overlord you're a pretty tough dude capable of taking on nearly anything in single combat. Of course, almost nothing attacks you one-on-one, you are NOT expendable, and what's the point of being the Overlord if you have to do all the work yourself. Hence your minion armies, who come in four unlockable flavors for the purposes of puzzle solving, as each type of minion has specific strengths and special abilities. This becomes one of the driving factors of linearity in the game, putting obstacles in your path that you don't have the requisite minions to get past. It's like an evil version of Pikmin, as your minions perform every task from heavy lifting, getting you presents, murdering peasants, and dying in your name (they're very loyal). There are health and mana "pits" that allow you to kill your minions for health and mana refills. And the minions will willingly die for you. Hell, they even throw themselves into your smelter if you so command it.

The game gets one of those karma meters that's so popular these days. From a practical standpoint the choices are between good or evil. From a story standpoint it's a choice between gathering devoted followers or acting like a genocidal lunatic. This choice is best played out in the personalities of the mistresses you can get for your tower. One is a stoic organizer, the other is gleefully homicidal. Neither is "good". Both want power, but while one sees power as a means of living out her every evil delight, the other sees evil as a tool for maintaining power. Those are your moral choices in this game, a reign of terror or a reign that will last a thousand years (events of the expansion pack not withstanding).

It's a fun adventure puzzle game all around, but there are, of course, some complaints. Like all puzzle games, what was a fun puzzle the first time around becomes an exercise in rote memorization on all subsequent playthroughs. And while the game's chief gimmick is commanding your minions in all things, including battle, the upgrades you can make to your Overlord can quickly make you more powerful than anything the game can throw at you. At that point strategy and tactics get thrown out in favor of self-healing faster than the enemy can damage you. Lastly, I would complain about the limitations of the minion controls, but I have yet to come up with a better control scheme that doesn't involve a keyboard and terribly annoying hotkey setups, so I guess they did the best they could until we somehow develop a means of telepathically controlling our games.

What's best in this game is the presentation. Your standard infantry brown minions can wear and wield anything they find that can be used as armor or weapons. So it's not uncommon for minions to wear pumpkins, dead rats, and chef hats as armor, as well as arming themselves with frying pans and zombie limbs. The zombie plague is actually a venereal disease that started when someone thought it was a good idea to summon a succubus into the brothel. And you get to kill hobbits. That's probably the chief selling point right there. Hate elves, dwarves, and hobbits? Kill them all! It's actually possible to consign the entire elf population of the region to extinction by killing all their women (the choice was between saving the elf women or a giant sack of gold. Elven genocide or getting gold? Did I mention I fucking hate elves). And don't worry too much about that karma meter. There are more things to effect the meter than it can actually be affected. That is to say, if you want to play as a "good" Overlord, you can still commit genocide against entire races and still perform enough good acts that the game lists you as having 0% corruption. And it goes both ways. Feel free to help out those villagers in Spree, you can make up for it by slaughtering everything that lives in the next town. So by all means, be as bad (or not) as you want to be. Be the Overlord of your choice.

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