What You Are in the Dark: Overlord Edition

Overlord is pretty bland as a game, but there's some interesting elements to how the narrative/player choice stuff is handled.

Usually What You Are In The Dark is achieved by having the character placed in a situation where their social circle(s) will never find out about their choice, should they choose the Evil Option. In Overlord, instead it's the case that the only people who are a meaningful obstacle to you are people who have no interest in making you be good. (Primarily: the corrupted heroes) Folks like the Citizens of Spree are non-threats, quite intentionally. As such, Overlord pulls off a very public form of WYAitD whereby you can do whatever you want because no one can stop you if you choose to be evil.

This is a noteworthy shift because it places the emphasis re: social judgment differently. WYAitD's standard model means that social judgement just plain doesn't apply. Overlord's approach shifts it to being the case the social judgment exists, and just doesn't have any consequences. Someone who decides to do Good in Overlord is someone who isn't playing along with the crowd to avoid being stomped by the law, while someone electing to do Evil in Overlord is fully aware people don't approve of their choices and just doesn't care.

It's an interesting approach I've never seen pulled off in any other fiction, or at least not quite so consciously. It's a bit disappointing that Overlord 2 switches over to 'nature of evil' rather than 'good vs evil' choices, because this good/evil choice stuff is by far the most interesting element of how Overlord 1 is designed.

Overlord 1 also avoids a typical failing of Evil Protagonist fiction: typically such fiction is less an Evil Protagonist and more Good In Black vs Evil In White, up to and including bystanders cheering the 'evil protagonist' on for their 'evil' deeds. A good example from early in the game: the citizens of Spree have had their food stolen by halflings. When you find the Special Plot Food, a bunch of citizens of Spree show up fairly abruptly, so the plot can present you with a choice between stealing it for yourself or giving it to them.

In most games, there'd be no witnesses to the player's choice, and the dialogue of the Spree citizens if the player stole the food would likely be something to the tune of "I guess the halflings must have already eaten it all. We're still grateful you did as much as you could, Lord." So events would conspire to ensure the player would be congratulated for doing good (even though they chose evil), with no social backlash at all. In Overlord, instead you have witnesses to your crime, who go hostile if you steal the food, and indeed when you return to Spree later the town will attack you out of outrage/desperation. Your evil act will be viewed as one... it's just the people of Spree are effortlessly stomped into submission.

So when you do bad things in Overlord 1, the game makes it clear it's a bad thing and if you have morals you should recognize it was a bad thing, where, somewhat disturbingly, most games will arrange for you to be applauded for your sinister deeds.


Popular Posts