This is not a review of War for the Overworld, because – despite the game’s embargo actually lifting a couple of days ago – I don’t actually think it’s in reviewable condition. At least, I didn’t two days ago. At that point, I opted to not review it, and instead wait and see what sort of state it was in at launch. Sure enough, there have been several large patches between then and now, and…
… it’s still not exactly in fantastic condition. Which is sad, because I rather like what it’s trying to do.
Here is what War for the Overworld is trying to do: Dungeon Keeper. I don’t mean “inspired by Dungeon Keeper” in the same sense as something like Impire or Dungeons, which takes the rough idea of “you run a dungeon” and then manages to craft something pretty awful around that concept. I mean that War for the Overworld grew up in a room dominated by Dungeon Keeper posters, cut its hair just like Dungeon Keeper, idolises Dungeon Keeper, and is doing its best to be Dungeon Keeper.
You start with your dungeon core, and expand outwards by digging tunnels. You hook your dungeon up to a gateway, through which minions arrive. You build a lair, and a slaughterhouse-style food area, and then start building more targeted rooms to attract minions. Gnarlings can be called in by building a barracks (a training area), for instance, while Cultists want an archive. And if I slip up and call something by its Dungeon Keeper name, I’m sorry, but that’s just how similar this is.
There is new stuff too, of course. There are plenty of new spells, traps, and rooms. The campaign follows roughly the same “here are some new rooms, go cause havoc with them” tutorial-y level design as Dungeon Keeper did, but (obviously) with different maps and different challenges. It’s a beautiful homage to that game.
It’s also helped greatly by having Richard Ridings doing the voice of the mentor character – the disembodied voice that gives you your objectives, tells you about new features, and reports on your dungeon status in a deliciously evil manner. He did the same thing in Dungeon Keeper, and he is so good at it.
When it works, it’s like playing Dungeon Keeper. But… well, let’s talk about one level which I attempted twice; once before the launch patch, and once after.
That level is level six. It’s not particularly far into the game but, as I’d already decided I wasn’t going to review War for the Overworld for embargo and wanted to wait and see how patches impacted things, I haven’t exactly been rushing my way through the game.
Level six introduces the Prison and the Torture Chamber. It’s difficult for you to get minions through “normal” means on this level – the idea, generally, is to attack enemy outposts, free prisoners, and maybe torture any defeated enemies until they switch sides and join your forces.
The first time I attempted it, things didn’t go well. I was expanding my dungeon outwards, taking enemy outposts, and generally extending my evil influence, all of which was great! Even the occasions when my minions would decide that doors were more of a threat than the dwarves with massive warhammers or the bolt-firing traps, weren’t that much of a problem. I had a large army, and I was pretty much unstoppable.
Until about halfway through the level, anyway, at which point it became rather difficult for me to proceed. Normally, before charging into enemy territory, I’d set a rally flag on my own territory, switch to the unit tab, and then click to pick up as many minions as I could and drop them onto that flag. I’d get everyone in one spot, and then charge them forward.
But for some reason, there were lots of minions I couldn’t pick up. At first I assumed they were wandering around and exploring, and maybe I couldn’t pick them up because they were on enemy territory or something. Eventually I started right-clicking their icons on the unit tab to find out where they were, and…
… the camera panned to the very bottom left of the map and stayed there. Apparently, they were off the map. I don’t know if they’d fallen through the floor, or if they’d died and yet were still listed on the minion tab, or what. All I know is that they were still listed as being under control, but I couldn’t do a damn thing with them. Eventually I found another minion stood in the middle of a lake of blood (which replaces water on this level; I’m not being poetic), but moving the camera caused him to vanish. He did have a smiley face above his head, so I guess he was happy! He just, y’know, couldn’t move anywhere. And I couldn’t pick him up or do anything with him. So fuck that guy, because he was of no use to my continuing
Unfortunately, this led to my eventual defeat because before long I only had about seven minions who weren’t trapped in the places between space and time, and alas, they’re not much use against level 12 dwarves. Even when they’re attacking the warhammer-wielding beardies instead of doors.
Tonight, after the game officially launched, I tried the level again. This time, I had no such problems with people falling through the floor! (One person did suffer from the “I can’t see you anymore if I move the camera” problem, but I think he was dead anyway, so I don’t care.) The dwarves had apparently stopped doing cardio, and the last push only pitted me against level 6 foes instead of level 12s, so it was a significantly easier finale.
Unfortunately, my mouse cursor vanished on the “mission complete” screen, so I had to alt-F4 out. Still, at least the game recognised that I’d finished the level.
I wish those were the only problems I had, but they really aren’t – it’s just that most of the rest are considerably more nit-picky. There are occasional massive framerate drops towards the end of the level, for instance. Going from the last screen of a level to the “mission complete” screen often takes a lot longer than you’d expect. The giant animated demon hand that serves as your cursor occasionally feels a bit too large, and some of the buttons are so small that it can genuinely be hard to tell where you need to move the mouse to click on them. It’s sufficiently dark that I would kill for a gamma slider.
More damning, perhaps, is your minion statuses. If one of them is hungry, for instance, it won’t say “Devouring a piglet at the Slaughterhouse at (31, 34)”. It’ll say “do HUNGER_RAW on Piggy 0 at (31,34)”, which is the sort of lack of polish I’d expect from a beta, not a release build. Mousing over things often reveals their names as something like Undefined_Prop, or “missing ‘prefabs tiles rooms campaigngateway name’” in one memorable example.
Which is what I mean when I say that War for the Overworld doesn’t really feel ready for review. I really like the actual game part – it’s the sort of dungeon-building wonder I’ve been wanting for, quite literally, a decade, and while I’m not nearly far enough in to say how well it works or whether it lives up to expectations, everything I’ve seen so far is promising. But holy shit, it needs a lot of polish. I’m optimistic that a lot of these issues will get fixed up over time, but in no way does this feel like a review build
It’s been lurking away underground for quite some time, but I’m still not convinced that War of the Overworld is ready to leave Early Access and start rampaging across the surface just yet. You might want to give this another week or two to see how things shake out before indulging in your Dungeon Keeper desires.