Overlord II is – initially, at least – an easy game to like. Its style and silly irreverence falls half way between the inane humour of Monty Python and the more subtle, slightly satirical Olde Worlde fantasy style of Fable. As if controlling a little group of murderous, highly destructive Gremlins – sorry, Minions – wasn’t enough of a selling point, there’s also a dictatorial Romanesque empire to bring down and a whole land to crush or sieze control of.
The Overlord’s beginnings are auspicious; outcast at a young age from his home town of Nordberg as a ‘Witch-boy’, he rallies his new Minion allies to terrorise the citizens before leaving and being taken in by his leathery demonic friends, who train him to be their new master. Operating from a cavernous otherworld base, the now-grown Overlord reaches out in an attempt to rule the human realm and destroy the Glorious Empire, which has arisen with the intention of wiping out all magical creatures.
Levels are quite well designed, generally guiding the player forward whilst still allowing for a certain amount of secrets and elective exploration. There are a fair variety of locations, from snowy hills, Elven caverns, moderately sized towns and even a gladiatorial arena. Areas are fun to explore although feel a little limited since the Overlord can’t jump (must be all that heavy armour) and there’s too many invisible barriers – often which will oddly disallow access close to buildings or fences, impeding the sense of exploration and freedom. Despite this, the art style is pretty good and locations can be returned to later on, allowing for further examination and treasure to be uncovered by the Minions.
It becomes clear quite quickly that Overlord II sadly hasn’t made any improvements or changes in various ways in which the original game was flawed. For instance, as pretty as the visuals and style may be, the frame rate is fairly poor, frequently dropping for no discernable or understandable reason. Similarly, the camera is still awful, with the right analogue stick acting as both the movement button for sending out Minions and twisting the camera left and right – looking up or down requires holding L1, which never feels particularly comfortable. Clearly the controls would be a much better fit on PC, but it’s a shame developers Triumph Studios haven’t really refined the controls since the similarly fiddly first game.
As a burgeoning dark lord, the towns and villages must be crushed or suppressed (in a flimsy moral aspect every game seemingly must have these days), and so off the Overlord goes with a entourage of Minions, ready to lay waste to the land and its inhabitants. Missions don’t tend to extend beyond running through linear levels killing all the various foes en route to the objective, although sometimes the level design is a bit more inventive, such as having to flank a well-guarded outpost or melting a frozen lake to allow a boat to sail free. It’s a real shame there’s not a great deal of depth though – sometimes there are a couple of ways to solve a particular problem, but usually the most efficient and effective means is to rush in, Minions on the offensive, and smash through the enemy defences.
Further, it’s disappointing that the combat is so simplistic. The Overlord has a standard three-swing combo to begin with, and although he can acquire different weapons later on thanks to the Minion blacksmith, there are no combos to learn and there’s no parrying or anything resembling what is comparatively standard combat according to other similar games. If the combat is, by comparison, making Oblivion look accomplished then something has definitely gone awry during development.
Having four different varieties of Minions is intended to introduce variety – and it does to an extent, but most of the time it’s more effective to place the fire-casting red Minions a little way back and overwhelm the enemy with the rest. There are occasions or rudimentary puzzles where the Minions must travel where the Overlord cannot (through water or across a thin ledge, for example), and while the option is there to utilise the Minions’ strengths (for instance, the Greens are expert assassins), there’s so little depth and ultimately, not much need to bother.
Overlord II is probably at its strongest in terms of presentation. There’s a fun, dark sense of humour running through its veins, and the Minions bring a sense of light relief, acting as both stress-relief fodder for the Overlord, and presenting him with gifts of treasure with an adoring “For yooou” as they hold it aloft. The visuals have a nice Pratchett-esque quality to them, but as mentioned the frame rate is none too reliable and there are a lot of graphical glitches such as clipping and objects falling through each other.
It’s a shame that we’ve had to focus on the negative aspects of this game, because in most respects Overlord II is nearly there. It can be a lot of fun and beating up familiar looking green-clad elves forces a wry smile, but for the most part the poor combat, paper-thin strategy and technical limitations hinder a product laced with potential.