Overly ripe fruit, watered down beer, rubbing ghost naga chillies in your eyes, skinning your bum-cheeks while sitting in a pool of vinegar and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, these are all things which are more enjoyable than Overlord: Fellowship of Evil. Well, alright, maybe not that last one – but you get the idea. A spin-off rather than a full-blooded continuation of the series that was once compared to Nintendo’s Pikmin franchise, the only thing that Fellowship of Evil can be compared to is among the worst games you can buy for the PS4 right now, such is the remarkable depth of its failure.
Casting players as the titular Overlord with the capacity to summon swarms of horrible little things called minions, the Overlord games have all been about using the toothy little gits to perform tasks as you cut about various lands and fairytale scenarios razing everything to the ground and generally being a massive scumbag of gargantuan proportions. In Fellowship of Evil though, the little goons take a backseat to your Overlord as the game takes on a more violent and less cerebral approach than mainline entries in the series.
Of course, being a spin-off should be no sure-fire guarantee that Fellowship of Evil is a steaming pile of unpleasantness, but somehow Fellowship of Evil goes that extra mile down Poor Game Avenue and manages to deliver something at complete qualitative odds to all previous entries in the series so far.
A straightforward hack and slash with some light puzzle elements sprinkled on top, the biggest departure that Fellowship of Evil showcases over its predecessors is that it takes all the face-smashing that you would normally have your minions doing but makes you do it instead. Now while that shouldn’t be an issue(the game is a hack and slash spinoff after all), the fact that the actual hacking and slashing is so sub-standard and flawed, utterly detracts from the experience.
Let alone inviting comparisons to the likes of Diablo that it can’t possibly survive, Fellowship of Evil simply falls at the most rudimentary and basic of hurdles. The combat itself is simplistic; you have a standard strike, a strong strike and a special strike and depending on which of the four hopelessly generic characters you chose, those attacks will either largely unfurl at melee range or at distance.
Tragically, there’s just no satisfaction in the act of combat; attacks feel sluggish and look unspectacular as you furiously mash buttons to tear through an enemy horde the exact same way you did the previous fifty times. Compounding these button mashing shenanigans is the revelation that there is simply no strategy to the aggression of your foes; they just listlessly stumble towards you like Apple fanatics piling into their local store whenever a new iThing is released. You can literally just stand there, pounding the X button and watch the enemy head-butt your weapons over and over. The exception are the bosses which, again, can be vanquished by smacking them repeatedly with the same attack or forcing them to get stuck on the scenery. It’s poor, uninspired and feels like the sort of thing the industry moved on from twenty or so years ago.
Inane, button-bashing tedium aside, you can perform an evasive roll to escape damage, but like everything else it doesn’t feel responsive in the slightest and instead conjures the notion that you’re mucking about covered in treacle, rather than having immediate and free use of your limbs. Furthermore, in combat your minions can also be enlisted to attack your foes or heal the Overlord. Again, much like the nitty gritty of the combat, the use of minions doesn’t seem to have any sort of skill or tactical imperative set against them and can generally be used haphazardly with little negative effect.
Oh and speaking of the little blighters, the pathfinding for the minions is absolutely atrocious on a scale that simply must be witnessed. Acting like a crowd of puritanical youths who have discovered alcohol for the first time on a Saturday night, these scampering imps will get stuck behind gates, run into walls, get flummoxed by corners and generally act like total lobotomised morons whenever the opportunity to march in a straight line doesn’t present itself.
Making matters worse is the fact that the game introduces something early on called the ‘Golden’. A patch of flowers and greenery, any minion who wanders into its growth will immediately change into a fluffy goon and begin attacking you. As you can imagine then, with your minions stumbling about the place like a squad of glue-sniffing monkeys, they often wander/glitch into the stuff and end up attacking you frequently. Due to this (and because of the fact that your Overlord character becomes ridiculously powerful really quite quickly) you never end up using the little buggers in areas with the Golden because, well, it isn’t worth the grief.
Away from the combat side of Fellowship of Evil are the puzzles, which are lightly employed throughout the game’s ten or so hour duration. Similar to how combat is handled, these conundrums are simultaneously formulaic and simplistic; mostly requiring the player to dispatch specific colours of minion to activate switches or avoid traps that might prevent them from doing so. There’s nothing here that will remotely challenge the old grey matter in the slightest, so if you were thinking that the puzzle aspects might alleviate the dire state of affairs elsewhere, then expect a crushing avalanche of disappointment to greet you.
Beyond all the combat and the puzzles, such as they are, Fellowship of Evil also has progressional elements. Gems can be obtained from chests during quests to strengthen your attacks while coins and other trinkets can be bartered to upgrade the abilities of your minions and improve their cosmetic appearance with the latest in minion fashion. It’s pretty much run-of-the-mill stuff to be honest and many of the upgrades, especially the weapons, feel more like side-grades than upgrades, thus robbing them of the incentive to save up for them in the first place.
Should the desire take you and you decide to a rope a ‘friend’ into playing the game in tandem, the ingestion of both your own body weights in intoxicating substances being a prerequisite, Fellowship of Evil can indeed be played co-operatively. Given everything that is so spectacularly wrong with the game though it begs the question; why on earth would you want to inflict that sort of trauma on your fellow human being?
If Overlord: Fellowship of Evil is a train-wreck in play, then it should come as little surprise that technically, it’s about as attractive as a shoebox stuffed with dead rats during a hot Summer’s day.
Starting with the visuals, Fellowship of Evil feels like a relic torn kicking and screaming from a much earlier time. Looking like a flair-free, first-generation PS3 title, the game suffers from a fluctuating framerate, low detail character models, an almost complete dearth of special effects, jaggies all over the place and just about any other visual malady you can think of.
Most troublingly of all though, is the raft of glitches and bugs that infest Fellowship of Evil from beginning to end. Collision detection in particular is awful; frequently character models get stuck in walls, mired in the floor or pinned into a particular animation loop where they cannot be harmed. It gets worse too – objects regularly spasm in the world when coming into contact with each other, often times before disappearing completely without any sort of animation to herald their ignominious exit. Loading times are also frustratingly long; from a lengthy initial load, to the game actually needing to load whenever you change items, it’s clear that Fellowship of Evil isn’t performance optimised in the least.
With such a chronic mishandling of the Overlord license on display here, you simply have to wonder if the franchise did some funny business with the publisher’s mums or something; otherwise it becomes a brain-torturing struggle to imagine how any of this would have gotten through focus testing, much less anything remotely resembling a stringent QA process.
Of course, the real casualties here are the narrative and story elements penned by Tomb Raider scribe Rhianna Pratchett. At many turns witty and entertaining, Pratchett does a good job of highlighting the mischievous nature of these minions and their dark realm, all the while taking well-judged snipes at popular culture to keep things appropriately spicy. In being the highlight of what is otherwise a desperately dull and lacking package, it’s clear that Prachett’s material deserves a better fate than being mired in the dreadfulness which surrounds it here.
Someone somewhere could have a made a decent Overlord spin-off in this vein – I firmly believe that in the right hands there is sufficient creative mileage in the concept to fashion a compelling experience. That game isn’t this one though and rather than meaningfully complementing the series which inspired it, Fellowship of Evil instead almost irrevocably tarnishes it and does that terrible thing of threatening to make us forget what made Overlord so special in the first place.
It shouldn’t have been like this.