Overlord was one of my favorite games of 2007. Its unique gameplay, evil-minded focus and silly sense of humor outshone the technical issues and awkward controls to create a fun and memorable title that proudly sits among my top titles of this generation.
Overlord II attempts to pull the same stunt, shining through with some ambitious new ideas and a chance to be far more tyrannical. However, the game's problems seem to have increased since the last game, with new ideas bringing new issues.
Can this sequel repeat the creative success of the first game and remain brilliant in spite of its flaws, or do the issues drag this follow-up game down into the murky Netherworld? Read on as we review Overlord II.
Overlord II (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Developer: Triumph Studios
Released: June 23, 2009
At the end of Overlord's one and only expansion, Raising Hell, the original Overlord was dragged into the fiery pit to suffer the fate that all evil rulers must eventually face. In his absence, the forces of evil have been scattered and the world has been slowly cleansed of magic by a new ruling body, The Empire. Gnarl and the Minions eventually find a a worthy successor to the evil throne, a shunned "witch boy" in the snowy town of Nordburg. After the "Overlad" has his first clash with The Empire, he is taken to The Netherworld and instructed in the ways of Overlording, so that he can reclaim the world and rule it in his own dark image.
The story, written by Rhianna Pratchett, has a few high points, especially the end twist, but it has to be said that most of the humor misses the mark. Pratchett is a decent fantasy writer, but isn't very funny, and while there are a few laughs to be had, there just isn't enough humor befitting such a darkly comic world as Overlord's. It doesn't help that the cutscenes seem disjointed and glitchy, with character voice samples sometimes even talking over each other and sounds cutting out entirely.
As with the last game, players get to control a gang of vicious Minions who will do his bidding. Overlord II keeps the control scheme of the last title, which basically does as good a job as it can with the complex controls, but still gets muddled and confused all too regularly. Controlling the minions and the camera with the right stick is a hassle, and it's difficult to juggle the game's four different Minion classes, each of which have their own specific uses in battle.
Putting the issues aside for a second, it has to be said that Triumph Studios has not rested on its laurels when crafting Overlord II. While the game could have gotten away with simply providing more of the last game, this sequel comes up with some impressively inventive ideas and has made the game feel so much more interactive than before. Siege weapons and ships can now be controlled after Minions are sent to power them, and each class of Minion gets its own unique mount at points in the game, which have special bonus effects for your horde. There is a lot more to do this time around, but sadly, for every new addition, there seems to be a new problem.
Ships are a pain to control, not helped by the fact that reversing them doesn't invert the controls for some reason. Siege weapons are more fun, but it can be difficult to get catapults to hit targets properly, and the ballista machines are simply boring to use, lacking the sense of power and destruction that they should. Still, the mounts are a great addition, with the Red Minions' Salamanders being especially fun to control. The only real problem with them is the section where you have to manually steer green minions around a circular wall to keep an elevator going up. Whoever designed that section needs to be executed.
Also joining the host of features is Minion possession and Minion disguises, where The Overlord can take over the body of one of his cackling servants or dress them up like enemies at key points in the game. While options as a Minion are limited, being able to disguise and infiltrate is good fun, especially due to the fact that a disguised Minion really couldn't pass as an Imperial guard, but the moronic enemies think that your Minions are just "short."
One of the biggest additions to the sequel is the "Destruction or Domination" system. Whereas the last game allowed the Overlord to be good or evil, this game focuses more on being either a slave driver or a merciless destroyer. The Overlord has the power to drain innocent bystanders of life or control their minds and turn them into loyal servants. As the game progresses, players will take control of towns and get the option to either slaughter the population or completely enslave it. Unfortunately, in order to totally take control, players need to dominate or destroy 100/100 villagers. What should be a fun and empowering sub-game turns into a rather boring and dull experience, especially when you have one villager left and are looking for a needle in a haystack.
Perhaps if it were easier to find villagers that had not yet been Dominated, either via the map or via other Dominated villagers hunting them down for you, this could have been a great addition. What we instead have is a very cool idea that seems awkwardly sandwiched in, possibly rushed out of the gate before it was given time to be worked out properly.
This sense of being "not quite worked out properly" is Overlord II's biggest problem. At its heart, the game is brilliant and incredibly fun, but it's full of so many missed opportunities and ideas that are fantastic, yet poorly implemented, that the game is stuffed to the gills with utter frustration. When the game works, it's great, but it frequently doesn't want to succeed. Minions regularly don't do what one wants them to, leading the player giving up and doing it themselves. The Overlord shouldn't be the one smashing boxes open because the Minions are just clipping around it. Dominating villagers is cool, but they follow you around and block your path, leading to you having to murder them anyway just to get free. We won't even talk about the framerate issues and weird graphical bugs that haunt the game at every turn.
Despite all these numerous and blatant faults, however, Overlord II is still a bloody good laugh. Using the Minions to hunt for spells, health, mana and Minion upgrades is always fun, as is acquiring three Mistresses and getting to boink them. The game also lets players get more attached to Minions if they wish, with the ability to resurrect any favorites that get killed. Sadly, the repeated resurrection animation for every single Minion brought back to life gets very boring very quickly. The attachment players feel to Minions also adds to the frustration a little, since Minions are still, at the end of the day, dispensable, and they will frequently die, if not by the hand of enemies, then by jumping in water or simply disappearing for no reason.
The game deserves praise for some inventive boss battles (except for the excruciatingly horrible final one). Timing the attacks of Minions and working out some of the rather cool puzzles to take out enemies leads to some inventive gameplay and a few of the more interesting bosses I've tackled in a long time. The game impresses in its ability to play like the first game, yet still feel completely different in execution.
I've been incredibly harsh in this review, but it's only because I love the Overlord series so much and want it to be better. At its heart, Overlord II is a game that could deserve a review score of nine or even ten. Sadly, the problems cannot be ignored and the game is let down severely by problems that never should have been there. Rather than iron out the faults of the original, Overlord II seems simply to have added even more, and there isn't really an excuse.
Yet, I still love the game, no matter how many times I curse its horrible elements. Despite badly implemented features and bugs (one of which was the game crashing just after I completed the game), Overlord II is a blast to play and well worth the time and irritation of series fans. The game is as charming and fun as it always was, and looks far better than the last one to boot. There's a huge amount to do as well, from customizing your Overlord's equipment and leveling up Minions, to hunting for items, completing sidequests and trying to get all three mistresses in bed at the same time. Overlord II is essentially a superb game trapped in the shell of a badly made one.
If you liked the first game, then this is worth a purchase. Fans of the original will be prepared for the game's less savory moments and will be more than happy to struggle through for the end result. The ride is incredibly bumpy, but ultimately worth it.
Score: 7.0 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
reviewed by Jim Sterling