Overlord is one of those games that should be brilliant. Back in the 90’s Dungeon Keeper was a fantastic game for the PC as you got to play at being evil for a change, rather than the hero trying to save the world, which is exactly what Overlord has you doing. Couple that with some very good humour (Overlord is written by Rhianna Pratchett, daughter of Terry, author of Discworld) and the possibilities that controlling a horde of doughty minions provides, it’s hard to see how Overlord can be anything but a roaring success. In fact it still has me confused as to why we’ve now had three games and still don’t seem to be coming close to fulfilling the potential.
The first Overlord game was a great start to the series, only hindered by some annoying camera issues, lack of map and some dodgy AI. Nothing that couldn’t have been resolved in a sequel. Overlord II however has failed to resolve those issues (other than the addition of a next-to-useless mini-map) and has ended up being an inferior game to the first.
Overlord: Dark Legend is a better game than Overlord II, despite being on the technically inferior Wii. The map is actually useful and the levels are no longer so large that you become bored by the time you’ve reached the halfway point. The battles are much smaller as well, helped by the fact that you can only have a maximum of 25 minions in your party (rather than the 50 in Overlord II), which makes them more manageable and strategic.
The controls are much easier to get to grips with on the Wii, which isn’t something I often get to say. Being able to point where you want your minions to go, and the ability to move the camera far more freely, are very welcome additions. Climax Studios have really done a great job of integrating the Wii’s unique control system into the game.
The souls you harvest are no longer colour specific and instead can be used globally across all of your minions. This makes it somewhat easier and less frustrating than the other Overlord games, as you no longer have to worry about running out of the different types of minions (there are four in all; brown for brawn, red for fire, green for stealth and blue for water) and can therefore take a few more risks.
But for every step Overlord: Dark Legend takes forward, it takes a giant Paula Abdul two steps back.
The graphics, while stationary, look very nice for a Wii game. But seeing them in motion is a totally different experience. Frame-rates drop regularly, especially when there are a lot of minions/enemies on the screen, and at times make sections of the game unplayable. There is also a serious amount of last-gen draw-in distance (detail draws in just a few in-game feet away from your Overlord character) and you and your minions will be regularly clipping through scenery.
The audio too suffers a similar fate. The characters are well voiced, especially your devoted Minion Master Gnarl, and at times the dialogue is genuinely funny. It’s therefore such a shame that lines of the dialogue regularly fail to finish before a cut-scene ends, or when a line is repeated over another line, rendering the dialogue inaudible.
Minions still don’t always pick up what you want, or attack what you tell them to. The levels are still extremely linear and the magic powers are hardly ever worth using. The main step backwards though is one that hasn’t been seen in an Overlord game before…crashes.
Throughout my ten hours with the game, I experienced a number of game-ending crashes. To a certain extent I can overlook dodgy frame-rates and a lack of spit and polish if the rest of the game lives up to it, but constant freezes are unacceptable and point to the game either not being properly tested or being rushed out to meet the same release deadline of Overlord II.
Freezes aside, Overlord: Dark Legend would never be the game it could have been. The game is far too easy, you get to see everything it has to offer within the first couple of hours, and the magic powers (and the new ability to throttle a minion and use it as a bomb) are very underused. It’s also very similar to Pikmin in game design but it never comes close to reaching the fun, charm, polish or challenge that Pikmin delivers.
I had high hopes for the sequel and for this completely new version for the Wii, but I’m now starting to wonder whether we’ll ever get the game that the series really deserves.