To date, most of the efforts to contrast good and evil in games have been spectacularly bipolar, extreme on either end of the moral spectrum to the point of hilarity. Worse still, there's little reward has come from all the effort spent making "bad" look good. Why? Because by the time credits roll, even "evil" characters end up serving the common good, by stopping some kind of greater villain.
The need for a greater antagonist is natural, as most well-adjusted people are good, and as such do not enjoy doing bad things to good people, even in fictional situations.
Even as successful an "evil" game as the original Overlord tiptoed around the issue, using its comic tone to flip the traditional fantasy "fellowship" into a "fell-ship," by exposing the hypocrisy of the "heroes" that deposed the player's predecessor. As a result, the evil overlord was more of an antihero.
The towns you liberated loved you for rescuing them, and being loved was hardly a fitting situation for a truly evil character. It worked out, but only because Overlord was the first game to tread the all-evil path since Dungeon Keeper (and Evil Genius to a lesser extent).
Does its sequel run that same course, or does Overlord II finally do justice to a properly unjust villain? Here is my answer, phrased in the way a 'moral choice' dialog option might be in a different game:
"SHUT UP, SLAVE AND GET BACK TO WORK! HIS MAGNIFICENCE DEMANDS MORE WEAPONS FOR HIS MINIONS, AND YOU AREN'T WORKING HARD ENOUGH. NONE OF YOU ARE! AND THAT EARNS YOU MORE WHIPPING!"
That's the first moral choice. The second would be as follows:
"SHUT UP! CORPSES DO NOT TALK, AND I KILLED YOU ALREADY. CONTINUE TALKING, AND I WILL KILL YOU AGAIN, THEN HAVE THE MINIONS VIOLATE YOUR TWICE-DEAD CORPSE."
And so on. As one can see, there are no morals to be found in these moral choices. Instead, Overlord II renders its choices pragmatic more "how" than "why", all of it dependent on the player's persuasion. Dominate, or destroy? Enslave, or execute? Either option leads to malicious giggles, either option carries pros and cons, either option is an evil option. There is no chance of cognitive drift, no moral inconsistencies to worry about, when amorality is your morality.
Overlord II does a better job than its predecessor of making you feel like the primary antagonist. Freed from the pressure of trying to carve out a narrative niche for itself (one of the benefits of being a sequel), the game spins a more original yarn rather than relying on twisting traditional stereotypes of goodness for the sake of novelty. After all, the player's main foe the Empire, is drawn from ancient Rome, which was hardly an example of flowing kindness and generosity.
Of course, the Empire is pretty evil in itself. But not really moreso than the player. The player doesn't act against the Empire because they're worse than you, but because the Empire stands in his way. The Empire is not the opposition, but the competition. You think those rhabdophobic pansies can run a slave colony? Watch this! They're actually proud of their "unbreakable legions of troops"? Meet my friends. They ride wolves.
And while the writing isn't laugh-out-loud funny (it never really was, to be honest), it fills you will a satisfying glee, a naughty appreciation of its cartoonish pantomime. Overlord II asks you to cheer for COBRA or the Decepticons, even if we aren't "supposed" to.
That's actually refreshing. We see so much real evil on the news, and none of it is something to laugh at, nothing to be appreciated or feel happy for. Too many games these days strive to display that brand of injustice and cruelty in the pursuit of the "edgy", the "gritty", the "moral gray". Overlord II seeks just to caper about for the your amusement, like Quaver, your one-eyed Jester, and the cackling little goblins that stand around your feet and throw fireballs at all things cute and fluffy.
The game does all it can to address at least the aesthetic complaints about the original. There are more wicked-looking weapons to be forged. There are more ways to change the appearance of your audience chamber and quarters. There are (finally) methods to preserve your favorite minions and the things they managed to stack on their heads in all the mayhem. And of course, a proper harem. Polygamy isn't just bad, it's bad-ass.
Best of all, Overlord II gives the player a way to for once play the Overlord, rather than a Sauron rip-off leading a squad of armed furbies.One can actually lord over places conquered, botched though the execution was.
While I would have liked an alternative costume, more "hooded wizard" than "armored hulk", I understand that OG overlord of Overlord I and the "Sentinel" enemies of Overlord II had that style going. Like 300's dastardly Persian king (so offensive, that), I am kind, and I can forgive.
I like the Overlord series, even in spite of itself, because it suffers from no identity crisis, as most other morality-infused games. In the world of Overlord only quandary to be stuck in is when Gnarl tells you to do something but forgets to mark the damn thing on your map. It's not the greatest or most ambitious game in the world, but it's beautifully consistent. Beautifully consistent in its evil, that is. BWAHAHAHAHA!
*For the record, I have yet to encounter any of the bugs Jim noted in the Dtoid review. Maybe I just got lucky, since I bought the PC version. The mouse is also better for controlling your minions.