Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Lesser Evil, Overlord the Second

In my ranting about all the technological and gameplay features of the Overlord games, I almost completely forgot to mention one of the most important pillars in gaming. The Overlord games have what one might call a story. And even Story Arc.

I gave a synopsis of these stories in my previous post. But I'll dig somewhat deeper into them here. Spoilers are ahead so go out and buy the game, finish it and get back to this post. Because you don't want to miss all that is about to be written down. You could also skip ahead to the last paragraph for a final thought. And just to make sure: BEWARE SPOILERS AHEAD.

Overlord the first has, in my opinion, the most interesting story.
However, initially there's hardly any story to speak of! You're thrown into the role of Overlord by Gnarl, the old and... gnarly spokesman of the minions. He's your advisor for the duration of the game. Teaching you how to act in your newfound role. Trying to rebuild the dark tower and reunite the brown, red, green and blue minions. You do this by raiding the surrounding villages, towns and castles. But the scavage hunt quickly becomes an unholy crusade against the "heroes" who inhabite the surrounding lands. Each of these heroes represent an earthly sin. Seven in total. Each is crushed beneath your Steel boots. Though the reasons beyond "because they are bad men" are somewhat unclear.
Melvin Underbelly is a bloated and obese halfling. Gluttony.
Oberon is an elven prince, asleep and on guard against a dwarven invasion. His nightmares become reality and haunt the Elven forests. Sloth.
Sir William the Black, a former paladin and presumable victim of abstenence, has an unhealthy craving for a mistriss succubus. Lust.
Goldo Golderson is a dwarven King, and as his name might suggest, concerned only by the amount of gold he possesses. Greed.
Jewel is a thief bent on stealing everything of value someone else might have. Envy.
Khan is a giant warrior and lover of Jewel, he's insanely protective and comes down with fiery anger to whomever threatens her. Unfortunatly, as the Overlord, you have. Wrath.
All these characters speak of a mysterious wizard. Delivering all they desired, and become corrupt in the procedings. The wizard is the main, if somewhat hidden mastermind behind the plot of the game. During your encounter with him he keeps mentioning his accomplishments and his genious. Possibly born a Leo, his sin is most definitly pride.
The wizard is introduced as he sits in your throne, your minions gasping in awe at the return of "the real overlord". As it turns out, this Wizard is possessed by a vanguished Evil. An evil slain by your hand, aided by the heroes you just ground into a fine paste.
The unawareness of the player is the memory loss of the Overlord. It becomes clear that the story from OVerlord is an aftermath of the typical "band of heroes" fantasy story you find in other fiction. One could say that Lord Of The Rings was an influence. In which case the question could have been who was Sauron before he became the evil Overlord he is today? Was he once a virtuous man? Is he only one in a long line of Overlords? What would Tolkien have written if there ever was to be a sequel to The Lord of the Rings? Overlord is the somewhat cheeky answer.
In the end, you're able to convince your minions to fight for you through means of bashing them over the head a few times. And use them to overcome the Wizard. Making you the rightfull Overlord.

Overlord II has a less interesting story, despite its potential. "Sociological commentary" almost came on the box as a feature. But this basically boils down to "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely". The embodiment of this is the Emperor. Ruling an empire so successful and prosperous that the citizens have become fat, lazy and somewhat stupid.

To elaborate. There is scene where a group of fat, middle-aged women accuse Juno (the Aphrodite archetype) of witchcraft because her beauty has enthralled their men. For this she is democratically voted off to the arena. Quite a humorous scene, because it's kind of true, but never quite surpassed later in the game.
Even though the game is able to mislead the player from guessing the twist of the story. Unfortunatly, it is quite a let down and you get the feeling you'd be able to come up with something better. Here's why. At first I thought the overly speechy and brainy right hand man of the "evil Emperor" would be the real mastermind, the Emperor being the figurehead of the regime. Certain signs could have been telling. The Emperor never speaks, never shows his face from under his mask, never does anything apart from waving at crowds and is dependant on "consuming" magical beings to sustain him. Leading me to believe he might have been an animated character or a golem. Not so.
The real twist to the story is when you find out who's behind the mask. The transformation from one guise to the next is far more then just an unmasking, it's an almost hulkian transformation. Since the Emperor's physique is more impressive then that of his true identity.
The only real personal motivation for this character is "becoming a magical being", lust for power. And that's about it. He's not the only character to undergo a transformation, the seemingly intellectual henchman becomes a sniveling zealot in the end, able only to paise his master.
It seems this game that was inspired by the domination of the Roman Empire and Roman mythology, but in the end fails to do anything useful with it. Beyond the comparison that you are Hades claiming Artemis, Aphrodite and Persephone. And forgive me for using their Greek names. It seems that even here the age rating of the game is keeping the player from having some actual fun with your mistresses.

Evil in these games should be read as "mischievous", the minions are naughty. The Overlord is a big bully. When will we get an truly Evil version of an Overlord game?
In the first game there is an option to turn a spare room into a torture dungeon. I had a flashback to the old Dungeon Keeper games but unfortunately it's just there to look at. In the same game a village will offer you 10 "maidens". And again, these are just there to stand around your throne, spewing the same line of dialog over and over. Why weren't they put at random places in the tower to perform menial tasks. Like scrubbing the floor or something. I'd make the whole thing so much more believable.
The games offer an option to be "an unlikable person" or "a very bad person". The gradient goes from broken white to halfway grey. As a comparison we could say Fable goes from pure white to somewhat dark grey. But games have yet to go to pitchblack. You could say Manhunt or something is rather dark, but that's not the kind of Evil I'd like to see in the Overlord series. Manhunt is just plain violent. Brilliant Evil would be more of a thriller, working the imagination. Suggesting bad things instead of showing stuff intended for gore hounds.
Again I must plead for a dark and gritty Overlord PC game, intended for mature gamers instead of the giggling tomfoolery intended for the console tween audience. And perhaps go over a few ethical problems the human race has to deal with.

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