Why waste time breaking countless objects and battling swarms of foes when others can do it for you? This simple concept anchors the basic premise behind Overlord, a refreshing and surprisingly strategic third-person action-adventure game where issuing commands to gnarly minions ousts traditional do-it-yourself gameplay mechanics. Need a door opened? Let the minions do it. Need a boss character defeated? Sick the minions on him. Need to kill a sheep for life force? Did I say kill sweet, harmless sheep?
As the devilish name implies, Overlord puts you in the role of a recently awakened evil ruler whose tower and empire has crumbled during his slumber at the hand of seven corrupt heroes. Obviously aggravated by these turn of events, you set out to reclaim your empire, rebuild your tower, score a mistress, terrorize “halflings” (dwarfs), destroy the heroes and ultimately right all that has gone wrong. To complete this quest, the Overlord can either help the land’s non-halfling people or destroy their property and eat their food. I’ve always found corruption is more fun in virtual worlds, though an Achievement awaits players whose heart is pure.
The Overlord’s true power over the land comes not from a towering frame or chiseled armor. At the Overlord’s disposal are four different classes of Gremlin-like sarcastic minion warriors. Early on you start with the browns, or grunts. These guys will rush in and pillage anything you ask. As the game progresses, you’ll seek out and find the reds (fire), greens (invisible assassin) and blues (water). The total number of minions available to use at once from each class gradually increases throughout the game, and life force required to spawn new minions is harnessed by killing various creatures, like poor fluffy sheep. Minions may be half the size of the Overlord, but they provide more than half the fun.
A clever gamer should, in theory, never have to combat a single opponent or break a single object if he/she uses their minions wisely. Putting the minions to use has three distinct components. First, the right analog stick controls the minions on the screen while the Overlord stays put. This is tricky to grow accustomed to as most gamers, myself included, rely on the right analog stick to look around and will accidentally send their minions off running in all different directions early on. Second, the right bumper allows for either one class of minion or all minions to be controllable. Third, selected minions can be ordered to stay in one spot with a quick tap of the Y button. With multiple minions at your command and these controls mastered, a boss enemy could be attacked by using the browns to irritate him up-close, then stationing the reds further away to unleash their fireballs on him — all while the Overlord commands the minions from afar. These controls bring new meaning to the term “Action RPG.”
Overlord is not without its fair share of quirks, some of which put a significant damper on enjoying the game. There’s a painful lack of save points that will send the Overlord significantly backwards should he fall in battle. They aren’t quite as bad as the save point debacle of Dead Rising, but they are a concern. Also potentially frustrating is the fixed camera which can be a hassle to align correctly in tight indoor areas. And although the game is designed to use the minions first and Overlord second, there are instances where the ability to block enemy blows would be nice to have. As it stands, combating with the Overlord almost always results in significant ticks off the health bar.
An Overlord’s job is never complete, even after completing the game to grab both the Pure and Corrupt Achievements. A handful of multiplayer options, all available over Xbox Live, allow Overlords to fight against each other with hoards of minions, fight cooperatively, and fight to survive against wave upon wave of enemies. Several Achievements are tied to Live multiplayer play so hopping online is a mandatory stop.
With Overlord, Triumph Studios has quietly crafted a potential sleeper hit that is refreshing, meticulously designed, humorous at times, and most importantly, fun to spend hours with. The introduction of minion control opens up a world of possibilities for sequels or other franchises to copy. Meshing genres is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination, but successful executions are worth their weight in butchered sheep.
- Overall: 8.1
- Any time you let minions do my dirty work you’ll win me over, so the great genre-combining gameplay is just icing on the cake.
— Dan Bradley