Review: Overlord II

BY JOEL LAUTERBACH- GAMEPLANET.CO.NZ
Last updated 05:00 16/07/2009
overlord
A scene from Overlord II.

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Some time has passed since the last Overlord game, and a lot has happened with Codemasters' title.

Overlord II dances its way onto the Xbox 360, on a high from its previous successes, and largely desired by gamers across the platforms. Overlord II follows you in your quest to become the one and only evil ruler, with the entire Kingdom at your mercy.

At your service you have little minions - gremlin-like creatures that seek out evil Overlords whom they can serve. The game plays out much like Fable or any other role playing game, but an evil twist with the additional comedy factor really make for something different.

The old Overlord has fallen, his evil power has gone too far, and he has been undone. The new Overlord begins his journey in a world where the "Glorious Empire" rules, and where his foothold is at risk.
 
The "Glorious Empire" seek to destroy all magic-doers in the Kingdom, and they seek out the young Overlord and try to destroy him, after he is betrayed by his own townsfolk. The Empire are one of the highlights of Overlord II, a bunch of large amusing Romanesque characters which can only have been inspired by the Asterix comics.

From the fat angry Centurions to the posh women who strike there noses in the air at the sight of you, the Kingdom has been lovingly, and in true Overlord II style, amusingly put together.

Overlord II makes some serious changes by bringing in a whole different world. You have the snowy landscapes filled with Eskimos and cute cuddly seals, which are a contrast to the lush forests of the Elven Sanctuary.

And of course your dark tower - the centre of your evil might - now appears to be located in the depths of the netherworld.

The environments are definitely a real pleasure to traverse, and feel much more expansive than the last time around. Overall the aim seems to have been building on the original title. And here the developers have definitely succeeded in creating something bigger and better.

On the minion front, a lot has changed. At your command you still have brown minions (the fighters), red minions (the archers), green minions (the assassins) and blue minions (the healers). These rascals can be taken from minion portals to aid you in your tyranny of the lands.

Their impish laughter and cheeky attitudes will grow on you very quickly, which is why some of the tweaks made are quite beneficial. For example, at your dark tower you can now sacrifice other minions to bring back to life some of your favourites.

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This is particularly useful as minions love to pick up items as they traverse the world, including centurion helmets and new weaponry with which to adorn themselves (even spider heads!). And sometimes it's unfortunate when you lose them.
 
On top of this minions can now pick up wild animals, such as wolves or spiders, to ride on. The addition of mounts is superb, giving your minions access to areas you didn't know were possible, such as having your minions use their wolf mounts to jump a gap.

Minion control is still done with the right stick, and the right trigger. You can target an enemy or an item and send your minions in to collect or attack. Using the right stick you can sweep groups of minions around, which works quite well. However this is where the game comes slightly unstuck.

The last game did this all very smoothly (at least 99% of the time).

This time around the game seems slightly less polished, and the camera angle, coupled with the inability to send minions anywhere but forward (rather than sweeping them around behind you) makes it a real hassle sometimes to manoeuvre them properly.

The minion controls have been sped up, but seemingly at the cost of smooth animation and control finesse. It's not really noticeable, but for a game that is meant to be an improvement, this feels like a slight set back.

On top of this, minions have gotten significantly worse at picking items up, requiring multiple passes over dropped items occasionally before a minion will pocket it.

It's only a minor annoyance, but one that means you will spend more time in an area simply trying to collect everything, and ensuring all your minions are well kitted out with weaponry and armour.
 
The quest system, as well as navigation, has been vastly improved from the predecessor. You now have a fully fledged mini map system which uncovers dark parts of the map as you travel there, making it easy to see where you haven't yet explored.

The map will also indicate points of interest related to certain quests, giving you a pretty good idea of where you need to be.

On top of this, when you take to your throne in your dark tower, villagers will request audiences with you which provides you with quests. This is a great way of not only progressing the story, but also of making you feel like a real life Overlord, presiding over your evil kingdom.

