Overlord II (XBOX 360) Review
Half the fun of some of the licensed Lord Of The Rings games that have come out over the years is the ability to play as the forces of evil. Slaughtering hobbits, burning ents, and wiping the smug grins off of those pretentious elves has always been a big draw for gamers, and it is this premise that the Overlord franchise is built upon. Overlord II, like its predecessor, makes its name by offering a different kind of moral choice -- not "will you be evil?", but rather "what type of evil will you be?"
Is Overlord II is the good kind of bad, or just plain bad????
Overlord II (XBox 360, PS3) Developer: Triumph Publisher: Codemasters MSRP: $59.99 Overview
The old Overlord is dead, and his Dark Tower lies in ruins. The energy from the shattered Tower Heart taints the land. (Yes, I said taint, let's giggle for a moment and move on, shall we?) This Chernobyl effect means that the first Overlord's former minions are now scattered across the land looking for a new person to tell them what to do and think, much like Fox News now that the Bush administration has gone.
It's been shown that many of the most violent and wicked perpetrators in history were often brutally bullied at a young age, and Overlord II lightly broaches this theme. Enter you, as the new Overlord in waiting. Growing up in the village of Nordberg is tough for a young hell-spawn with glowing eyes, and the taunts of "witch-boy" along with protracted snowball peltings from the other children eventually prompt you to not only get mad, but get evil.
This, in turn, draws the attention of the former Overlord's minions, who quickly rally to your infernal cause, as they begin to see in you the potential to become the master they've been missing.
"Master!" "Media coverage!" "FOR YOU!" Story & Presentation
The first Overlord built its cult-classic following on stylized and exaggerated fantasy visuals, the theme of evil as the protagonist, the oft-coveted ability to get others to do one's bidding, and a healthy mixture of low-brow humor and subtle satire. Overlord II does not stray far from its roots in these respects.
While many games draw huge mainstream controversy and derision for themes of violence or cruelty, the Overlord franchise finds itself comfortably out of the cross-hairs of the family values police. Even the well publicized ability to bash baby seals and absorb their life-force in Overlord II wasn't enough to get PETA or religious fundamentalists up in arms as they often do when it comes to our favorite hobby. Overlord II gets away with these things where other don't for many reasons.
One is the cartoonish, almost Fable-esque art style that encourages you to relax into the diabolical objectives of Overlord II. For some reason, we seems to accept violence and even evil in our games when it's presented less realistically. This is no different than movies and TV.
The humor of Overlord II is another mitigating factor. Even the original Overlord was never I'm-gonna-pee-my-pants funny, but the franchise has maintained a frentic, slapstick sensibility that always seems to keep a smile on your face. Triumph made the choice to keep the Overlord mute throughout the franchise, and it's little wonder why. The minions simply steal the show.
I remember trying to send a small group of minions to attack an enemy right after letting them drink. Seeing one lone sober minion charge headlong into the fray, while the rest of his buddies paused for a bathroom break before joining in was my first indicator that Overlord II had lost none of the charm of the first.
Lastly, the great writing of Rhianna Pratchett helps balance the evil objectives with the comic style perfectly. It's one thing to choose evil when its all about slaughtering innocents, but Overlord II makes it so easy to take on the role, because the "good guys" in Overlord II are the kinds of people you really WANT to see killed.
Pratchett does an excellent job of exaggerating the stupidity and rural predjudice of the villagers in Nordberg, the hippie-dippie activism and snobbery of the elves, and the bullying and self-righteous attitude of the magic-hating Glorious Empire. Such a good job, in fact, that you really can't feel bad for them when the smiting is all said and done. It's a bit like watching Burke die in Aliens. He's human, yeah, but he really does deserve to get his face chewed off.
"We've lost contact with the colony on LB426. Oh, and I'm a dillhole." Gameplay -- Minions
Not much has changed in terms of the core mechanics from the original Overlord. You still have the Overlord avatar who navigates the world, while controlling the minions Pikimin style. Minions still come in the same 4 flavors : Melee Brown, Ranged Attack Red, Ninja Green, and Healer Blue, which you slowly add to your team during the game. The Overlord sweeps these minions across the screen to attack enemies, destroy items and structures, and retrieve items and treasure to lay at their master's feet.
Overlord II adds a few new mechanics in that the Browns, Reds, and Greens get snazzy new mounts to ride with different abilities, while the Blues gain a blink ability that allows them to phase through enemies unharmed so long as you keep them moving. You can also take possession of your minions periodically throughout the campaign, to get into areas that your huge evilness can't otherwise broach. These additions are all interesting and useful, but you aren't given very many opportunities to take advantage of them throughout the game.
