What we liked:

+ Very funny minions and NPCs
+ Enjoyable, if fairly easy, puzzles and combat
+ Various upgrade systems are satisfying and addictive

What we didn't like:

- Occasional graphics glitches
- Fairly small number of voice samples
- No automap
- Strange jumble of American and English accents

DEVELOPER: Triumph Studios   |   PUBLISHER: Codemasters   |   RELEASE: 06/26/2007

My first Xbox 360 is dead and gone to Texas. My second 360 is now about to join it. How can I tell? It’s giving me the disc read error message on Overlord, and it’s freezing up when Overlord attempts to auto-save. The 360 has become the first $400 disposable electronic appliance. That said, my current Disposabox has lasted just long enough for me to review this game-

Overlord casts you as a hulking, armored, mute warrior who awakens from his death-like slumber in a ruined tower and wishes to rebuild the fearsome power of his deposed predecessor. Your character commands a band of giggling, destructive, goblin-like minions who respond to his every whim. The land he inhabits is a humorous, twisted fantasy world that is ripe for your character’s exploitation, where elves are whiny goths, Halflings (or hobbits, to use a more familiar moniker) are evil, greedy little monsters, and townsfolk are stupid parasites.

The game plays up your evil status, but it’s cartoon evil, and fairly mild cartoon evil at that. Not that I mind; I generally play the good path in RPGs that offer a choice (when I made an effort to play the evil path in Jade Empire, I felt pretty slimy). But unless you go out of your way, your evilness generally consists of kicking and sacrificing your minions, and stealing from peasants. You can kill peasants, but you generally have to go out of your way to do so, and you pay a price: with each truly evil action, your corruption level increases. If your corruption rises high enough, the final upgrade for each of your spells will be inferior to the uncorrupted option.

So you aren’t really that evil, but you’re still a badass with a big weapon and a horde of minions– and if you ever start to feel inferior, you can always kick a minion or two. Your minions follow you around and unhesitatingly follow any order you give them, even if it leads to certain death. You command them to fight, carry large objects, eliminate environmental hazards, and turn wheels that open doors and extend bridges. You can send them out toward a target using the right trigger, or sweep them around the environment using the left thumbstick. You can also plant a group of them in place using the Y button.

There are four minion species: Browns, Reds, Greens, and Blues. Browns are the only kind of minion that you start with; the others have to be recovered as you progress through the game. Browns are brawlers, Reds hurl fireballs at enemies and put out fires that are in your way, Greens eliminate poison gas and turn invisible for stealth attacks, and Blues can travel through water (unlike other minion types) and restore their fallen comrades. Many puzzles require you to use the right minion type in the appropriate circumstance. Minions are eminently disposable; don’t be surprised if one inept move on your part wipes out most of your contingent. You replenish your supply of minions by killing local creatures, such as sheep and giant bugs, and harvesting their lifeforce; you can then generate more minions at frequently occurring spawn points. Minions pick up weapons and armor along their travels-sometimes of a ridiculous variety, like pumpkins (used as helmets), zombie arms (used and clubs), and chef’s hats-and your veterans increase in power as they equip themselves. Minion power is indicated by a percentage value that starts at 100% for “newborns”.

Manipulating your minions through combat and puzzles is the bulk of the gameplay, and it’s easy and fun. Your character accompanies the minion horde at all times, and to back up the minions in combat, you bash enemies with your character’s handheld weapon (I prefer the mace), and cast various offensive, minion-enhancing, enemy-controlling, and defensive spells that you acquire throughout the game.

The graphics are beautiful-better than I’d expect for a mid-profile release like this–and marred only by minor glitches. Water is lovely, and standard fantasy environments, such as gloomy forests, dark dungeons, cozy hobbit warrens, and pestilential swamps evoke those hyper-detailed fantasy paintings that adorn Tolkien calendars. It’s impressive, which makes it a little jarring when, in one area, distant hills suffer from terrible pop-in. At other times, you find yourself walking partly into solid objects.

The voice acting is a mixed bag. Minion voices are quavery, low-class English accents, and I found them to be very funny. I expected the other accents to be English, and some are, but there are also a number of American accents, which seem out of place for the fantasy setting. The other problem with the voice acting is that there are few voice samples, and if you spend much time in the same NPC-populated area, you’ll be annoyed by endlessly repeating comments.

The maps are not terribly complicated, but I was surprised at the lack of gradually revealed automap. Different trail branches in the same area often look similar, and it’s about time to have an automap in any game that isn’t strictly linear. It looks like someone in Product Testing noticed this omission, and a half-hearted attempt at a paper map was thrown into the packaging, but it isn’t very useful. Expect to get turned around and have to backtrack a few times.

You can find different spells and minion species, sacrifice minions to improve your character’s armor and weapons, and find objects that build your stats. I also got attached to my minions when they began to assemble their motley collection of scavenged armor and weapons, and was always disappointed when my veterans got killed off. These light RPG elements, which are tangibly useful in combat, prove addictive.

The puzzles in this game are fun, but pretty easy; you won’t be stuck for long. Compared to a game like God of War 2, the puzzles are far less challenging. Combat isn’t really all that hard, either. I can’t say I minded, though; it was so much fun to guide my creepy little minions through the world, plunder the environment, bash enemies, and solve puzzles, that I wanted to progress quickly, without being frustrated.

I’d highly recommend this game; it’s funny and addictive, with beautiful graphics and the novel mechanic of controlling a minion horde. However, if you’re looking for a high level of challenge, you may be disappointed. Also, the game is more funny than dark; if you’re looking for a truly angst-filled game, try The Darkness instead. Finally, there are some minor annoyances– voice work inconsistency, graphics glitches, and the lack of an automap. On the whole, though, Triumph Studios should be proud of what they’ve created, and I hope there’s a sequel.

Now, it’s back to the deathwatch for my ailing 360. Maybe I can persuade a Blue to resurrect it-

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