War for the Overworld is a game that I've wanted to get my hands on for some time ever since I had borrowed a Dungeon Keeper 2 CD from a friend. I had hoped that War for the Overworld (developed and published by Brightrock Games, formerly Subterranean Games) would at least have some degree of improvement over the original games and perhaps add some new things to the mix. It managed to meet these reasonable expectations that I had - and that's about it.
Before we start, I need to make it clear that this review is going to cover both the original War for the Overworld as well as the Heart of Gold expansion. I played both to completion at the same time right around the release of the expansion.
War for the Overworld manages to maintain a lot of the charm and style of the Dungeon Keeper games (at least in terms of its aesthetics). There's plenty of opportunities to revel in your evil acts and enjoy the more sadistic aspects of being an evil overlord trying to overthrow the kingdom full of good guys. This is reflected nicely in the campaign map that shows how you've brought ruin to the various "chunks" of the map that represent the portions of the campaign.
The campaign itself is relatively straightforward for an RTS game. You play as the Underlord Oberon and will gradually be introduced to new units and mechanics while facing ever greater challenges. It's almost a rule that RTS games (and similar titles) need to have one or two levels that make you want to pull your hair out and War for the Overworld delivers nicely with a few choice prospects. I found the second-to-last level (in the original campaign) to be downright maddening. Level 12 consists of a fight against three enemy Overlords who completely surround your position in the middle of the map. I managed to win by killing two of them quickly and fortifying heavily against the third. (On reflection I can happily concede that I did not use the best strategy possible for beating the level - the enemies should be taken down in a certain order and I didn't fight in an ideal way.)
I only have two real complaints about the War for the Overworld campaign. Firstly, a few of the levels felt a bit too cramped and I wasn't really able to make an aesthetically-pleasing dungeon a lot of the time. It's a minor complaint to be sure, but I'm prone to playing "SimCity" style and making things very organized. I managed to work around it easily enough, but I would have appreciated a little more breathing room.
The second complaint relates to the ending of the main game. I won't spoil it here, but I found it to be a bit of a downer. It wasn't that it was a particularly sad ending - it just felt a wee bit flat and soured my overall experience with the title a bit.
Heart of Gold introduces you to a new Underlord named Kasita. Kasita has a particular affinity for gold, and this is reflected in her blinged-out theme. While Overlord Oberon was obsessed with conquering the Empire, Overlord Kasita is going after the titular Heart of Gold. You as a player make your way through a campaign with fewer overall levels that are nonetheless lengthier individual experiences.
The Heart of Gold expansion for War for the Overworld took a good bit less time to bear than the main game. I found the individual levels more entertaining than not, and I liked how they allowed to you keep playing them until you decided to manually end them by completing a particular action. For example, if you wanted to continue to destroy the enemy base you were able to do so until you killed off a specific NPC that you had captured in your dungeon. It was a small touch that I really liked nonetheless.
Bear in mind that this isn't just a straight graphical upgrade of Dungeon Keeper. There're quite a few new gameplay additions. For example, "Sins" are a sort of skill/tech tree that you progress through as you play the campaign. (You progress through the Sins in skirmish matches at a faster pace.) There's some new spells, items, and game mechanics that flesh out the gameplay and made it feel like a "next-gen" experience in the Dungeon Keeper style of games.
Graphically, I liked the look of War for the Overworld. I found it to be a worthy upgrade to its spiritual predecessor Dungeon Keeper, although I would be rather upset if Brightrock Games didn't manage to make some degree of improvements on a title whose last iteration released over 15 years ago. Aesthetics aside, I found that the game had particular issues with framerate drops and stability on my end. The largest levels in both campaigns chugged pretty badly when there were a lot of units on screen. I played War for the Overworld and Heart of Gold on my midrange PC that goes a bit past the recommended requirements on the game's Steam page. I feel that I shouldn't have had the issues that I did while playing.
That said, War for the Overworld was noted to have much worse issues at launch, and I'll nonetheless count my problems as an improvement over the game's initial state at release. Brightrock Games may not have made the most technically perfect product possible, but they've constantly put good effort into fixing any mistakes. I encountered a particular bug that froze the game at the end of the Heart of Gold expansion, and they were relatively quick to respond.
The sounds in the game are lovely and suit the title well. The most outstanding thing to mention is the voice acting performance of Richard Ridings reprising his role as the game's narrator and your Overlord's mentor of sorts. Mr. Ridings does an excellent job in both the core game and the Heart of Gold expansion, and the only real complaint I've noticed anyone bring up is that the writing is a bit lacking in the comedy department compared to the Dungeon Keeper games. I don't have enough experience with Dungeon Keeper to speak to this difference, but I can say that I enjoyed his delivery and felt that Mr. Ridings was born for this sort of role.
I was never big on multiplayer in RTS games (save for comp-stomps with a friend), but I had to do my due diligence and at least give it a try. Unfortunately, I hadn't really managed to find an open game over multiple attempts during the game's release. It could have just been extraordinarily poor timing on my part, but I would often see nothing but full or password-protected games. In my limited experience on this issue, if you're hoping to find people to play with online, you might have more luck playing with people you already know than looking for an open public match.
While multiplayer isn't really my thing, I do enjoy making maps and scenarios. I tried my hand at the map editor that was added to the game post-release. It allows you a good degree of creative freedom in building levels. However, it lacks any real ability to set triggers, tinker with A.I., or create custom campaigns. A Reddit comment by a community manager states that it's planned but currently not a priority. If you're hoping to be able to make maps on par with what you see in the campaign I'm afraid you'll have to wait a while.
The only remaining minor issue I have with the game is that you can't turn off edge scrolling with the mouse. This is an option I would hope would be standard in games of this type by now, and while it's a tiny oversight I feel that it ought to have been included from day one.
I played War for the Overworld both for about 25 hours total. It's by no means perfect, and I think the game may have come out of the oven a bit too early. Be mindful that a handful of problems do still exist, and you might not have the ideal gameplay experience (especially on a lower-end PC). That said, Brightrock Games is continually working on improving the game. It would have been better if they had released it in a stronger state, but to their credit they've been working hard on fixing issues and making improvements.
Overall, I enjoyed War for the Overworld and the Heart of Gold expansion. If you've played Dungeon Keeper previously I think you'll get a good amount of enjoyment out of this game despite its problems. Aside from the occasional graphical hiccup or odd bug I encountered, I thought it did a fine job of living up to the legacy of its spiritual predecessors. If you haven't played Dungeon Keeper (or a similar title), I think War for the Overworld is easy enough for a new player to pick up. You'll probably find something to enjoy if you like any RTS or management game.
War for the Overworld and the Heart of Gold expansion were reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.
What did you think of War for the Overworld? Do you feel it's a worthy spiritual successor to the Dungeon Keeper games? Do you feel the Heart of Gold expansion adds an acceptable amount of content? Let us know in the comments below!