Monday, June 29, 2009


I bought Overlord II and I'm playing it. I do have an in depth review in the wings, but because I'm not far enough along yet, I'd instead like to talk about another interesting topic: cultural believability.

Overlord II has you play a rather villainous character, portrayed as really quite evil. In the ads you are sitting on a throne, draped in women who apparently don't care that your armor is spiked. It sets the mood, you see: you're a kind of self-indulgent, spoiled-rotten evildoer.

I can understand the restraints placed upon the game, of course. Allowing players to be evil up to real evil standards wouldn't just get it rated AO: it would be banned from nearly every country and certainly no store would willingly carry it. So you can't torture people, put them on spikes, render them for fat, or any of the truly vile things humans customarily do when they get a taste of power. There aren't even any children in the game, aside from the intro level.

I can live with that. Frankly, I wouldn't be able to play such a game, because I'm NOT evil. I can't even play Dark Jedi in the various Jedi games. I play a remarkably kind and generous evil overlord.

But there are some in-game elements where you are SUCH a pansy. Gameplay elements, not scripted events. And I don't get it. It's immersion-breaking for me.

For example, you can dominate the minds of peasants and they'll follow you around and generally be helpful. However, when you've got more than, say, two, they really get in the way. Pushing past them is a slow process, with the peasant backing up about an inch at a time - assuming there isn't anything for a few yards behind him (or her). It gets so bad that I've had to KILL them just to push by.

Why, exactly, is my ten-foot-tall armored behemoth with glowy eyes participating in this farce? Is there some reason he doesn't simply fling them ten feet away when he runs into them?

There are a lot of these kinds of details, where your badass dude is a badass dud. This is simply the most... tactically irritating one.

Another example is your women. It's true that you have multiple mistresses in this game, but you are a serial monogamist. Similarly, they aren't even window dressing: they just walk around and occasionally make a neutral noise. They don't even LOUNGE properly, let alone hang off you or be, you know, mistressy. In game terms, there's absolutely no difference between how they act and how J Random Goblin acts.

To make the matter worse, they don't let you really just drop the issue. At every turn they talk about your mistresses, your potential mistresses, and decorating your not-so-private chambers. It's roughly the same noise level as collecting stars in Mario Galaxy. Except that the stars are more interactive.

It seems strange to me: you're portrayed as a badass, everyone talks about you as if you're a badass, but you can't ever do anything even vaguely evil, save for stabbing villagers if you really feel inclined. I can stab villagers in Oblivion as well: who cares?

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