Review: Overlord II (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Overlord II
Genre: Action/Strategy
Developer: Triumph Studios
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: 06/23/09


The original Overlord was one of those games that came out of nowhere and ended up being a surprise hit. Despite little fanfare and no real advertising campaign to speak of, the game was entertaining and laugh-out-loud hilarious in its depiction of good versus evil, with you taking the role of the evil warlord and waging war against the “heroes”, who were honestly anything but. There was definitely room for improvement, mind you, as people were less than thrilled with the inability to properly control the camera and the game was a little obtuse about its expectations of you at times, but the overall game was pretty fun and worth playing. Now two years later, we have been given a sequel, cleverly named Overlord II. Like its predecessor, it’s fun to play, hilariously written, and generally a whole lot of fun. It also does correct some of the more annoying issues of its predecessor and adds in a bunch of new and interesting mechanics to make it an experience all its own. However, it’s still not quite everything it could be, unfortunately enough, for some of the same reasons as the prior game, as well as some new ones.

Overlord II, much like its predecessor, casts you as the titular overlord, and your goal is to take over the world, as overlords are want to do. Overlord II starts off a bit differently from its predecessor, however. While in the prior game you were simply dug out of a tomb and set to your mission, this time around we see your character, known to the townsfolk as Witch-Boy, as he starts off as a small boy. After having been discovered by the overlord’s minions, you set about ruining your hometown of Nordberg until the Empire shows up looking for mages. Since you happen to be a mage, the town leader throws you under the proverbial bus, and you end up escaping from the Empire to spend your developmental years under the care of the Imps as they help you develop into the next Overlord, just like your dear old dad (the protagonist from the prior game, of course). From there, you’ll essentially be subjugating the world under your thumb by force and coercion, as needed, until you are once again the supreme Overlord of all the land. The prior game dealt with the whole “being evil” concept through mostly satirical means, and Overlord II does much the same thing to mostly equivalent success, thanks once again to the stellar writing of Rhianna Pratchett, who is of course the daughter of Discworld author Terry Pratchett. In other words, the hilarity, it is genetic. The empire you face down against is, unsurprisingly, staffed by nothing but jerks, so despite your evil intentions and nature, it’s strongly possible that you might actually be the BETTER of the options. You’ll also have to club baby seals, face off against tree-hugging hippie-like elves, and scour the land looking for sarcastic and demanding mistresses to appease, so yes, Overlord II has its metaphorical tongue planted firmly into its cheek and it is not at all ashamed of that. By and large, the story is solid and well developed, but the humor of the story ends up making the experience a good bit more interesting than it would be if played straight, and the story is better for it in the end.

Visually, Overlord II looks notably better than its predecessor, and quite good overall, though it’s not without its issues. The Overlord himself is incredibly imposing in all of his various armors, and is generally well animated. The imps are also well animated, and simultaneously manage to look vicious and goofy, as is expected. The various secondary characters and underlings you face off against are also well animated and reasonably well detailed, though the enemies and villagers all begin to kind of blend together after a while, as there aren’t that many different types of them. The environments also look quite nice, though they’re not as impressive as we’ve come to expect from the system. While it’s great that you can destroy a whole lot of stuff in the game, the destruction effects for buildings and stuff look a little cheesy.

Aurally, the game is a good bit better. The music, though it’s heavily reminiscent of the music from Fable II, sounds quite nice and fits the medieval fantasy theme well. The voice acting is very strong, and most everyone, aside from a few of the grunts here and there, is quite well cast. The imps are just as hilarious this time around, as well, as they often blurt out random lines like, “Be my friend!” or, “For the Master!” at random times in the most convincing way possible. It all sounds so ridiculous that it’s hard not to be amused. The sound effects are also quite nice and fit the tone well, whether the sounds be of you blowing something up or of you bashing someone’s brains in.

Unless you’ve played the original Overlord or one of the few games that’s comparable, like Pikmin, it can be a little odd explaining how Overlord II works. You essentially play as the Overlord in question as you run about the land subjugating or obliterating every one and thing you see, almost always by force. The Overlord himself can attack and use magic to assault his enemies and defend himself, and he’s a solid, if unimpressive, fighter. You can lock on to things with the left trigger to target them, allowing you to strafe around them to avoid their attacks if needed, or to just allow you to make sure you’re attaching the right thing. You can use your magic to heal or buff your minions, take control of or kill people, or just heal yourself as needed. You can also equip different weapons and armor as the game progresses, each with their own benefits and uses, making you something of a versatile and powerful wrecking machine all on your own, even if you can’t take much of a beating.

But most of your time won’t be spent focusing on you. It’ll be spent focusing on your minions.

