Review: Overfall

Overfall is one of those games: it takes a bundle of genres and puts them together, each with varying depth and intricacy. It’s a game of role-playing, as you create your initial party, recruit followers and do quests for multiple factions; of strategy, as you’ll have to balance managing your supplies and food alongside the grid, turn-based combat; and roguelike, as each procedurally generated run will have different routes and permanent death, should both of your original party members perish. As is often the cases with these types of games, the question to be asked is whether these different genres coalesce into something meaningful or just fall into a convoluted, identity-lacking heap.

The first thing I noticed was that Overfall was not shy about dumping dozens of different mechanics on me from the get-go: you start with your character creation limited to the first two classes, but even there you can see that there are several others to unlock, each with their own skills and perks. At your first interaction you’re already introduced to some of the branching you’ll see throughout the game: specific classes have special dialogue options that can alter a quest’s outcome or rewards, such as being intimidating with a warrior or healing someone with your cleric. Choices are for the most part binary, usually being about choosing a side or picking between refusing or accepting to help someone, with a few, special third options sprinkled throughout each run.

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You’re often given deep options, such as fighting or fleeing, engaging enemies or not, killing or retreating.

As a fantasy game, you can expect the usual tropes: elves and dwarves, clerics and thieves, magical artifacts and a missing king. Curiously enough, even though the setting itself was another iteration of the usual fantasy, the quests and their side-stories were one of my favorite elements. In one of them I met a talking corpse (well, more of a skeleton) who decided to tell me the tale of its demise, an untimely end due to betrayal, and as he re-counted the events of the past I wielded some influence in what happened in the story by telling him to expand upon a point or not, which often led me to re-enacting the battles that happened (with very fatal consequences if failed).

You get to these quests by navigating across the overworld, a large sea peppered with other vessels and islands, each with their own faction or population. There are six races you interact with – Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Goblins, Hollows and Forsaken – and every quest or task you complete increases your reputation with one of them. As you’ll often have to single out one or two of them to increase your rapport with, your choices as you play will be soft-locked into helping them.

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Seduced by an elf and after a treasure hoard, what could possibly go wrong?

There isn’t much to say about the navigation, as it’s more a means of connecting the rarely related island/events than something actually important, and as I played I felt that it could’ve benefited from some more dynamic events as you navigate, such as you see in Sunless Sea. Since food is actually only used for healing, there’s no resource management other than keeping yourself healthy and getting enough fragments to upgrade your weapons and buy food, which means that the actual exploration part of the game is fairly lacking.

Once you get into battles –  and most of the game’s quests revolve around battles – the scene you’re on is separated into tiles and the turn-based affair begins. Battle is divided into three phases – movement, support and attack – and each character can carry out those three separate actions (bar some debuff preventing them). Here once again the excess of mechanics, for better and worse, shows up: there are dozens of ailments and status effects, both negative and positive, that you can inflict upon others and remove from yourself, and for the first few times you play the game telling what the opponent will do to you is entirely guesswork, as the different races and classes are inclined toward different actions, such as AoE damage, healing or debuffing. Being open-ended and roguelike, an issue I found myself facing often was the engagement in battles that were clearly not in my favor and geared toward more ‘leveled’ parties.

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It’s not always the biggest that hits the hardest. I’m joking, that Orc with the greataxe hit like a freight truck.

As you complete quests and battles your characters gain traits through some seemingly-not-random method of assigning said traits according to their actions, although at no point was it clear to me what led to what in that sense. As the traits were entirely positive and didn’t seem to have a limit, progression felt like something that happened to me, and not something I had an acting hand upon. Indeed, the most customization you’ll do aside from your initial character creation process is to choose which upgrades your weapon will have.

One thing important to mention is the wealth of unlockables and variables each playthrough of Overfall can have. With a single run’s length sitting around three or four hours, a pre-requisite to being re-playable would be to have enough variation between each run to entice players to go through the story again. Fortunately, between the multiple classes (and weapon and trinket choices) you can begin with, followers you can recruit and racial storylines you choose to do, Overfall is a game you can play for as long as you’re not bored by its base mechanics (strictly speaking, combat), although as with any roguelike that has quests, dialogue and NPC interactions the eventual repetition of these things might bog your experience down.

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Oh, look! Non-descript island #136! I can’t wait to explore that.

For those who complete the campaign and wish to try something different, Overfall has a Twine-like tool that allows users to create their own stories and quests, linking dialogue, events and actions however they wish. While a promising tool in itself, the relatively small userbase means that there isn’t much to speak of in user-generated content, so you’ll put the tool to better use if you create your own adventures instead of trying to search for other players’ creations.

Overfall wears its simplicity on the sleeve, with each of its inspiring genres never being explored too profoundly, and that is both its bane and boon. I found that for short, independent sessions the simplicity of its mechanics meant I could jump in and out without much thought, but chaining multiple runs quickly led to repeated dialogues, events and actions, and, considering that I unexpectedly found the quests and dialogue to be one of the highlights of the game, this meant that the incentive to play it again lowered with each new playthrough. For those who enjoy the combat sequences and trying out different classes and weapons, the large amount of classes and companions to unlock will give you reason to return.

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One thought on “Review: Overfall

  1. Very cool review sir. This game looks like something I would be interested in. I wasn’t too sure about it when I first heard about it though.

    Like

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