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What makes things interesting is that, also as in Pikimin, your minions are divided into different types, and each needs a different resource – here a different coloured lifeforce obtained by killing creatures – to make new ones. The browns are your basic grunts; hard-wearing, hard-hitting and cheap. The reds are weaker and shorter on the ground, but can dowse fiery barricades and throw fireballs at enemies from a distance. The greens are impervious to poison, and have a fierce back-stabbing attack that can take down larger enemies that would waste the browns and reds in seconds flat. The blues, finally, are the only minions that can survive extended contact with water and have a handy resurrection capability. However, they’re not actually that useful in a fight.
The order of the day, therefore, is knowing which minion to use and where. Some can go in places others can’t; some can go in places even you can’t, and finding ways in which specific groups of minions can navigate through swamp, poison gas or fire and clear paths for the whole gang is the second biggest facet of the game. The first, of course, is combat. In general, simply sending a tide of browns scurrying towards the enemy will do the job.
However, there are plenty of times when dividing your forces up and sending a group of reds to higher ground to rain fire down while a gang of browns provides distraction so that a small crack team of greens can then rush in and do their backstabbing thing is the only way to crack a difficult encounter. And if that sentence left you breathless, imagine how difficult organising a gang of spiteful, toddler-tempered monsters to do all that can be? On top of this, you have to know when to wade in yourself and provide support with your own brand of sword and sorcery. At times you’ll tip the battle in the right direction, but you’ll soon find out you’re not invincible. A dead overlord is no good (or bad) to anyone.
These mechanics worked well for Pikimin, and they work just as well here too. The different areas hit a nice balance between keeping you puzzled and making you frustrated, and the game’s fairly open structure means you’re rarely left banging your head against a brick wall. But what elevates the game from good to great isn’t the gameplay, but the attitude. This is where the Dungeon Keeper comparisons come in. Overlord has the same sort of twisted character as the old Bullfrog favourite, but – thanks to the minions – takes it to a new frenetic level. Watching them steamroller through a village street, smashing crockery and scaring the locals, is a lot of fun. Letting them loose on a crowd of porky, partying hobbits is even more fun. Sending them in to murder more hobbits in their sleep is kind of nasty, but – by golly – it warms the cockles of a jaded heart. These gangly, muttering morons have real personality, and as they scavenge arms and armour from the homes and corpses of your foes, they begin to take on weird but lovable identities of their own. Losing members of your horde is always going to be a necessary part of the game, but when you lose a motley crew covered in pumpkins, antlers and other makeshift armour, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of regret. After all, weren’t these the guys that bought you treasure and potions, happy just to serve their dark master again and again and again?