Gameplay -- Customization
The two evil paths, Destruction and Domination, were better delineated in this game than they were in the original Overlord, which really didn't do a good job of making you go one way or the other. The ability to control towns via slaughter or enslavement was an enjoyable addition, and I thoroughly enjoyed the benefit of going the Domination route and squeezing free gold, lifeforce, and minion upgrades out of my elvish sweatshop workers.
Overall, though, I was fairly disappointed on this front, as there's not much new here to distinguish Overlord II from its daddy. You can upgrade your helmet, armor, and three types of weapons, just like before. You can purchase furniture for your fortress to make it look sharper, or more importantly, snazz it up to get your materialistic mistresses to bed you. Buying stuff to sleep with your harem so that you can increase your gamerscore? That's a pretty literal interpretation of 'achievement whore', dont you think?
Your three mistresses are this, reskinned. Gameplay -- Controls
For all the enjoyment and charm that I experienced, I still found myself very frustrated at many points due to the poor job Triumph did addressing the control, camera, and targeting issues present in the first game.
The developers did attempt to address the camera issues by giving the player camera control, but the camera still was wonky when travelling through tight areas, of which there are many in the game. In general, I felt the camera was positioned far too close to the Overlord, making it difficult to get the perspective you needed even with the manual camera control.
A mini-map helped with being able to tell where to go next, but it also was zoomed in so far that I found myself just pausing the game ad infinitum to look at the full map rather then try to suss it out on the HUD.
The devs also made a poor decision to map the minion sweeping and camera both to the right stick without a proper toggle. Basically, if you thumb the stick forward you begin sweeping your minions, while thumbing the stick to either side moves the camera. This results way too often in sweeping when you want to move the camera, and vice versa.
The minion selection was mapped to the face buttons + RB. The D-pad went unused the whole game. Why not map the minion selection to the D-Pad with no additional buttons needed, and then allow RB to be the toggle between sweeping minions and camera control? That this simple solution eluded the team during play testing was an issue for me.
Me, after dealing with the control scheme. Gameplay -- Mission Design
I thought the mission design was a really strong point for Overlord II. Triumph did a good job of keeping things varied throughout the meaty 20-25 hour single-player campaign. The environmental puzzles were challenging without being fun-breaking. The minion possession segments added a nice spice to the levels. The mission to rescue the green hive in particular was tough but fair and interesting, so I felt a good sense of accomplishment when it was done. Town control side missions were an entertaining diversion, but I ultimately gave up on completing them.
Overlord II did expand positively on the first by building in a good deal more strategy in the combat and set pieces. In the first game, the only real challenge was to figure out which minion type worked against each enemy. In Overlord II, some enemy formations required co-ordination of 2 or 3 minion types in order to be successful, so you can't just spam your minions and charge in every time, although there are some times where it is both possible and a blast to do so.
There was no noticable pop-in while moving or slowdown during combat, so overall the game exceeded my expectations here. There were a few issues with camera clipping, particularly in tight spaces, and the minion AI, while improved from the first, still got hung up from time to time, causing minions to get lost or drop items. The solid mission design helped mitigate this, as minion gates were plentiful in the levels, so you never had to travel far to get your full horde back.
Overlord II maintained a great looking front throughout. The graphics were a noticeable upgrade from the last iteration, but also nothing to set the world on fire either. They were more than adequate to carry out the heightened fantasy cartoon style. And let's be honest, if you're looking for a game to max out the processor in your console, you're barking up the wrong tree here.
Bailiff, do my bidding! The Verdict
When someone tells me that a game has camera, targeting, and control map issues, I avoid it like the plague. When I find out a game is only marginally changed or improved from the last one, I usually don't enjoy it. Overlord II is the exception to both those rules for me. For every time the controls irked me, the minions made me chuckle twice. For every time I targeted an underling instead of a boss, the writing or the visuals or the pure fun of ransacking towns and dungeons more than compensated.
I didn't bother to dabble in the multiplayer for Overlord II for several reasons. First, the game stood on it's own merits for me with the single player experience, and I just didn't feel compelled to play the multiplayer. Secondly, I don't know anyone else who has the game! Thirdly, it just smacked of an obligatory add-on to a game franchise built on a solid single-player foundation. I will probably skip the mulitplayer in Bioshock II for the same reason.
Triumph did make some solid improvements to the gameplay, but they really neglected to fully address the issues present in the first Overlord. It's Rhianna Pratchett's writing, and the pure joy of pillaging that keeps this franchise moving forward. It's still funny, charming, and as engaging as ever. It even helped me to get my wife one step closer to joining the gaming fold!
If you didn't like the first Overlord, there's just not enough improvement here to push the second game over the line for you, and walkyourpath advises steering clear. If you've never experienced this franchise before, or you already swoon at hearing the siren song of "For The Overlord!", this game is a joyful experience, and provides a lot of value. Overlord II gets the walkyourpath recommendation!