The major nitpick I have with overlord is the lack of a map or compass, which is either inconsequential or maddening, depending on how good you are at navigating mazes without a clear directional landmark or point of reference. One of the developers from Codemasters stopped by and confirmed that Overlord 2 will have an in-game map. And the people rejoiced.
My other nitpick might be a little unfair. I usually have suggestions to go along with my nitpicks to indicate what I thought would have made the game better, but I don’t have any definitive answer here. It’s possible that this “problem” is just an inherent property of this type of gameplay.
First, a very broad overview of the gameplay:
For example: You can fight trolls by sending your browns (warriors) in directly and then taking your greens (sneak attackers) and attacking from behind while the troll is busy with the browns. When he gets ready to leap up in the air and do his ground stomp, recall the whole group quickly, as anyone still fighting him when he comes back down is dead. Keep your reds (ranged attackers) back and don’t let your blues (healers) get anywhere near the fight. Repeat as necessary.
Losing a few units due to a blunder makes your army smaller, and you can only replenish lost units at fixed locations in the world. If you lose too many, your forces will be weaker and you will take additional losses in combat, thus exacerbating the problem. Losses form a feedback loop then can wipe out your army and oblige you to backtrack (hope you don’t get lost!) to the last spawning area to rebuild your forces. Imagine a FPS game where you do less damage the lower your health bar gets and you’ll see how this affects gameplay. (Note that I don’t consider any of this to be a a flaw, it’s just how the game works. RTS games have this same positive / negative feedback loop, and there’s no way to “fix” it without ruining the game. That is the game.)
Each unit type requires a type of energy. You need red energy for red minions, green energy for green minions, and I’ll bet you’re clever enough to figure out what sorts of energy you need for blue and brown. You get this energy for killing certain types of foes, and if you run out of given type of energy then you’ll have to grind / farm for it. If you manage to build up enough of a surplus, you can sacrifice the excess minions to forge armor and weapons imbued with additional levels of awesomeness. So wasting guys is a bad thing.
This is all fine and good and fun. But the game became frustrating for me when it would change gears into puzzle mode. Here is one of the many puzzles in the game:
|Left: A giant serpent rises out of the water.|
Center: A crank which requires a dozen or so minions to turn.
Right: A nest with a few eggs in it, and a couple of nasty birds to protect them.
Foreground: Myself and a few of my 25 blue minions.
The goal is to turn the crank. The lower area is flooded with water, so only the extremely fragile blue minions are useful here. (All other minion types drown in water.)
I send my blues to turn the crank, the serpent comes up and pretty much insta-kills 80% of them. I pull them back and replenish my forces from the nearby spawning point. I figure I need to fight the serpent and kill it first. Perhaps they will do better if they’re actually fighting and not turning the wheel, so I send them in along the ground to attack the base of the serpent.
Boom. The entire party is wiped in a couple of seconds. Dang. Replenish. I’m now down about 40 blue energy, which is a huge loss at this point in the game.
I try sending a few up to turn the crank, and while the serpent is distracted killing those guys I send in the bulk of my forces to attack him directly. This takes a few tries to get the timing just right, and I burn through another 30 blue energy.
I finally get my guys into the right spot and they get in a few hits before they die. I can see that sending the guys up to the crank is so dodgy that it can’t be part of the solution. So I try hit & run tactics. I lose another 20 blue energy. I’m running quite low by now.
And now I can see they are doing almost no damage. With all of my efforts, I’ve knocked a pixel or two off the serpent health bar. This is clearly the wrong way to go about this.
I realize those birds must be part of the solution. I send a single minion to grab one of their eggs and run towards the serpent with it. The birds give chase. Halfway there they stop following and run back to the nest as my blue runs into the jaws of the serpent. I try again, they stop following again at exactly the halfway point. It’s like they won’t run past the steps leading up to the crank.
Just to speed this up: I try a lot of different things, running different places with the eggs. I try dropping the egg near the serpent, thinking that (since eggs sort of “pop” after a while) perhaps I need to trick the serpent into eating an egg?
More blue minions get gobbled up. Isn’t this guy about full by now? I’m down to my last 20 blue energy (from over 140) and I’m really frustrated. I finally give up and look online. I discover that my initial idea of carrying the egg was the right one, it’s just that the birds don’t follow you reliably. Sometimes you have to run back and goad them on, and even then you can usually only get one of the two of them to follow.
But if you lead the bird to the serpent, the two will fight. The bird will do a tiny amount of damage before the serpent finishes it off. It takes many, many trips (the birds and eggs will infinitely respawn) to finish off the serpent. Even once I had the answer I had to sit there for a while doing the same thing over and over until I won.
Most of the major boss fights and puzzle sections of the game work this way, and the trial-and-error becomes longer and more expensive when you’re dealing with puzzles and you don’t even know which minion type you’re supposed to be using. Since guessing wrong will generally obliterate your forces, puzzles will rapidly burn through a lot of your hard-won energy. You can’t tell what you’re doing wrong, and even when you get it right it doesn’t always feel like the right answer.
|On the left is a huge slug. I think I was supposed to lure it through some fire traps to kill it, but by accident I discovered it couldn’t go up these steps. So I parked my red minions there and had them very slowly bomb it to death with their piddly little fire attacks. It was cheap, but it probably took about the same amount of time and saved me the losses I would have incurred trying to do it right.|
Once a puzzle is solved, you generally have everything you need to know to beat the guy with minimal losses. You can either re-load the game and do the entire dungeon all over again, or go farm for a while to replenish your lost energy. Either way, you’ve found the answer to the puzzle and now you have to pay off the energy you sank into it. You can pay this off by resetting and replaying previous content, or grinding.
The puzzles themselves were interesting, but the vagueness and the attempt cost prevented me from enjoying them. Most boss fights were set up so that doing the wrong thing would instantly wipe out your entire army. And even when you get it right, you’re not always sure if you’re doing the right thing or not because even the correct answer can be costly and repetitive. Eventually I found myself turning to Gamefaqs whenever I hit a puzzle, which was a waste of good puzzles. A puzzle that takes several attempts to figure out is a good one, but here attempting a puzzle is an ongoing tax on fun and drains the reserves you’re trying to build. The better the puzzle, the worse the drain.
I’m not saying that the puzzles should be removed, or that you should be able to replenish minions for free. The former would make the game more homogeneous, and the latter would break other parts of the game. I apologize for bringing up a complaint without offering any solutions. (Although I think making sure the “right” answer works flawlessly and effectively when the user hits it will help.) Not all puzzles were annoying in this way, but the ones that did annoyed me enough that I wanted to go over it in detail. Most of the complaints about the game seem to be clustered around this part of it.
And now I regret ending this series with the nitpicks instead of leading with the nitpicks, since I’d rather end on a happy note. It was a fun game – one of the best so far this year, and certainly the most innovative – so I’d hate to leave you with a bad impression.
Fun. Innovative. Charming. Unsatisfying puzzles. Solid writing. Cute minions.
Good Robot Dev Blog
An ongoing series where I work on making a 2D action game from scratch.
Batman: Arkham City
A look back at one of my favorite games. The gameplay was stellar, but the underlying story was clumsy and oddly constructed.
Mass Effect 3 Ending Deconstruction
Did you dislike the ending to the Mass Effect trilogy? Here's my list of where it failed logically, thematically, and tonally.
Project Button Masher
I teach myself music composition by imitating the style of various videogame soundtracks. How did it turn out? Listen for yourself.
Zenimax vs. Facebook
This series explores the troubled history of VR and the strange lawsuit between Zenimax publishing and Facebook.