Overlord II

overlordii_box1The original Overlord game could never be described as a big success. Even its official Xbox.com description refers to it as a “cult hit”. Making a follow up to such a game is always full of difficulties. You don’t want to alienate loyal fans by removing any of the elements that made the first title a success but you also want to change it enough to make it more attractive to a wider audience.

Triumph Studios haven’t perhaps managed to resolve that dilemma as successfully as I’d hoped but they have succeeded in producing a game that’s worth taking a look at, whether you enjoyed or disliked the previous outing.

Set many years after the first game the original Overlord’s Dark Tower has been destroyed, the big guy himself has gone missing and his minions have been left without a leader.

Your character, charmingly nicknamed “Witch Boy” by the locals, is spotted as a potential new overlord by Gnarl, the minion equivalent of Simon Cowell. Your recruitment fortuitously coincides with the arrival of a very Roman-like invasion force which gives you a chance to impress your new Yoda as your make a hasty retreat to the safety of the Netherworld.

Fast forward ten or fifteen years and you’re all grown up. Your evil lair is complete and you’ve been trained in the dark ways of Overlording. It’s now time to venture back into the world and reclaim your domain from the evil (but not quite as evil as you) empire.

Just as in the first game, you control both your Overlord and his hoard of minions; commanding them to attack targets, setting them to guard particular points and sweeping them around the world ahead of you.

You have four different types of gremlin-like creature at your disposal. The browns are tough fighters who excel at direct combat. Green minions prefer a more stealthy approach, utilising their invisibility powers and acrobatic prowess. The reds are masters of fire, making them most suitable for ranged combat. Your blues are extremely magical. They can “blink” past enemies undetected and also have the power to resurrect dead comrades.

Now, I need to make one thing clear before I go any further in this review. I was a huge fan of the original Overlord game and I think that experience has clouded my judgement about the sequel… but not in the way you might think.

overlordii_box2You see, you get the impression that they wanted everything to be bigger in Overlord II. Instead of a dark tower you get a huge Netherworld realm as your home. Instead of one mistress you can now have three. There are more spells, upgrades and collectables. Your minions have extra powers and can now ride mounts. But bigger does not necessarily mean better. The strengths of the first game haven’t necessarily been amplified by the additions and many of the issues that marred the original still exist in this second incarnation. If anything they have made things more complicated rather than hone in and accentuate what was so great about the first title.

Your minions are still the stars of the game though. They’re just as cute and as funny as before (but annoyingly seem more reluctant to pick up items). As well as the improvement in their individual abilities they can now collectively power catapults and crew rafts and boats. Even with their new talents the focus this time around is less on puzzle solving and more on actual combat. Unfortunately targeting enemies and objects in the game is just as awkward as before but navigating the world is made easier by the very welcome inclusion of a map system.

Overlord II’s story and dialogue is funny but it’s not quite as amusing as the original game. There are laughs to be had from the citizens of the Empire being portrayed as obese, spoilt, lazy holiday makers and by the depiction of elves as nature loving rainbow warrior hippies, but it seems like there’s a lot less mickey-taking this time around. I suppose the original game had exhausted most of the possibilities for humour with its pretty comprehensive send up of the familiar fantasy genre races. The enemies in this sequel often seem far too generic and the boss battles aren’t quite as interesting or memorable.

overlordii_box3Don’t get me wrong when Overlord II is great, it is just as good as the first game ever was, but it’s not until you get your full complement of minions towards the end of the game that things really start to kick up a gear. Newcomers will probably appreciate the slow introduction to each minion type and their powers. Experienced Overlords might be frustrated that things don’t get more complicated sooner.

As in the original there are several multiplayer modes. I don’t feel that I’ve played them enough to really comment on them, due to difficulties finding matches this long after release, but if you’ve got a friend with a copy of the game then I think you could have quite a bit of fun. There are two competitive modes (Pillage and Dominate) and two cooperative modes (Survival and Invasion).

The people who loved the first game will probably have the most complaints about this sequel but will ultimately forgive its flaws. Those who missed the original adventure may well enjoy Overlord II. It’s a game that, despite its shortcomings, still succeeds in being different enough to the usual run-of-the-mill fantasy fare to make it worth trying.

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