|2009-07-10||PS3||Adventure||T (Teen)||Triumph Studios / Codemasters|
Where many games take a stab at humor and fail, 2007's Overlord actually succeeded in the comedic arts and provided gamers with a reason to embrace their dark side. Continuing in that tradition is Overlord II, a rare sequel that does a fine job of living up to the standard of the original.
There is little to connect this sequel to its predecessor in terms of story. The last Overlord met with a horrible demise some years ago, his minions scattering to the wind. Now over a decade later, you are plucked from your own encounter with death and given the title of Overlord along with the task of returning the world to the same state of panic it held so long ago.
Standing in your way are two main factions: one, the Roman-themed Empire which frowns on magic and instead relies solely on brute strength, and the other, a group of flamboyant elves who have their own PETA chapter and have no qualms with killing you for your heinous acts against cute, fluffy animals in the name of domination.
Your journey as Overlord takes you through numerous themed environments (the graphics here are decent, but a bit grainy), such as a wintery village set for a holiday celebration, or a forest cave filled with florescent pink crystals, with each location being available for future visitation after its part in the story has played out.
While the completed map for each area appears to be quite sprawling, the way you unlock each section of the environment is fairly linear. The map is marked for your suggested directionality, but oftentimes your final destination is blocked by a lowered elevator, a series of gates, a pile of strategically placed boulders and so on, forcing you to backtrack a bit until you find an area that has magically opened up for your perusal, which then of course leads you down a path of activating the aforementioned stalled elevator, destroying the boulders or opening the gates.
That being said, Overlord II offers a fine balance between puzzles and outright pillaging by presenting you with situations that often require a bit of forethought to overcome, such as a heavily armored lineup of guards that requires the taming of wolves that can slaughter the human barricade, or be it a raised bridge that can only be lowered via a path through enemy territory. While it is possible to luck into the solutions for each interaction, it is more satisfying to create either an offensive or defensive strategy and subsequently watch your minions succeed.
Another bit of forethought comes even sooner in the game, as you decide whether to dominate the land by enslaving all free peoples or to destroy literally everything in sight, whether living or inanimate. Your choice in this matter determines how quickly you accumulate funds, which are required later in the game.
As with the first Overlord title, your minions steal the show with their gremlin-like appearance and voices, as they dedicate their lives to doing your evil bidding. You begin the game with control over the Browns, the melee fighters, and later unlock the Reds, able to create fireballs and attack enemies from a distance, along with the Greens, who use stealth to their advantage, and the Blues, who can swim.
Unlike the first Overlord title, minions can now tame and mount other creatures to create a stronger soldier type, capable of defeating stronger enemies regardless of the fact that their own weapons are weak, or reach normally inaccessible areas of the environment.
Just as there are multiple species of minion, so too are there multiple ways to control them. As you simultaneously control minions of numerous types, the R1 button allows you to command one type at a time, which is helpful in instances when walking near fire, for example, which only the Reds can stand, leaving the other types in the safety of your shadow as the Reds extinguish the blaze.
R2 sends your minions into the path ahead of you, automatically attacking any soldier, animal or magical creature in your way, along with destroying any breakable object in your immediate vicinity. This is the easiest way to make your way through the game, as the minions do most everything for you, other than actually transporting your body through the environment, which is obviously left to you.
However, simply bashing on the R2 button results in a chaotic scattering of minions to areas out of eyeshot, where they are susceptible to attacks from enemies you didn't know were there. In these situations you can rotate the right analog stick and sweep over a group of minions, thereby assigning any future movement of the right stick to the location of the minions, as you can move them as far as the eye can see.
Lastly, posts can be placed on the ground via a press of the triangle button, which assigns your minions to one individual location, a useful tactic if you wish to temporarily leave your minions behind for whatever reason.
Minions are hearty creatures capable of withstanding an adequate deal of punishment before perishing, but are easily replaced at spawn points throughout the environment should a man (or twenty) fall. You, on the other hand, are quite feeble for an all-powerful Overlord, susceptible to death from just one flaming arrow to the leg or arm.
That being said, these minion spawn points are few and far between, and normally correlate with each level's checkpoints, meaning that if you fail your minions by allowing yourself to expire, you'll have a lot of backtracking to do before resuming your prior activities.
In between story-based outings, you can return to the Netherworld and your Dark Tower where you can interact with your mistresses who nag you for their share of your plundered funds, create new weapons and armor by sacrificing minions to the forge or travel to the minions' housing district, where new paths are unlocked to explore as you return the missing minion types to your army.
Tying these various in-game activities together is Overlord II's truly enjoyable voice acting. Pompous Empire generals gallivant about the landscape with their noses held high, while effeminate elves preach at you for killing the "fluffy little bunnies" from afar. Your minions are also talkative, and often express their allegiance to "da masta" or their praise for a tamed wolf that kills an enemy solider.
In terms of both the soundtrack and the graphics, battles play out accordingly with properly timed sound effects for metal clashing with metal or mallets connecting with skulls, along with displaying all of the action in a hectic flurry of movement, as you thank the developers for not allowing you to strike your own minions, since you can barely tell who is who in the mass of bodies.
For those that aren't satisfied dominating the world by their lonesome, there are a few multiplayer modes thrown in for both Co-op and Versus destruction / domination, but these additions seem to be afterthoughts at best, rather than anything that turns the title into a must-have.
In the end, Overlord II carries on in the same vein as it predecessor by offering a truly humorous storyline and enjoyable gameplay that adds just the right amounts of strategy and puzzle-solving to a more basic third-person-adventure mindset. While it is unfortunate that your own playable character takes a backseat to the rambunctious minions, Overlord II still earns a recommendation.
Special thanks to David Saba and Codemasters for providing a copy of this title.