Overlord II

Overview

Title: Overlord II
Release Date: 26/06/2009
Developer/Publisher: Triumph Studios/Codemasters
Genre: RPG
Platform[s]: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii (Note: I am reviewing the Xbox 360 version)

Storyline

Overlord 2 is a game about domination, and not the kinky gimp mask kind either. The original was darkly humorous and became an underground cult smash which was missed by a lot gamers, which is a shame because it was a good game – albeit a slightly flawed and glitchy one. It was instantly likeable though, and offered something new in the form of The Minions, a rick-raggedy band of Gremlin-esque creatures you could send off to do your bidding on all manner of people, places and cutesy animals (mainly sheep). The new sequel sets out to address those flaws and glitches, expand on the dark humour and mythos of the franchise and (hopefully) entice some new gamers into the cold, oppressive arms of the Overlord…and The Minions.

Cast as the original Overlord’s offspring (Overlord 2 is set some years after the end of the first game’s last round of DLC), you set off to follow in your father’s footsteps and take revenge on the town of Nordberg after they cast you out as a weird, glowy-eyed youngster. The first level serves as a mini-tutorial where you play as the toddler version of the man himself, wrecking havoc on your similarly aged chums as they attempt to pelt you with snowballs. It also introduces you to some of the mechanics and humour of the game and the mischievous but destructive nature of The Minions.

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Gameplay

Those familiar with the demo (out now on Xbox Live) or the original game won’t find the controls too hard to pickup, although Overlord virgins may struggle with the Camera/Minion control to begin with, as they’re both allocated to the right stick. Nudging the stick forwards before making any further moves puts you in control of your Minions, although in several places the computer appears to select either the camera or Minions for you, regardless of which way you nudge the stick. You can move the camera by holding LB and rotating the right stick however, which is a far easier option – and can be done while moving the Overlord himself, who attacks using A and casts magic using X. So, the real stars of the show are the Minions – as mentioned previously, you can control them specifically as a group with the right stick (also known as “sweeping”) in which case they will attack anything in their paths, be it parts of the environment, your enemies, or (as in the previous game) cutesy animals…in this case, Baby Seals. And although you may feel slightly dirty at watching your Minions club a batch of the fluffy white blighters to begin with, once you begin reaping the rewards (glowing orbs known as lifeforce, which gives you more Minions) it will all become part of the Overlording process.

Minions can also be “sent” in a particular direction to do their own thing by a tap of RT to individually send Minions, or the whole group can be sent by holding it down until they have all scurried off. In this case, they will usually carry out whichever task they think is best – be it attacking/killing, picking up dropped items from the enemy (to use as weapons for themselves) or moving key items to their relevant locations. Triumph studios has made a point of trying to improve the AI of your rabble, and 99.9% of the time they do what they expect you to do, although in the case of some areas where there is more than one key item to control/pick up, you may find yourself calling them back to you (by holding the B button) in frustration as you watch them try to leg it off with a keystone when you were actually trying to get them to turn a wheel.

There are four main Minion types on offer in the game, each unlocked as you progress further and each offering strengths and weaknesses to help you overcome enemies and tasks. The first and most common type are the Browns, which are your typical grunt type Minion – able to take a fair bit of damage, are good in melee combat and the only type able to wield dropped items as weapons. The Reds are fairly weak and tend to die quickly in hand to hand, but they are able to shoot fireballs and can suck up fire (if something in your way is ablaze and you can’t get past, send the Reds in) as well. The Greens are your Stealth option, able to blend in with a lush, green environment and if left standing for a short period of time they will become invisible – good for infiltration missions. The Blues are your Mystics, the only type able to cross expanses of water and can reanimate dead Minions lost in the field – but they are tremendously weak. All the types work well together, and you will find yourself sending the Browns in to start a fight off while you station the Reds on a high plateau to rain fireballs down on an enemy at the same time while the Greens sneak in to steal a key item, and for the most part it is quite a satisfying tactical addition to the gameplay.

Frustrations arise in sending the wrong Minion for the job, or losing a complete Army of tooled up cretins to a particularly annoying Boss character and then dying yourself, which can be a regular occurrence in Overlord 2. Much the same as the bosses in the first game, some (but not all, mind) of the bosses in Overlord 2 are all too easy and predictable – most usually a case of finding their weak spot, working out the right Minions to send into the fray and then taking advantage and chipping away at them with your Axe/Spiked Bat etc until they die. And there is an alarming amount of this in the game as well. One other minor quibble is that the maps are big, but also fairly linear- a sandbox version of Overlord would be awesome, however…and with an RPG element built in (a la Fable 2) it would be a serious force to be reckoned with – and you do get the feeling of being hemmed in at points. Triumph have attempted to offset this by improving the draw distance and some of the vistas are quite impressive, but more on that in a bit.

One of the original games major flaws was the complete absence of a map (and by Lennart Sas’ own admission, he has no idea why they didn’t put one in), which led to a good amount of time lost running round in circles while you searched for your next objective – and this is thankfully one of the problems that has been addressed in the sequel, and by god it’s a welcome addition. The map is a godsend, but also hard to read at some points, whereas the road you should be taking is not immediately obvious to you, leading to some retreading, and retreading, and retreading of steps – followed by kicking of one’s self for not finding the path in the first place. Also worth mentioning are the different Mounts available to your Minions, starting off with Wolves (as per the demo) and progressing up to other nasty creatures for each type of Minion as the game goes on.

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Graphics

As mentioned earlier, the draw distance has been greatly improved and it really shows – some of the settings (although not up to Fable 2 standard, for example) are great, and the tone and feel of each level is perfect, and fits in nicely with the Overlord universe. New to this game is the ability to travel to different lands and countries (by boat), offering up some really nice stuff to look at. The Minions are well animated, but in places the Overlord can look a bit wooden, and some of the animations where he is jumping from area to area in his lair are wholly unnecessary. Some of the bosses are simply awful, too. The smaller enemies are great and look the part, however – and if you’re an Arachnophobe then watch out for the Everlight Temple level! Ultimately though, when compared to something like Dead Space or even Assassin’s Creed, Overlord is left looking like a slightly unattractive cousin that doesn’t use the 360’s processor power to its full capacity.

Audio

The sound in Overlord 2 is superb – the incessant chatter of the Minions in the battlefield is a constant source of amusement as they smash their way around the place, and even though the Overlord himself is silent the rest of the cast more than make up for it. The dark humour of the game is present throughout, and some of the voiceovers and jokes are well placed and raise a giggle or two. The music has also been well scored, and in places (particularly the Overlord’s private quarters) is quite beautiful – and it’s one of the main factors that make the game feel “right” and in context.

Overall Score & Replayability

The Overlord idea is a great concept, and despite a shaky start in the first offering, Overlord 2 redresses the balance with about 95% of niggles from the first game tightened up this time around. Despite a few minor quibbles here and there, none of them are particularly game-breaking and the new features will please the Overlord fans out there as well as offering a bit more bang for the newcomer’s buck – so if you were unfortunate enough to miss out on the first game, I would wholeheartedly recommend you head to your nearest game Shoppe on the 26th of June and purchase. If you don’t, I’m sending my Minions around…