IGN Review of Overlord: Dark Legend
As a Nintendo fan I've always had this sort of love/hate relationship with Overlord. Part of me – the lighting things on fire, beating up sheep, devilishly evil, amazingly well-dressed side – loves the game to death, while the other side of me – the Nintendo-playing, Pikmin-loving, Mushroom Kingdom-dwelling part – keeps going back to the idea that the game is fun, but that it's also basically an evil version of Pikmin. Once the sequel was announced across all platforms though it was obvious that Overlord – the previously HD-only affair – was going to have a serious chance at being something special on Nintendo's console. Yeah, the series takes inspiration from things like Fable or other fantasy action/RPG games, but I kept going back to that Pikmin-inspired feel, and looking at New Play Control with Nintendo's property it's obvious that pointer control in a game like Overlord would simply rock the house.
Well, I've stormed the countryside with Wii-mote in hand, beaten the ever-loving hell out of some annoying Halflings, giggled with boyish delight while my horde of evil rascals tore down villages, and mixed things up myself with some entertaining spells. The final result though? It just doesn't quite come together. Developer Climax Studios went extremely ambitious with the game, trying for a realistic visual design and piles of effects, but shoehorn in 15+ minions with the main Overlord character, enemies, and all the visual bells and whistles that come with a more traditional visual style and the engine just can't take it. Overlord is proof that pointer control dominates the world of strategy games, but it's also an unfortunate proof that gameplay still rules out over eye candy. The visual offering looks beautiful when it isn't being pushed too far, but a locked framerate, bug-less experience, and smarter AI could have really made a difference.
Normally an inconsistent framerate and some random bugs would be a serious, serious game-killer, but with Overlord: Dark Legend there's still some obvious fun to be had if you can manage to overlook the game's faults. Sitting at the forefront of the game's appeal - its humor. Overlord is a fun little guilty pleasure, and there's a constant barrage of humorous moments from the second you start to the final moments of the experience. Dark Legend is an origins tale, so while you start out weak and pathetic – a muse for your older brother and sister – you become a total badass by the end of the game, and that all comes into play via your minions.
These brainless servants are the perfect pawns for your army, giggling to themselves as they destroy nearly anything in a given environment, cruise around and follow your cursor, guard markers placed by the Overlord for ranged attacks, and even pick up random loot from enemies and treasure chests. Whenever destroying a living creature they'll happily bring back a glowing piece of life force (which is used to spawn more minions should any die), and there's nothing better than seeing a group of mindless dolts running towards you with a big smile and an armful of gold. Even the voice work – which should become extremely annoying – is pretty hilarious. The only thing better than a monster giving you gold is a monster giving you gold while saying "For you!" in a jovial little scream
The world that Climax Studios created is a pretty large one, but that also comes at a sacrifice. The castle of Gromgard is pretty huge, but you'll also find frequent load times. The world outside of the castle is varied and full, but it also suffers from a few loads and – more than that – a lot of pop-in and visual oddities. Destroying a huge slew of barrels can begin a shimmering effect that lasts until all the pieces eventually disappear, as each piece tries to figure out priority over the others and pop around in an odd manor. Some areas outside of the castle have beautiful grass to trod through, but the draw distance is about a step and a half from the Overlord, so it'll look barren and then be full of tall grass just as he goes to walk over it.
A few other odd sections also come into play, including the harsh contrast between the game's intro story (all told with a unique 2D puppet style) and in-game story elements, which are either quick in-game scripted moments showcasing minions or other characters, or merely a tiny square face portrait and a bland looking gray bar that spans the bottom of the screen. And while most of the music and voiceover work is very well done, I've encountered an odd issue where a line of VO will play, finish, and then one blip of character audio will pop a second later. The whole experience is charming, entertaining, but it constantly feels like it's just not quite there.
There's a lot of variation in the actual quest portion – you get plenty of side missions, there's always another health, magic, or minion upgrade to find – but the entire experience is a constant tug of war between the entertaining aspects and the more frustrating ones. As mentioned, minion AI is amazingly stupid… not just in a "we're mindless creatures that you order around" way, but in an "Our AI doesn't always work" kind of way. During boss battles I've had to recall the group multiple times just to keep them attacking the enemy I pointed at, rather than running back through a level and finding beetles to smack, even after alternate minion-safe paths are opened they won't always take them, and broken chests will often spew out a few pieces of gold and loot, some of which the minions will grab, and others up to a dozen of them will walk right past and not see.
As another quick note on the treasures, it always seems to be a gamble as to what flies out, and where. I've seen full chests of gold burst out and off a cliff, land in trees, float mid-air out of reach, or hit up on peaks that are unreachable. It's an odd issue to have, but when you open a chest and see goodies come out, only to walk away from most of it since its unreachable that can get pretty dang frustrating – especially when it's a much-needed health potion.
Collect enough of that somewhat-elusive loot though and you'll experience the game's real depth. Cash can be traded in for weapon upgrades, new armor (which changes on the actual character model), and level-ups for your minion groups. While adventuring through the world minions will also grab random objects and wear them as hats or use for weapons, and that's pretty awesome to see. My favorite thus far; a minion donning a mustache and sombrero while wielding a pitchfork. It'd be nice of the loot you carried was automatically given to another creature if your minion died in battle (or was used to throttle, making them into a bomb and basically killing off the ally for a huge explosion), but instead the goodies are lost once they die. There's always more crap to steal though, so it's really more of a fleeting thought than an actual annoyance during play.
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