Overlord II Review
Fans of fantasy games, writer Rihanna Pratchett and the first Overlord game have been anticipating the sequel for two long years now. In spite of the first game's problems—poor camera control, uneven minion handling and a liberal sprinkling of bugs—I too was looking forward to proclaiming my love for what I hoped would be a much-improved Overlord II. Alas, it turns out that although there's much to like about Overlord II, it's still the seriously flawed kind of game only a mother could love.
In Overlord II you play the son of the original Overlord, banished to an icy northern land. While you're hanging out with the snow bunnies, the magic-hating Empire has taken over the land and set out to destroy all traces of magic. Lucky for you, you're found and rescued by the former Overlord's faithful minions who raise you up proper, teaching you how to defeat the Empire and rebuild your dark kingdom. From the first, the game's strength is its humor. In fact, I was chuckling during the first loading screen listening to the minions “sing” along to the theme music. The game's cleverness is immediately apparent during the tutorial which has you learning the ropes in the beautiful snow-capped town of Nordberg as you abuse some bratty village children. Who hasn't wanted to smash someone else's snowman and send a band of evil minions after a bully? It's amazing fun. Post bully-thrashing, you're taken by the minions to your Netherworld headquarters where you grow up, don your evil Overlord helmet and prepare to stomp the Empire.
After humor, the game's second greatest strength is its graphics. From the first frame of the first cutscene, the game is beautiful, especially the environments. The town of Nordberg looks like Tim Burton's Christmas Town with its sparkling snow and twinkling lights and every area from the elf sanctuary, to the volcanic Wasteland to the Romanesque Empire city is amazingly detailed and gorgeous. The characters are good too although obesity appears to be the major theme. The absurdly big, bouncy female fairies, fluttering pixies, sassy mermaids and snooty Empire citizens look like first cousins to the tubby human characters in Pixar's Wall-E. Character animation for the most part is good too, except for some sewer frogs who seem to be completely lacking animation and some spotty character facial animation that's only saved by the stellar voice acting.
The sound in Overlord II is the third of its good points. The voice acting is very well done across the board. The villagers and citizens of Empire city sound very similar to the NPCs in Fable II and say similarly humorous things. The stars of the show, though, are the minions. Gnarl, your minion assistant, has a wonderfully evil voice (which is good since he talks so much throughout the game) and the other minions' various cackles, shouts and exclamations are hilarious. The music is great too but seems more often to reflect the area you're in rather than what's happening in the game. It also on occasion feels strangely delicate for the adventures of a dark Overlord. Even so, the game is a feast for the eyes and ears which makes you think you're really going to enjoy it. And then you get further into it and things go terribly wrong.
Gameplay in Overlord II is much like that of the first Overlord, with a few differences. You can choose between Domination or Destruction play styles, which means you either brainwash people or kill them outright. This seems like a cool option but when you're choosing between evil and...evil, it doesn't make much difference in the way the game plays. Minions are still your primary tools for treasure and object collection, puzzle solving and enemy elimination but this time you have to find the minions before you can use them. The four minion types: brown melee, red ranged, green stealth/poison and blue healing/swimming were scattered to the winds after the cataclysm that destroyed the first Dark Tower and that means you'll have to scour the land if you want to reunite your creepy little family. Wherever you go, Netherworld gates and spawn points come burrowing up through the earth, allowing you to continually replenish your minion forces. That's the good news. The bad news is, minions are controlled in much the same way as the first game; meaning, to control them you'll constantly be fighting with the camera.
Theoretically, the right thumbstick both sweeps the minions around the terrain and allows you to change camera view. This idea looks good on paper but doesn't actually work. It's still fun to sweep minions around and watch them destroy things, especially when they're riding their wolf, spider and salamander mounts, but trying to control what the camera's looking at is enough to make you want to scream. This issue is huge and interferes during puzzles, combat and boss fights, getting you killed and making you miss essential elements. The two camera options do nothing to solve this issue. Related to this, target locking is another pain in the armor-plated rear. Sending your minions where you want them to go can border on impossible and you'll waste many a minion as it does stupid things like dashing into lethal ooze rather than attacking an enemy.
The game has a host of other non-control-related problems that also contribute to the high frustration factor. For one thing, too much collision makes it easy to get stuck on terrain, objects and even brainwashed NPC's. I ended up having to kill all the villagers I'd brainwashed just so I could move around town more easily. Another problem, most obvious in towns, is interactive inconsistency. It's hard to know what's destructible and what's not since some houses can be brought down, while others that look the same, can't. Ditto for boxes, plants and other props. In less populated areas, inconsistencies appear in the rate of respawn. This makes it tough to upgrade your items late in the game when the magic creatures needed for fairy stones can only be found occasionally in one or two places. Add to that the difficulty of figuring out where you are at any given point and you have a recipe for lots of pointless running around.
Like the first game, there's still a real issue with not knowing where to go. The minimap gives general pointers but doesn't do a good enough job of guiding you toward missions or letting you know where you've already been. This forces you to do an awful lot of schlepping back and forth across maps trying to find objectives. As a result, you'll eventually hate your minions with an unholy passion after being forced to hear their handful of voice lines a few hundred times. (I admit, I definitely felt like an evil Overlord as I found myself impatiently barking at them, "Shut up, you idiots!") Your patience will also be stretched to its limit by other things like: a bug that prevents minions from picking things up right away, collision that keeps treasure out of reach and save points that defy all logic. For some reason if you die, the game's saves force you to repeat things you've already done rather than letting you move on. If you've defeated a boss and die a short time later, you're forced to fight the boss again. This is unfair and extremely annoying since many boss battles are multi-stage and always restart from the beginning.
Like a lot of people, I wanted to love Overlord II and at first, it seemed destined to happen. The game gives a great first impression with some of the best and funniest writing and voice acting there is and some of the best-looking graphics you'll ever see. Unfortunately, it becomes quickly apparent that the polish is all cosmetic and every one of the former game's problems are still there, just under the surface. While certain parts of the game are tremendous fun, Overlord II fails to represent a significant improvement over the first game as lack of player guidance, control issues, collision problems and poor camera control conspire to kill the fun. The only explanation I can think of for this is that the dev team thought it would be more “Overlordy” if the game drove players into a rage. Hey dev team; just in case you're working on a similarly-controlled Overlord III, let me offer you some advice. Bad idea.