At the beginning of the game, you’ll be given a few minions to play around with, but as you progress you’ll end up commanding an army of up to fifty minions of four different types. You start out with Browns, who are solid melee fighters and can ride wolves which can jump gaps, but can’t do much else. As you progress through the game, however, you’ll unlock three more types of Imps, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Reds can lob fireballs at enemies, and can diffuse fires, but are physically weak and get smeared easily. They can also ride Salamanders, which can run along curved walls. Greens act as assassins, back stabbing enemies for big damage, but they aren’t very hardy either and can’t do much from the front. They can also ride Spiders, which can crawl along webs to sneak up on enemies. Blues can swim and move around invisibly, as well as resurrect dead imps, but they can’t do much damage and aren’t very powerful either. The idea here is that you’re given a set amount of Imps you can summon at any given time, which increases as you find items that do so, so you’ll have to build a good team to take on the coming sections. Each Imp type has its uses, so having some of each in any party is a good idea, though how many of each you use is up to you. Summoning Imps requires energy, and each Imp type has its own energy it uses, meaning that in addition to the summoning limits, you also won’t be able to summon Imps if you lack the energy to do so. This energy is earned by collecting it from the remains of fallen enemies or broken objects, and is lost when Imps buy the farm, making keeping your troops in top shape a worthwhile priority.

You can make use of your Imps in three ways: by planting them at a location, by targeting some one or thing and sending them to it, or by sweeping them to a target or location. Planting them can be done with the Y button, as you’ll plant a flag for them to gather at as a waypoint, where they’ll stay until you call them back with B. Targeting something with the left trigger and pulling the right trigger sends your Imps after whatever you’ve targeted, or you can simply pull the right trigger and the Imps will just run after whatever’s in your line of sight. You can also use the right stick to sweep the Imps to a location, which is handy if you want them to go somewhere specific or if they’re needed to cross to an otherwise inaccessible location, IE over a small bridge, over water, and so on. Each of these actions can be done with your entire group or with small segments of it, depending on your needs, as you can separate the Imps based on type, as well as by mounted or unmounted minions, depending on what you need at the moment. When you call back your troops you can also call back troops individually by pressing B or all together by holding B, so you can, with some patience, assemble multiple groups at different waypoints to serve different functions as needed.

All of this, aside from the Mounts and some modified minion abilities, is old hat to Overlord fans, so let’s talk about the changes. For one, in the original game, the right stick ONLY controlled your minions. Here, it can control the camera until you press up on the stick, which THEN lets you control your minions, which is a welcome addition. The game also features something of a morality system of sorts (or a more evolved one than the prior game anyway), though it’s not so much “good” and “evil” as it is different kinds of evil. You can either focus on Domination (enslaving everyone) or Destruction (killing everyone), each of which boosts specific magical abilities and garners you different endings. You also have a choice of three different mistresses, each of which offers you different decorations for your castle and different minion mounts during the final battle, as well as different endings associated with each. The game also occasionally puts you into the position of possessing one of your minions, effectively leading the charge of battle as whatever minion you possess, usually to sneak into locations the Overlord would otherwise be unable to access. There are also more things to upgrade and collect, far more endings to see, and other new additions, but those are the most notable and most impressive.

As you progress through the game, you’ll take over various towns, take on various mistresses, and find various artifacts to improve your Netherworld Tower, which is your base of operations. Towns can either be dominated to your will, allowing you to have them mass-produce beneficial things for you, or they can be obliterated, allowing you to just take the town entirely without having to deal with the citizens. You’ll also encounter three mistresses as you play, each of which with different benefits to their existence, and all of whom are beneficial in certain respects. You’ll also turn up different artifacts throughout the world that can improve your magic abilities, upgrade your minion count, and improve the ability of your Forge, which allows you to build all sorts of awesome gear for smiting enemies and surviving battles. The core game runs about ten to twelve hours, depending on how much time you spend searching for artifacts and grinding (yes, grinding) for items to build gear and upgrade your tower. There’s also an online mode, though it’s more so the developers can say the game has online than a fully-functioning high-quality online component. There are four modes to choose from: Pirate Plunder (collect more gold than the opponent), Dominate (King of the Hill), Arena (co-op Survival) and Invasion (co-op kill the opposition), and while they’re generally amusing enough, they’re only for two players, limiting their appeal a bit. On the plus side, you can also play these modes in split-screen play, which is good, even if, again, the modes aren’t exciting. That said, the core game is mostly awesome enough on its own to be worth playing, online or no, no matter what your tastes.

