How many games do you know of that allow you to play as a dungeon master? Controlling your horde of minions, fending off heroes, building and improving your dungeon and overall just being a big badass baddie – a Sauron in the making, if you will? I don’t remember any such game other than the legendary Dungeon Keeper. Instead of being in the shoes of one of those no-good pilfering “heroes”, we were thrust into the ethereal body of a Keeper who had to defend himself from the onslaught of these accursed creatures all the while trying to build up strength and resurrect himself as a true Dark Lord. It was a fascinating twist on one of the most basic themes in gaming, and it worked so wonderfully well. Sadly, as time went by the series fell into disarray, spawning several monstrously bad games nobody serious would touch with a ten-foot pole. War for the Overworld is looking to fix that problem; Subterranean Games want the veterans to enjoy this game just as much as they enjoyed the old Dungeon Keeper titles, but it’s also important to cater to the younger audiences who had little to no contact with the series.

The game can best be described as a dungeon management simulator combined with an actual real-time strategy. Each mission begins with a relatively small room containing the Nexus crystal and some of your riches with which you’ll finance the beginning of your conquest. You’ll have to command your minions to dig around the Nexus and build rooms that will then further the arsenal of minions and Sins you have access to. See, the Nexus crystal connects the realm you’re invading and your shattered essence, since you were defeated a while back and are now trying to recuperate and rebuild your army. It is quintessential to defend this focal point of your dungeon at all times, because you’ll die if it’s destroyed. How do you do this? With giant spikes, cannons and a metric tonne of beefy minions, of course! Just as it was in the games War for the Overworld was inspired by, it’s great fun to build your own custom dungeon, slap your minions around and generally just act like an evil overlord that you are. Oh, of course that the slapping function is back! Should one of your minions be an especially absent-minded individual, a good slap in the face will bring it up to speed with his current task. You are paying for its services, after all.

As you expand your originally tiny Nexus vault, you’ll have to build slaughter pens for the cutesy micro pigs your minions will feast on, large Sin-researching facilities, training grounds, resting rooms and more. Naturally, this will in turn attract some even more powerful units, which will allow you to overthrow the more powerful human heroes. Naturally, your dungeon will always be at risk of an attack from the corrupted human empire. These proud, yet lazy sheep-people are very determined in stopping you from being unleashed into the titular Overworld, and expect them to grow very powerful as the campaign comes to a finale. Indeed, the game has a properly formed storyline that’s fairly interesting to wade through. I’d suggest wrapping that up before embarking upon the more sandboxy game-modes such as the Skirmish or Multiplayer are. You’ll learn all of the basics in a simple yet extensive tutorial and get to be slowly introduced into the more complicated mechanics as you progress further down the line. I’ve had a fair share of fun fiddling around with this game mode, but it’s Skirmish veterans will appreciate the most, as this is the mode where you’ll be able to build a truly massive dungeon even Diablo would be proud of.

Visually, War for the Overworld is a nice but somewhat lacking game. While the textures certainly are sharp enough and it all looks quite neat, there’s a certain something missing from the overall quirky atmosphere the game presents you with. I’m quite happy with the sound effects though, and especially with the voice-over that is present in the game’s campaign mode. Of course, the spot-on execution of gameplay is what’s most important here and what most players will praise, so that’s what you should be looking into anyway.

Now, the game isn’t all milk and honey. I’ve had a fair few performance problems in the review build that were not present in the “ordinary” Early Access version that was available up until the release. From what I gather, in this particular iteration the game likes eating away at RAM until it reaches around four gigs of used memory, which is utterly confusing if you ask me. I mean, I understand the need for loads of RAM when it comes to running modern games, but when Ground Zeroes (around 2 gig usage) and Warframe (1.5 gig at most) combined use up less memory than War for the Overworld, I’m calling shucks. There’s also the thing that I’ve experienced numerous crashes and lengthy loading screens, as well as the odd performance the game displays. I tried running the bugger at the highest and lowest settings and I got around 30-40 FPS disregarding the graphical options I selected. Now, mind you, I haven’t had the chance to play WFTO on multiple computers, sadly, so this might just be my machine acting out, but it’s a matter worth looking into. I’d like to point out again, too, that these issues did not pop out until I updated the game to a review build, so there’s that.

Disregarding that, my only real gripe with the game is that the user interface isn’t quite as good as I’d want it too be. The large icons that represent buildings and spells seem redundant and the whole menu is just too bulky for my liking. And even though the mouse pointer is a nice, nostalgic touch (Dungeon Keeper fans will know), I find it to be imprecise when it comes to dynamic situations such as combat or trying to click on the tiny “hide menu” buttons. On the other hand, the whole thing together seems to evoke the vibe of the old Dungeon Keeper games, so I’m guessing this will be a matter of preference more than anything else.

To summarize, War for the Overworld is an awesome game where the only real problem isn’t even that much of a problem but rather a matter of taste. I do suggest waiting to see if the performance issues I’ve experienced persist with more players for those with less-than-great computers, but I can only recommend the game for what it is – a truly worthy successor to the legendary dungeon building series. Great work, Subterranean.