REVIEWS -- Overlord II -- Xbox360
Overlord II improves but gets old fast
by Lazare Gvimradze
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Rent
Terrorizing fairytale stereotypes with improved mechanics is once again fun, but the minions won’t be able push the game all by themselves for too long.
Triumph Studios had a natural triumph back in 2007, when their unusual product by the name of Overlord hit the shelves and received a sudden warm welcome from the industry. Putting together a game that mocked every possible fantasy trend and universe, and showing this from a stereotypical-Sauronish-dark-Overlord’s perspective, they managed to freshen the genre and bring in some innovations nobody expected.
Innovations coupled with excellent humor. We are talking about the minions, of course, the giggly, little, dedicated goblins who resemble personal mutated Raving Rabbid bodyguards that show an unnatural attraction to everything that fits in their heads. Following the parody’s success, Codemasters saw its potential and after announcing a DS version and an expansion, moved on to creating a full-scale sequel.
New flying piles of meat
In Overlord II our hero is not the previous dark, silent Master who relentlessly destroyed everything in his path. He is a new Overlord altogether, though he is just as dark, silent and relentless as his predecessor. After discovering his overlording potential while scaring off annoying kids and (eventually) Roman legions from his village, he becomes the new master of evil, and begins stressing the re-capturing of lands and management of minions. Seeing as the last master’s tower was destroyed, the goblins decide to start building another one underground, carving it inside an enormous stalactite.
The character work done in Overlord creates more than a half of the game’s atmosphere. Everything is a parody: The Overlord is a walking collection of every evil fantasy-mastermind ever created. The minions are an incredibly fun lot, showing an unnatural determination and dedication to the master.
Secondary genre-standards, like elves and fairies, are present, but are drastically mutilated to fit the game’s humorous needs. The result shows the former as emotional environmentalists who protect baby seals and Cyclops Yetis (!) from barbarians like us. The fairies are a flying pile of meat (meaning: they’re FAT) enjoying dirty jokes and attracting minions while hypnotizing them (with their “beauty”). Replacing the bulging hobbits from the first part are The Romans, our enemy, who have skinny soldiers who barely hold their shields twice their size and run like two-year olds. Their generals, on the other hand, are a sturdy half a ton of meat encased in barely-fitting golden armor. It is safe to say that Triumph successfully deployed the same amount of humor they did back in the first game, and reinforced it with some needed changes in gameplay.
Real-time strategy level of depth
Speaking of which, Overlord’s gameplay has been unique since the first game. Controlling a dark lord whose only task is to accurately tell his minions what to do, yawn and occasionally swing his blade seemed like a bad idea for any kind of game at the time. But Triumph did it right, with a few notable flaws that are successfully terminated here in the second part. Like before, you control the master in a somewhat open fantasy world (with the teleportation hub being your “inverted” tower) taken over by Romans. The main objective is obvious: kill them. But there is quite the number of side-quests to complete from scared villagers requesting your audience. These additional cleanups give you more money, more upgrades and different kinds of minions to control.
No surprises though; we still have four main types of the little guys, smartly named Browns, Reds, Greens and Blues. Controlling them is made easier than ever: There are hotkeys assigned to every specific group, and there’s also an obvious possibility to control them all. Browns are great chaos-makers and battlers, Reds have long-range fireballs, Greens are a typical sneaky sort and Blues heal and revive dead teammates. The commands range from simple attack/withdraw to manual control and (warning, new mechanic!) even specific places where YOU swap bodies with a minion to sneak past one obstacle or other. As always, the chosen goblin is squealing from happiness when chosen as a “donor.”
But behind all of this stupidity lurks an unavoidable truth called tactics. Placing your minions strategically before each battle will maximize your victory and you may even triumph without casualties. Specific mounts for three kinds of minions, like wolves, spiders and dragony-lizards, enhance the speed and force of the rider, making them invaluable for penetrating difficult fortifications, like a Roman phalanx. Even more, you can use the minions to man advanced weaponry like rotating ballistas and catapults.
Minions are, of course, the labor force as well. Found an artifact which will increase your life? Order your minions to carry it over to the closest portal. Found a bunch of explosives which are calling for those blocked passages? Your minions can push them. And so on. In a way, Overlord II plays like an RTS where the player controls an intelligent squad of units, and also represents the last resort if the latter screws up. The Overlord rarely does anything other than raising a hand, swinging his sword once per battle or sitting on his throne, thinking where to go next.
