Born from the love of evil.
Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper games were pretty awesome, back in the day. They flipped the fantasy world on its head by casting the player as an evil overlord whose job was to build a dungeon and thwart the goody goody heroes that found it necessary to vanquish evil. It was delightfully evil fun. EA attempted to reboot the original franchise with a micro-transaction filled mobile game, something which really didn’t go down well with the fans, and there have been other dungeon management RTS games over the years, but none have reached the popularity of the original Dungeon Keeper.
Subterranean Games’ War for the Overworld, which just recently came out of Early Access on Steam, casts itself as the spiritual successor to Dungeon Keeper, setting itself quite lofty goals. However, once starting the game up, it is easy to see that the developers have taken their love for the original Dungeon Keeper and used it as inspiration for their game. The similarities abound, and the game is a far cry from EA’s mobile effort. So, it’s off to a good start…
For those of you old enough to remember the original Dungeon Keeper games, I feel your pain. But for those too young, the premise of War for the Overworld is fairly simple. Build an underground dungeon, filled with all manner of traps and monsters, and fight back against the human heroes that want to destroy your nexus.
As a former evil overlord, the player’s essence is pulled back into the world and and reconstructed by the big glowing thing that sits at the center of your would-be underground domain. This nexus is the most important aspect of your existence and, as the game progresses, will come under attack in an attempt to destroy you. Protect this nexus above all things.
Beginning with a small amount of gold and a handful of evil minions, the player gets started by having the minions carve into the rock to create rooms and corridors. This is as easy as highlighting the rock, which is helpfully divided into grids. Carve out a large enough block and you can turn it into one of the many available rooms that each have different purposes. Dig to the portal and all manner of monsters will wander into your dungeon, attracted by the rooms, and pledge their allegiance to your evilness.
All of this expansion is paid for with gold, which mostly comes from the dirt that your minions are digging into. The variety of different rooms is really impressive, giving the player plenty of choice as to how they fill out their dungeon. Some rooms will attract different monsters, others may be used simply to keep those monsters happy or to train them and make them more powerful. Then there are yet more rooms dedicated to other essential services, such as allowing the player to use dungeon-wide spells or start creating traps to catch out any unwary adventurers. Hey, maybe you should even build a prison to hold those adventurers captive. Good times!
The management and building of the dungeon is gloriously enjoyable, but the game doesn’t stop there. Enemies will invade your dungeon and try to destroy the nexus, so there is also a fair helping of RTS required to keep this menace at bay. Dealing with an incursion generally involves setting a waypoint in the adventurers way and letting your minions, and any other monsters that happen to be dwelling in the dungeon, wander over and sort them out. Any traps and hazards along the way will take their toll on the heroes, but mostly the player will simply be looking to send out monsters and minions that are stronger than the enemy.
However, the evil overlord himself can get involved by casting spells. Spells cost mana to cast, but can be used to either directly assault the enemy or buff the players’ own army, giving the player that slight advantage.
Despite the War for the Overworld name, which I am honestly not that keen on, this game really is the next Dungeon Keeper game. Little things in the game are a constant reminder of this, such as the mouse pointer in the game and the narration which is provided by the original narrator from Dungeon Keeper, Richard Ridings. These little touches really bring a sense of nostalgia to the game and just emphasize the fun.
But, considering War for the Overworld just recently came out of Early Access for full release, things are not as shiny as you would expect. One design issue is the UI which is cluttered and clunky. But the majority of the problems come from the fact that the game just isn’t finished yet. There are numerous bugs and glitches, the game takes ages to load, and there are even some features that have yet to be added. This unfinished state is a bit of a problem, but the guys at Subterranean Games certainly seem to be going above and beyond to get the game up to scratch, with patches being offered with surprising regularity. However, it still feels a bit cheeky to launch the game unfinished.
War for the Overworld really is Dungeon Keeper’s spiritual successor, but the enormous fun that can be had in running a dungeon is slightly dampened by the unfinished nature of the game and the buggy performance. Whilst I have no doubt that War for the Overworld will be perfected over time, right now the game can be somewhat disappointing. War for the Overworld has great potential, and for this reason it is a worthy purchase. However, you might want to wait until a few more patches have been released.