Game Review: Overlord II
Not long after ransacking consoles and the PC in 2007, the Dark One and his underlings are back to stir up some more trouble with Overlord II. With more magic, minions, and maidens than ever before, this twisted fantasy sequel is looking to extend its conquests into a new age. But will would-be thralls find themselves willing to bow down to this uniquely dark fairy tale once again?
The original overlord may be MIA, but as one of his servants put it, “evil always finds a way.” In this case, it really did—through his son. Despite his impish appearance, the little anklebiter grows to take on his pops’ crown quite nicely, and his dastardly cause along with it. This time it’s all about sticking it to the Glorious Empire: a Romanesque hegemon intent on spreading its influence across the land—though not if the newly-anointed overlord has anything to say about it.
It’s inherited much of the original’s quirk, having been written by same writer, Rhianna Pratchett. The writing and humor takes on a more satirical bent with its politically-tinged themes, though the script often stumbles on the game’s awkwardly handled cutscenes. It still retains much of the farcical flavor established by the original, though it can occasionally get ridiculous with some of its attempts at heavy handed humor.
Overlord II presents you with the familiar scenario of taking up the reins of the titular anti-hero. With a choice combination of close-range weapons, magic, and minions, it’s up to you to lay waste to the empire and spread evil across the land. You plot out most of your dirty deeds from the netherworld tower, which once again serves as the game’s central hub. There you can sift through quests, organize your personal armaments, and even tidy up the place with a few upgrades. Its simple yet solid RPG-inspired foundation still serves the game well, and it’s nice to see the tower grow alongside your endeavors with visual cues that mark your progress.
Overlord puts a more pronounced emphasis on choice. In the game’s own words, you can either choose to be evil, or really evil, and the resulting decision will impact your overlord’s development in some way. Deciding to take the messy route with interpersonal relations will yield some immediate satisfaction and menacing magic powers; choosing to dominate your foes, however, can also reap long-term benefits like a constant flow of gold, so it certainly pays to consider the added weight of each individual action.
There’s definitely a bit more at play here, though most of it still feels underwhelming and undercooked. A few new level elements like sailboats and minion possession spice up the gameplay with some added variety, though the linear quest design isn’t particularly impressive, and the pacing can definitely start to meander during the slow crawl from goal to goal. And though it’s lost some of the luster since it first reared its head in the original Overlord, there is still some guilty pleasure to be had wreaking havoc from zone to zone.
Luckily, as with the first game, Overlord II complements its single-player experience with multiplayer offerings both online and off. It’s certainly no Gears in terms of breadth or polish, but with four cooperative and competitive modes to dive into, it does provide players a little something extra after the 15-plus hours of the main campaign.
At face value, Overlord II looks and plays like your typical fantasy adventure game. But what set the series apart are its Pikmin-style minions, which remain the focus in the sequel. Browns, as they’re affectionately called, are your basic melee fighters, while reds sling fire from afar, greens sneak up on enemies, and blues revive fallen friends. Outside of battle, these minions also play into several of the game’s strategic elements: for instance, reds can walk through fire, and blues can swim.
They still function primarily as battle fodder and puzzle solvers, though now they’re also able to mount up on woodland creatures like wolves and spiders to traverse various environmental obstacles and get the jump on enemies. On top of that, certain junctions of the game also allow minions to don disguises, arm wooden war machines, and even man boats to set sail on the open sea.
The idea is nothing new at this point, but Overlord II’s updated take on the series’ minion-centric system is what gives the game much of its charm. However, there are still a few issues that persist.
Minion controls are now tied to camera controls, which at best works just as well as you’d expect. The setup isn’t fool-proof, however, and it can often be difficult to find the right angle in cramped situations.
Minion A.I. seems to have improved from the original, though your squirrely squires aren’t impervious to the occasional hiccup and targeting glitch, making it sometimes difficult to parse through the chaos on the battlefield. There are a few moments that make you feel as if it’s luck over strategic acuity that’s determining the outcome, which makes you feel like less of an overlord.
It’s by no means perfect, but through bolstered mechanics and greater minion usability outside of combat, Overlord II manages to add a moderate amount of depth to the formula. It doesn’t quite achieve the strategic richness of a great dungeon crawler or the relentless momentum of an awesome action-adventure game, but it does succeed in playing to its strengths, and provides something different from the norm.
Befitting of its fantasy vibe, Overlord uses vivid colors, fanciful character design, and stylized geometry to shape its twisted, storybook world. There are some noticeable cues from Fable, especially in the snowy starter town of Nordberg. But its dark sense of humor is all its own, coming out prominently in the game’s colorful voice acting.
Some graphical aspects are off-putting, however. Character animations during cutscenes are inert, and some designs border a bit on the gratuitous and disturbing. Framerates can also drop well below today’s status quo. But like with its gameplay as a whole, Overlord II will certainly try to win you over with its style.
Though it doesn’t quite have the wile to ascend to triple-A status, Overlord II whips its subjects into shape with general gameplay improvements and its trademark sense of humor. It isn’t quite king of the hill just yet, but if you’re looking for an enjoyable—albeit predictable—vent for your evil emotions, then this could be a decent option.