Review / Overlord II (Xbox 360)

Like its predecessor, Overlord II is all about being evil. To somebody who took delight in reducing Megaton to dust, squeezed every slimy slug-thing out of the Little Sisters, and engineered the death of his own Sim in a puddle of Sim-pee, that is a very good thing. Now I can add clubbing wide-eyed baby seals to my growing list of gloriously ghoulish videogame deeds.

It’s worth pointing out to those unfamiliar with the series that despite that early seal encounter, the evil on display here is the delightful or delicious kind. It isn’t brainwash-your-children-and-send-them-out-into-the-night-with-a-shotgun evil, it’s just good fun. Put another way, Overlord II is more Skeletor than Stalin, more Pinky and the Brain than Pol Pott. This is the kind of evil that goes Mwuahahaaaaaaaa! – then starts coughing.

Meanwhile, those that did play the previous game will know exactly what to expect; a fantastically inventive concoction of Fable, Pikmin and Dungeon Keeper, sprinkled with some uniquely playful dark humour. Unfortunately, they may also expect a slightly dodgy camera and frustrating controls, worries that have been addressed in the sequel, yet not entirely eradicated. But more on that later.

You are the Overlord, or at least you will be. First you must negotiate a brief tutorial/prelude sequence that introduces you as a young boy, teased and ostracised by the town’s children. By wreaking havoc and proving your evil credentials, you set into motion a chain of events which see you emerge, years later, as the fully-fledged Overlord, complete with over-sized armour, glowing eyes and a dirty great big axe. It’s here that your tyranny begins proper as you look to spread your evil influence across the land.

For the most part the Overlord himself is almost entirely character-less. It could be a problem elsewhere, but thankfully Overlord II is absolutely dripping with charm, humour and personality. This is due in large part to the army of cackling minions at your disposal. The minions are the game’s heart, providing not only the outstanding gameplay mechanic, but much of its humour.

Led by your trusty liege Gnarl, these Gremlin-like goblins bring the game to life. There are a number of different groups of Minions; brown, red, blue and green. Mastering the correct utilization of these colour-coded critters is not only immensely satisfying, but essential to progression. Before long you’ll be setting-up for fights by positioning your fire-tossing reds on high-ground, bowling straight into the fight with your brawling browns, slipping around the flank of your enemies with backstabbing greens, while casting spells with your magic-dealing blues.

Of course, you can always just send all your minion types charging in head-on. This is entirely possible with the browns, especially when mounted on the strength-enhancing wolves, but try it with the others and you’ll regret it. They may just win their battle, but you’ll pay the price with massive casualties. Unlike the original Overlord, the sequel allows you to resurrect individual minions, complete with their pre-death level and equipment. This is a great addition, a definite improvement over its predecessor, but when faced with the choice of resurrecting particularly high-level minions, or spending your resources on new weapons, you’ll wish you had taken the strategic approach.

The implementation of your minions is not just limited to combat, however, as you’ll need their individual skills to negotiate the game’s many puzzle-flavoured sections. The result is an experience most obviously Pikmin-esque, but also slightly reminiscent of the Zelda series. As you acquire the different minion types, their abilities will grant you access to different areas, necessitating backtracking and exploration. This is no bad thing, especially as gold and potential life orbs (the game’s currency) respawn every time you re-visit each area. You’ll never have a wasted trip.

As well as being central to the gameplay, the minions are also hugely entertaining to experience in action. Sweep the right analogue stick and watch as they career around the environment, causing destruction and mayhem as they go. They bundle around like a gang of Tasmanian devils, all flailing arms and legs, bashing and crashing everything they come into contact with. At risk of drumming the message home, it’s hard to overstate just how much character the minions bring to the game. Your mischievous aides are always ready with some merrily evil asides. Whether it’s their fawning ‘yes, Master’-type snivelling or their gleeful exclamations as they do your bidding; they act as a kind of camp, malevolent Greek chorus to your actions. They are an absolute joy.

Indeed, this sense of humour permeates the entire game, twisting traditional fantasy tropes, reinventing woodland elves as outrageous homosexual Greenpeace queens and generally displaying a devilishy dark heart. Thanks to Rhianna Pratchett’s writing (reprising her role from the first game), and the simply fantastic voice cast, everything about Overlord II crackles with life and verve. In a marketplace dominated by grizzled, shaven-haired protagonists and dour, mirthless characters, Overlord II is a breath of fresh air.

But now for the bad stuff. While there have been tweaks and improvements to the controls and camera, problems with both persist. Whereas Overlord stumbled due to a poor automatic camera, Overlord II introduces a manual option. The results are muddled. As the right analogue stick is used to move both the camera and your minions independently, you’ll occasionally send your minions diving off into the distance when all you really wanted to do was take a quick look to your left. It’s far from intuitive.

Similarly, controlling the minions can be awkward and imprecise. Rather than directly following your directions, the minions will effectively follow pre-decided ‘tracks.’ These are not a million miles from where you will be expecting your horde to move, and again it’s something that this reviewer reconciled himself with eventually, but others may not be so generous of heart.

A largely ineffective mini-map will also cause problems. Rather than having the map expand satisfyingly on the click of select or pause, you are forced to squint at a permanently tiny overview of your immediate environment. This map has little practical use. It is particularly frustrating when you are required to move to the next checkpoint, but have absolutely no idea of how to get there. While exploration is fun, wondering around lost is not.

So Overlord II is not perfect, and its problems are not entirely insignificant. Thankfully they are just irritants, annoyances to what is an otherwise fantastic game. Whether you’re devising combat strategies, negotiating puzzles, or simply revelling in some of the most charming writing and voice work in the business, Overlord II is an absolute romp, overflowing with charm, character and wit. So take out your club, embrace your evil side, and start bashing the crap out of those sweet little seal puppies. You won’t regret it.

+ Those charming little minion fellows
+ Fun, inventive gameplay
+ Fantastic writing and script

– The camera is awkward to control
– So are the minions
– The animation is a little lacking