The map also goes a long way to resolving the issues around finding where you had to go to advance the story from the first game, and is definitely a help for newcomers, but with the bigger and more expansive maps it's also a necessity.

As in the first, the game challenges you to choose what sort of an Overlord you want to be. In Overlord II you are either able to choose between a domination path or a destructive Overlord.

The choices you make will have consequences for the way your Overlord looks, the way the dark tower develops, and also the quests which become available. A prime example of how this works is the town of Nordberg, which you need to conquer early on in the story.

Once conquered you have the option of using your magic to enslave the citizens of Nordberg to work for you, or simply kill them. The great thing about enslaving them is when you visit the town the citizens will be hard at work for you creating armour, gold and other goodies for your minions and for you.
 
Gold is a much needed resource in the game, and is used to keep your tower "wenches" happy, to upgrade the tower, and to use your towers smelter to create new weapons infused with minion energy.

The entire experience this time around feels a lot more compelling and encompassing, rather than just tacked on, but it has also been simplified somewhat, which really is a good thing.

Weapon upgrades, for example, now simply show a requirement, rather than allowing you to infuse endless minions into them.

The focus so far has been on minions, and with good reason. Though your Overlord can fight, and when he does he is quite powerful, you will find yourself quickly overwhelmed if you go at it alone. The Overlord is far better utilised by using his mana to perform magic to enhance minion attacks and to enslave citizens.

This is far more effective, and let's face it, having minions do your bidding for you is just what being Overlord is about. A nice addition this time around is the ability to use the "Possession Stone" to jump into the body of a minion. This will be necessary for a few quests where the areas you are traversing are simply too small for an Overlord to fit through.

Unfortunately we did encounter some bugs where our minions would run over the edge of the map into thin air, and keep on running until you turned back and the game resumed as normal. This was pretty irritating nonetheless, and adds to the feeling that the game could have done with a bit more polish.
 
Overlord II also feels far more diverse than its predecessor. This time you will be able to man war machines such as catapults, as well as command ships which are crewed by your minions. This added gameplay element helps to keep the normal gameplay from becoming dull.

It is obvious that a lot of thought went into the game, and the forward thinking of the development team has really paid off, preventing the series from feeling stagnant. And while at the core it has all been done before in the previous version, it feels new and definitely had no trouble retaining our attention.

Graphically Overlord II looks exceptional. The graphical style is still very similar to the original, however it seems slightly grittier, which is rather appealing. Enemies still look absurd and amusing (in a good way).

For example the big-bosomed, bee-like creatures which entrance your minions with their kisses, or the hippy-like Elves who want to halt your merciless slaughter of innocent baby seals. All this looks fantastic, and the exaggerated animation style really goes down well to add to the overall humour of the game.

The multiplayer aspect of the game includes a few game modes where you can face-off against other Overlords to see who can collect the most gold in a set time, or to wage war on one another to capture sections of the map. Or you can team up to defend against attacks.

These modes work really well, and its nice to have them there for online play and not just console co-op. It seems to be a good decision to only allow these modes, and not go into a fully fledged co-op, as there really isn't room for two Overlords in this world.

Overlord II feels like a thoroughly well implemented game. The worlds are all new and very exciting, as well as far more expansive than in the previous iteration. The game mechanics, though largely the same have made changes in the places where it counts, including the minions ability to ride mounts and the mini-map and quest markers.

The graphics are great, and though different don't fail to stun, though at times I did find myself straining to make out the on-screen action when I was romping through foliage, at least more than I did in the previous version.

The problems with controlling the minions and their ability to pick up items is probably the largest gripe, but we hope that with a patch this can be rectified in the future. A really excellent sequel all in all that does justice to the previous version, improving where it counts, thus making the few bugs and glitches more forgiveable.

The high price of Codemasters releases is going to put some off, but if it can be had for the normal next gen price point of between $110 and - $120, it's well worth it.

- Gameplanet.co.nz

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