Tuesday, February 16, 2016

War For the Overworld

War for the Overworld
Grade: C-
Platform: PC, Mac, GNU/Linux
Genre: 4X

War for the Overworld is really Dungeon Keeper 3, it can't be called that for copyright and trademark reasons, but it's DK3.

And that's both good and bad.  Hardcore DK fans like me have been clammoring for DK3 ever since DK2 was released, so it seems a bit churlish to give it a less than stellar rating when it finally does get released.  But I've got my reasons.

WftO has a lot going for it, to begin with they got Richard Ridings the original voice actor for the mentor from DK1 and DK2 to voice this game as well, and his silky yet sinister tone was always one of the little joys of playing Dungeon Keeper.  The WftO designers also must have been working hand in glove with the legal team to skirt as closely as possible to violating the trademarks and copyrights on Dungeon Keeper without actually stepping over the line. It looks like Dungeon Keeper, it feels like Dungeon Keeper, it sounds like Dungeon Keeper. 

So why a C- instead of a C or a C+?

A variety of reasons, beginning with poor support for post-campaign play.  There is a not very well designed sandbox mode, the inevitable PvP mode, and the promise, or perhaps threat, of DLC in the future.  Compare to DK2's rich post-campaign play and it doesn't hold up.

There's also the problem that while they did innovate a bit, much of what they came up with was mediocre at best.  I did like some changes.  The mana pool is better managed than it was in DK2, they made mana regenerate at a flat rate and took out the abuse inviting mechanic of allowing prayers in the temple to generate mana.  I honestly think DK was better without mana, the DK1 mechanic of paying for spells with gold seemed like a better option, but if we must have mana there is no doubt that WftO handles it better than DK2 did.

Unfortunately that's the only new thing in WftO that was a real improvement.  I like the idea of the alchemy lab, but found the implementation and the range of potions wanting.  I liked the idea of rituals from the dark temple, but like the alchemy lab I found the implementation wanting (how did sacrifices work exactly, it was never really easy to tell) and the rituals themselves a bit bland.
Then there were the unnecessary add ons, the tech tree was kind of pointless really.

Where the game really suffered was in a failure to take risks.  It isn't so much DK3 as it is a loving recreation of DK2 with a few pointless add ons, and a short campaign.  Worse, they kept the parts of DK2 that weren't all that great, and the parts of DK2 where it became less innovative than DK1.

The best part about DK1 was the inversion of aggression.  In most games the player is the aggressor, the one who dictates the tempo of the game, the one invading the enemy and crushing them.  But in DK1 all that was reversed.  The player was a passive defender, the game dictated its own tempo for the most part, and with a tiny few exceptions the player was the one being invaded (though if they planned well of course they were party doing the crushing).  DK2 and WftO changed that, it is always the player doing the invading and taking the active role.  The joy of building a dungeon filled with traps and lurking monsters waiting to destroy would be heroes who would dare try to steal your gold is not a part of DK2 or WftO and I miss that and I miss the bold innovation and role reversal it entailed.

They also kept the Dungeon Keeper combat system, which is both understandable (imagine the wailing if they changed it and it wasn't very fun) but also disappointing.  Combat is easily the worst part of the entire series, it was never anything more than grabbing your monsters and dropping them into battle then hoping you outnumbered the enemy (or in DK2 hoping you'd managed to get all the Dark Knights while leaving your opponent stuck with the goblins).  Combat in WftO is exactly the same, and that's a point really driven home in the level where you have to fight off several other Keepers (ahem, sorry, "Underlords") and the whole thing is basically a bunch of dropping and occasional smiting of enemies with lightning.  Of all that parts of DK that cried out for change and innovation it was combat that called the loudest, and those calls were ignored.

WftO does away with the DK2 mechanic of a shared pool of potential recruits that all Keepers must compete in, but it makes getting hordes of monsters somewhat difficult. Each building will only summon a tiny number of minions, and buildings cost gold and land.  In a way this is good because it can force you to throw minions into combat you otherwise wouldn't, but its also bad because it makes expansion more a matter of deciding which minions you need the most and building more of their rooms than any other consideration.

I'm iffy about the plot of WftO as well. It was short, had an abrupt end with no real demounement (not something I object to, but something of a risk and apparently one that many other players did object to), and while neither DK1 or DK2 had much in the way of player choice in the plot, the way it was presented felt more natural and less forced than it does in WftO.  You had a home realm that seemed like it'd be fun to decorate and fix up with your newly acquired rooms, but trying to do so resulted in the dark god harassing you every few minutes to get back and finish the campaign which kind of detracted from the potential fun there.  Through the entire game you're the pawn of the dark god, and not an unwitting pawn but rather a pawn who is constantly told that they are a pawn, which got old after a while.

What's worse, the plot sometimes had you do something it claimed was important (beating up the other Underlords to make them serve you) but then apparently forgot about that and their servitude was never mentioned again, you never used them for any purpose, it was just sort of left hanging.
Overall, if you want to relive DK2 with better graphics I'd say WftO is a good buy. It's also pretty fun on its own merits, if nothing spectacular.  Personally, I'm loading up DK1 and DK2 from GOG and playing them again.

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