Improved graphics and gameplay
Numerous improvements include the mini-map, something that was surprisingly missing from the first game. Minions now have names, level up, and can disguise themselves as other people to sneak past guarded gates. Their dedication is as unbreakable as ever. Puzzle solving often incorporates killing people and controlling your goblins through a series of obstacles, eventually to lead them to a trigger or a wheel.
The moral choices which were made in the first game and determined whether you were “bad or evil” are back in form of a simple trick: by applying your menacing wizardry upon terrified citizens, you can choose to let them live but be zombified, or kill them to gain additional Life Force, the universal currency needed to recruit and improve your minions. After seeing the effects of “zombification,” however, you’ll probably ponder why is it better than death.
The Overlord back in 2007 was a bright and colorful game, but the obvious flaws at animation and textures were pushing the game down. Several of those problems have been addressed, specifically the pure graphical aspect is drastically improved, with impressive models showing great attention to detail, and numerous technological nuances, like a magnificent High Definition Range (HDR) and Motion Blur. The variety of the environments impress: the underground Netherworld, the forests of the elves, the towns of the Romans, or the snowy mountains serving as the homeland for the infamous baby seals. All of those places are polished, and better level designs are definitely noticeable almost instantly.
The same goes for the physics engine. Fuseing NVIDIA’s PhysX with Overlord proved to be a great decision: whole houses tents and stashes are physics-correctly, demolished after your minions swarm them; rocks flying after explosions can hit and hurt you; water ripples magnificently after you step into it. In short, most of the issues were corrected, resulting in a very beautiful game blooming with humorous artistic design.
Not without flaws
However, animation still proves to be the major weakness of the series so far. Any hint of motion capture is absent. Everyone moves like a robot and facial expressions are practically absent if we don’t count a lower jaw on a character’s face coming up and down from time to time. It’s sometimes really frustrating to see that a game with so much potential gets absolutely sunk by something so minor, but at the same time so fundamental like animation.
Unfortunately things aren’t getting better regarding the sound either. What’s good? Well, the voiceover is plain brilliant; both humans and magical creatures make absolutely stereotypical banter that fits magnificently with the game’s atmosphere. Minions are the stars of the show as always, constantly blurting unfamiliar gibberish but managing a few heart-touching “For you, master,” after acquiring a bunch of loot and bringing it back. Sadly, that’s all there is to it. While a funny world and stupid jokes pump up the atmosphere, it is somewhat lost when roaming across the lands without anyone to battle. Background noises are composed of a few records, and rarely appear in the right moments. The score is present, but it’s easy enough to miss.
Overlord II is for people wanting a complete fusion of gameplay and humor. It’s a reject and at the same time one of the proudest members of the fantasy genre, mocking it altogether and deforming the peaceful stereotypes into something nasty and funny. Apart from that, and the solid strategic gameplay elements, the game has little to offer. The charming goblins seem to bore out a little earlier this time around, and the absence of some key elements needed for a quality atmosphere is plain frustrating for such a unique game with potential.
However, Overlord II still stands as an experiment in the genre, meaning that there will always be time to craft yet another episode of the freaky crusades of Sauron and his minions against other fairytale monsters. But right now we have a game for the people that turned their backs on the original because of minor mistakes. They’ve almost been wiped out here in the second part, so take your time to re-visit Overlord again. Everybody else should pass.
Developer: Triumph Studios
Release Date: June 23, 2009
Review Date: 21-07-2009
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: No
Notes: Xbox Live, Hard Drive Required, 1080i Support, Downloadable Content, Dolby Digital 5.1
While bringing noticeable improvements visually, there are still the same technological flaws inherited from the first Overlord.
Expanding even more upon minion-control and everyday chores of Overlording, a lack of atmosphere holds the game back once again.
A pleasant parody on every fantasy trend in the industry of videogames, Overlord II is great just by being unique.
Superb voice acting almost covers up the lack of some serious secondary sound design. Almost.
Becoming an Overlord once again with corrected mechanics is fun, but the minions won’t be able push the game all by themselves for too long.