When Overlord came out in 2007, it was a nice breath of fresh air in the action-RPG world. Combining cleverly-written satire of the standard fantasy world with a winning combination of hack-and-slash and puzzle-solving, many were quick to praise the game for its originality. Overlord: Fellowship of Evil, unfortunately, is like the antithesis of the original title and its 2009 sequel; where those first two games worked doggedly to avoid the tired tropes of the genre, FOE implements them as poorly as humanly possible — making it, at best, a pretty awful clone of the stuff you might see in Gauntlet or Diablo.
Right out of the gate, the game positively wheezes. It’s like the concept was designed using some sort of My First Action-RPG template, with all the obligatory boxes checked: a top-down camera angle; four characters, two ranged and two melee; three attacks per character, including light, strong and special; and “puzzles” that mostly include hitting switches or using the right-colored minion on the right-colored barrier.
Oh yeah, remember the minions? They were one of the biggest draws to the series in games prior, mostly because they brought a strategic mob-management element similar to games like Pikmin and New Little King’s Story. Here, they just sort of bounce and glitch around you, occasionally becoming useful when you need to be healed or take down a colored barrier.
On that note, a fair warning: don’t go into this game solo, expecting that the minions will make up for your lack of human companions or something. Trying to attempt any of these levels by your lonesome will be nothing but an exercise in frustration, an issue exacerbated by the fact that — as of this writing — it’s currently quite difficult to find another player in the Public mode.
Technical Troubles & Dubious Design
But even if you find another player to partner up with, or just gather some friends to play with, you’ll still have to contend with the game’s gruesome technical problems. As a matter of fact, adding players can actually be a massive hindrance; performance issues seem to be directly proportional to the number of party members you have. The game’s framerate frequently chugs as a result of the insanity going onscreen, and you’ll often get hit with huge pauses that throw off your flow. The collision detection is shaky at best, too, whether you’re getting caught on background objects or watching an enemy stand on objects it shouldn’t be able to.
There are some dubious design choices, too. Allowing you to have a great number of minions onscreen would be great if they could decide on some sort of coordination, but alas, their swarm formation and abysmal AI often makes them the victim of traps. Whenever you move through an area with spikes or fire, get ready to kiss a significant portion of your army goodbye.
And then there are the level layouts themselves — compared to other games in the series, there’s a much heavier emphasis on combat and a reduced complexity in the puzzles. Of course, focusing on the combat wouldn’t be bad by itself, but when combined with the clunky and button-mashy battle system implemented here, it makes levels a slog.
Thankfully, not all the series’ beloved elements have fallen by the wayside. Rhianna Pratchett’s script is sort of depressing to read here, as it’s an order of magnitude better than anything else happening on the screen — her satirical and quirky dialogue is actually funny, and it’s delivered by the voice actors in just the right way. The score is nice, too, featuring sweeping orchestral tunes with more than enough melody and whimsy to avoid the usual pitfalls of generic fantasy music.
Evil Waits for No One … Except the Framerate
It’s bad enough that Overlord: Fellowship of Evil waters down the more substantial gameplay of its predecessors in favor of a generic action-RPG model, but that’s actually the least of the game’s problems. Technical problems make the framerate and collision detection bigger obstacles than the traps and enemies, and the level design reduces everything to the lowest common denominator. It never gets old hearing the witty dialogue penned by Rhianna Pratchett, and the score is suitably epic and whimsical, but those are two bright spots in an otherwise dreary mess.
Review copy for Overlord: Fellowship of Evil provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.