In the last ten years or so it’s become fashionable to include elements of moral choice in videogames. Choices that run the gamut of purest good to black hearted evil. Overlord 2 is different. It’s got the choice element in it, but it ranges all the way from evil to even more evil. Those of the faint of heart need not apply here, in Overlord 2 you’re a sadistic despot through and through no matter what course you take.
Every aspiring Overlord has to start somewhere and having lost their previous master, some goblins discover you scraping an existence as a child in the town of Nordberg. One who is being bullied and shunned as a “witch boy” by townsfolk fearful of your glowing eyes and generally wicked demeanour. After demonstrating your physical and magical powers you take control of the goblins and avenge yourself upon your snowball throwing tormentors. Thus a new Overlord is born. After that tutorial it’s off to the Netherworld where you receive the armour of your predecessor and set forth train up as an Overlord and to conquer the land above.
Although you have formidable magical and physical powers, you need minions and these goblin like creatures come in a variety of flavours. Brown minions are your melee fighters who can use armour and weapons scavenged on the battlefield. Red minions are long range attackers who can throw fireballs as well as being able to put fires out. Green minions are assassins who can cloak themselves and attack from behind with powerful strikes. Finally Blue minions can swim, teleport and resurrect fallen minions in battle. Minions can also ride various creatures allowing them to jump gaps, break up enemy formations, slow enemies down and fire while moving.
Your main quest is to solve puzzles and remove obstacles that block your path and then lay waste to the various towns above ground which are defended by enemies similar to the Roman Legion. Once you have destroyed the enemy forces defending a town your choice of two evils comes up. You can choose Domination which basically means enslaving the populace leaving them alive to worship you and provide you with a steady trickle of resources. If you are a more impatient Overlord you can choose Destruction. This means killing everyone and netting a big bonus of lifeforce and gold but also leaves the town empty and useless. Long term tyranny or short term slaughter, whatever suits your play style best.
There is also the Netherworld to maintain. As your reign of terror spreads so the Netherworld grows bigger. As you retrieve Netherworld objects you can learn more spells and gain new types of minion as well as increasing your lifeforce. You can also forge new weapons and armour and house mistresses when you acquire one (or more). There is a barracks for your minions to live in, a graveyard to resurrect powerful minions lost in battle and best of all a tower for you to rule from complete with a throne – just what every Overlord needs to complete his feeling of power. Graphically the game looks very nice, and you and your minions look suitably threatening as you scourge the land. The general English ambiance of Overlord is surprisingly similar to Fable 2. The script by Rhianna Pratchett is quite witty and whimsical and has some fun with the clichés of the fantasy genre. The voice acting is well performed and the music and sound effects are very atmospheric. This generally makes the game fun to play even with the glaring flaws the gameplay has.
For a start controlling your minions can be a frustratingly tricky task. They are controlled via the right stick and the rear triggers and bumpers. Trouble is the game camera is also controlled via the right stick and this can lead to the camera going haywire when you are trying to toggle between it and the minions you are controlling in the heat of battle. Also in many places the level design seems actively designed to show off the games shortcomings. There is a preponderance of bottle necks that can bamboozle your minions into milling around while enemies pick them off with ranged attacks. Also being the Overlord himself, the toughest, meanest creature in the land means you won’t deign to jump over a small fence or walk down a short embankment. The destruction of objects also feels rather “floaty” in that they don’t feel like the have any weight to them when you smash them.
The game also feels more complex than it perhaps needs to be. There are twenty four different joypad button, stick and trigger combinations. Some of which are the same button pressed and held for different amount of time – again easy to mess up in the middle of a battle. Add in the complexity of managing the Netherworld, creating armour and weapons, upgrading minions, spells that change depending on whether you go for Destruction or Domination and you’ve got a game that’s as complex as some PC strategy titles. It’s hard to escape the feeling that Overlord 2 could have benefited for a little less complexity and more time designing levels that would allow your Overlord to cut a bloody swathe through the land like the badass he is supposed to be, rather than be stymied at the first insurmountable waist high fence he comes to. It could do with taking a leaf out of Pikmin’s book, giving us a simpler, more focused strategy game that suits the limitations of a console controller far better.
Overlord 2 is bursting with good ideas, but a more disciplined approach to the game would have been more welcome. Still it’s not many games that make being evil the complete focus of the game. The last significantly successful fantasy based one was Dungeon Keeper 2 from a decade ago, and if you enjoyed that game it’s likely you’ll enjoy Overlord 2 despite the flaws. So if you yearn to unleash the bloodthirsty tyrant living inside you this game will suit you down to the ground. It’s amazing how good being bad can feel.