IGN Review of Overlord II
Sequels are a chance to right past wrongs and hone the gameplay into something that can establish a franchise's identity. Overlord II did not follow this path. Rather than address the major issues with the first game, Triumph Studios tried to cover them up by tossing in some new gameplay features and changing the focus. The result is a game with all of the faults of its predecessor and little of the intriguing adventuring that made it popular in the first place. And that makes Overlord II a game that is more frustrating than it is fun.
Overlord II follows the story of a new wicked being bent on conquering the world. The last Overlord met a rather un-lordly demise and this new one, who looks and acts pretty much exactly like the last one, is groomed to take up where he left off. Ostensibly, he's the baddest mother around and pure evil, but with a Teen rating by the ESRB you can be sure that everything in this game is rather tame. Instead of blood and true carnage, Overlord II offers cartoon violence and some British wit. And though you're supposedly bad, you wind up playing the hero against a greater evil.
In the overlord's absence, a couple of new factions have arisen that need dealing with. There's the magic-hating empire, modeled after the Romans, which will throw tightly structured legions at your horde. And then there are the stereotypically offensive effeminate elves, modeled after PETA. These guys are out to protect all of the light magic creatures of the world. Together, these factions pose quite the challenge for the new overlord.
The key to the Overlord's success at dominating the land lays in a horde of little critters he controls known as minions. The game begins with just a few of these minions at your beck and call, but by the end you'll have dozens in four flavors, each with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. The browns are the bruisers, perfect for a frontal assault. The reds can toss fireballs that can clear barriers or strike enemies out of your reach. The greens and blues can do stealth attacks and swim, respectively. Each has its own role and will be featured in its own section of the game. These minions are the heart and soul of the game. Watching them tear through towns, grabbing anything within reach to wear as a helmet is quite hilarious. Their mannerisms and animations are what give Overlord II its personality. These guys are the equivalent of having a troupe of gremlins at your beck and call--and there's no Gizmo in sight to ruin all of the fun.
The minions also do your dirty work here. The Overlord is a bit of a wimp and can't take much punishment so in order to keep him in one piece you'll have to sweep dozens of little minions out to do the fighting. This is done either by targeting an enemy and sending them out en masse, sweeping them out by using the right thumbstick to directly control your group, or planting a target marker to keep them in one strategic location. The first Overlord game featured a lot of puzzle solving and careful maneuvering of your minions. While that is still present here, the sequel focuses more on simple action and combat.
As you work through Overlord II, you'll find and purchase new upgrades for the Overlord, his tower and his troupe of female companions. A new destruction vs. domination choice structure exists and the game tries to play this up as something bigger than it actually is. There are few real choices to be made in the game--many times the choices are hollow and don't alter the story or your character at all and sometimes the game tells you there is a choice when there really isn't. In the end, the real choice is whether to enslave the local populations or kill them and doing so will change your alignment. This, in turn, can affect your suite of spells and which little ending voiceover you get.
The trouble with Overlord II is that--likely in the name of making it more accessible--the sequel has removed almost all of the exploration and strategy elements that its predecessor offered. What is left is a mostly linear action game. There is never any question about where to head next because there is invariably only one direction to head in. There is never any question about which strategy to employ or which minions you should use because the game tells you the only solution. Even the concept of mixing and matching minions to produce effective strategies is mostly absent. By the time you have all four minion types, Overlord II is approaching its finish. Many other sections only allow a single minion type to be used.
While the last Overlord game straddled many genres, this one offers nothing unique. There are new gameplay elements to be sure, but none of them build on what made the first Overlord game interesting. You can now magically transform the Overlord into a minion at set points, but the change is superficial. Catapults, boats and other tools can be used now in large, boring set pieces. The minions can now ride mounts, but again this is largely a superficial change that doesn't add anything significant to the gameplay.
Overlord II encourages players to revisit old areas you've already run through but the rewards are slim for doing this and the tedium is large. Enemies don't respawn so all you're left to do is wander down a single path looking for any goodies you may have missed on the off chance that there might be something you can grab with the new powers you've unlocked. The size and scope of Overlord II are quite disappointing. There's little reason to explore areas a second time and I can count the number of side quests on one hand and still have fingers left over.
It all boils down to a straight action game, and as an action game Overlord II falls flat. This is thanks to the fact that all of the problems from the first Overlord game have returned in full force. Controlling the overlord, a set of minions and the camera at once is still painful. The auto-save and checkpoint system is still frustrating and annoying -- you can't save the game at any time and checkpoints don't come often enough.
And the game still suffers from a lack of polish and a few bugs, though none I've noticed are as severe as the game killing bugs from the first Overlord. The audio programming is one area that needs work. You'll oftentimes find two competing voiceovers in Overlord II, resulting in a garbled nonsense that is totally incomprehensible. Pathfinding is another sore spot. Some minions will simply run in circles confused as to where to head next. I had boss fight where some enemies kept running into a wall and never got around to actually attacking me.
The graphics too lack those extra touches that make a game look great. Overlord II still features the same visual style--a style that works quite well--that feels like a fairytale brought to life. That doesn't mean it looks great, though. Game objects regularly clip through each other. As you stroll along the paths you'll be treated to an ugly draw in of the trees and brush at your sides. The visual effects and character models are hardly breathtaking. Like the rest of the game, it feels like just enough work was put in to make it presentable and no more.
There's a multiplayer game to Overlord II as well, but don't expect to get too much out of it. Nobody is playing on either PS3 or Xbox 360 the day after it was released. If you do ever find someone to play with, you'll find a couple of versus and coop modes for two players. There are four different modes in all with a single map each and none of them are all that compelling.
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