Except…

First off, Overlord II has this odd quirk where it feels the need to introduce new minions/abilities/mounts/etc. by making you play through some sort of gimmick mission involving the new thing in question, and while some of these gimmick missions are amusing and harmless, others are outright annoying and pointless. When you attempt to liberate the Green Hive, for instance, you take control of a Green Minion directly to sneak into the compound where the Empire is holding your Hive, turning the mission into a Metal Gear Solid style sneaking mission. Aside from the fact that the whole “sneak around the compound” segment is boring and not very well thought out, it’s pointless, since you’re essentially given infinite Greens to accomplish the task, making the mission more of a trial-and-error battle of attrition than an actual challenge. About an hour after this, you’re given Spider mounts for the Greens, after taking on a boss battle to earn them. You then have to use the mounts to run around the walls, tripping switches until you’re released from the zone, and while the Spider mounts themselves are easy enough to control, they’re NOT easy to control in this instance, as the whole exercise is effectively timed, and the minion sweep controls are not especially responsive. The fact that these sorts of silly gimmick missions pop up several more times from here on out is quite annoying, as these sorts of things are what Overlord II does WORST.

Beyond that, the game is buggy to varying degrees, some of which will only be annoying, while others will be outright game-breaking. Reports have come in about missions being ruined and becoming incapable of being completed because of the player teleporting while the game was talking, for instance, though I never experienced such a thing. I DID see several instances of minions becoming stuck in the environment, incapable of returning to you or dying, leaving them to sit there until you change zones. The game also has a habit of completely changing the results of alignment-based quests. While this doesn’t seem to actually change your alignment in any way, it’s especially annoying when, as example, you go out of your way to AVOID obliterating the Elven Commune only to see later that the game decided that no, you REALLY DID do this, even though it told you otherwise.

That this can and does happen several times throughout the game is incredibly frustrating, and while it doesn’t seem to impede your progress, it effectively ruins the atmosphere of the game, and this really should have been play tested more before being released to avoid issues like this. There are other small but annoying issues to deal with throughout the game that make the experience more frustrating than it should be. Minion path finding, left to its own devices, is often not very good, and minions will often get lost and return to the spawning pit because they got stuck on a wall and couldn’t make it back to you. The game requires you to spend a noticeably large amount of time grinding to acquire the materials needed to build weapons and armor, some of which you will need in order to survive, and while you can find locations where gnomes spawn endlessly and ruin them for hours to farm, it’s pretty stupid that you HAVE to do so, since enemies won’t re-spawn in areas you’ve cleared out and there’s no other effective way TO farm up consumables. Overlord II also doesn’t feel especially original in many ways. While it’s nice that there are new features to play around with, the game still feels as much like a cross between Pikmin and Fable as it ever did, and while the game has managed to find its own voice, it’s not a particularly convincing voice that’s often drowned out by the voices of the game s it’s most inspired by.

Overlord II is certainly as enjoyable, if not more so, than its predecessor, and it’s well worth checking out if you’re especially evil or just liked the first one, but some less than exciting gimmicks, annoying bugs and smaller gameplay inconsistencies make the game less impressive than its predecessor, if not less enjoyable. The story is as hilarious and entertaining as ever, the visual and audio presentation is as outstanding as ever, and the game is fairly simple to pick up and play. New players will find the experience to be in-depth and entertaining, and fans of the first game will find enough changes and additions to make the game worth checking out, and with multiple endings and a solid, if unexciting, multiplayer component, there’s plenty of play and replay value to the experience. Unfortunately, the game is often reliant on silly and annoying gimmicks to keep things interesting instead of simply doing what it does best, there are significant and noticeable bugs in the game that ruin the experience at best and ruin the game entirely at worst, and there are some other minor issues with grinding, AI and originality that can make the experience less enjoyable than it first seems. Overlord II is certainly full of more bad than good, but it’s disappointing that, as good as the first game was, the sequel unfortunately isn’t as impressive as it should have been.

The Scores:
Story: CLASSIC
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GOOD
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: BAD
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Overlord II is as fun and funny as its predecessor, and should be worth checking out for anyone who finds joy in being evil or just enjoyed the first game, but some unfortunate design choices and issues make it harder to recommend the game as a must-buy. The story and concept are entertaining and amusing, the visuals generally look rather nice overall, the audio is fantastic all around, and the game is simple enough to pick up and understand, but in-depth enough to remain interesting through the whole ten to twelve hours it lasts. New players will find the game to be in-depth and engaging, and fans of the first game will find the sequel filled with enough new content to be worth checking out, and between the lengthy main quest and the amusing if shallow multiplayer, there’s plenty to fool around with in the game. That said, several annoying gimmick missions break up the flow of the game and make the experience less enjoyable than it should be, some significant bugs ruin the experience a bit (if they don’t ruin the game entirely for you), and beyond that, some AI issues, grinding requirements and a lack of originality when compared to its predecessor keep it from being as stellar a product as the first game. Given a few more months in development, Overlord II could have been as big a sleeper hit as the prior game, but as it is now, it’s still lots of fun and worth checking out, but it’s not as impressive as it could have been.

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