You wouldn’t want to come face-to-face with a minion. These horrible Gremlin-like critters have appalling manners, dreadful attitudes and a serious problem controlling their violent tempers. They’ll quite happily stab you in the back, ransack your house, urinate on your head and then run off cackling in delight at their evil deeds. Thankfully in Overlord II, you don’t need to fear these nasty creatures because you’re their boss. In the role of their incredibly evil master you can order these horrible little critters around to carry out all sorts of wicked deeds on your behalf. As an Overlord you have just one objective in life: to rise to power, accumulate wealth beyond your wildest dreams and destroy anything that stands in your way.
It will come as no surprise that the gameplay in Overlord II, the sequel to Codemaster’s fantasy adventure, is identical to its predecessor, though a few new features and enhancements make it more than just a glorified expansion pack. Steeped in black humor, and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, this action/strategy hybrid once again puts you in control of an Overlord, the son of the previous Overlord no less. With the Glorious Empire currently in control and on the hunt to destroy anyone who shows any sign of possessing magical powers, the Overlord sets his organized legions of minions to scupper their plans and take over the Netherworld.
Though the unique blend of action and strategy gameplay has been seen before in the last game in the series, Overlord: Raising Hell, it still feels freshly entertaining in Overlord II. Uniquely, the camera sits behind the Overlord throughout the game and you can control him with the left analogue stick, while using the right stick to command your Minions, switching between different classes to send them off to attack a range of fantasy creatures in sweeping formations, or to collect life-force or Netherworld objects to swell your wealth.
The strategic layer to the gameplay in Overlord II comes in the form of controlling four minion types, or classes: brown fighters, green assassins, red archers and blue healers. Each group has its own unique abilities and can therefore be used tactically to take advantage of their strengths. Commanding your minion hordes to kill, maim and destroy everything in your path can be extremely satisfying. These critters animate superbly well, entertainingly so, as they pull huge Yeti’s apart and ransack buildings with fury. The quirky voice-work and actions of the minions can also be very funny. Seeing them smash up a bar, drink the ale and then urinate over everything in sight is just one of the humorous highlights. Despite the behavior of the minions sometimes crossing the line between humor and bad taste (clubbing baby seals to death anyone?) there’s a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments in a well-written script, penned by the acclaimed fantasy writer, Rhianna Pratchett. Though the storyline focuses on the rise of the Overlord, it’s the minions that are truly the stars of the show.
The minions are simple to control and react to your commands very well, allowing you to easily sweep the creatures and send them scuttling off to the exact spot that you wanted them to go, or switch classes swiftly. Impressively, the Minions usually do exactly what you require of them, so the path-finding issues that cropped up in the previous game have thankfully been eliminated. There is, however, a question mark over how well the skills of the various classes have been used throughout the game. Generally, it doesn’t take much working out to decide which class to choose for a particular task because you’re guided through the game a little too much rather than be left to your own devices. Furthermore, the fact that you gradually unlock the different minion types as you progress means that you never get to really take full advantage of their skills and micro-manage as much as we would have liked. Disappointingly, you don’t unlock the final minion type until towards the end of the game. Overall, we were slightly disappointed that Overlord II features a number of ideas re-used from the previous game and that the potential of the minions hasn’t truly been taken advantage of.
Nevertheless, some of the new features, particularly the addition of mounts, do add a further tactical layer to the gameplay. It’s particularly entertaining sending your minions to jump onto the back of a Wolf to leap over a gap, or hop onto a spider to climb a wall. Despite some repetition in the gameplay, the objectives in Overlord II are enjoyably challenging and the puzzles that you have to solve have been well thought out. You can look forward to utilizing the minions to achieve a number of goals, ranging from triggering a catapult and sending a bolder crashing through the town gates, to executing more fundamental tasks such as turning a wheel to open a doorway. Generally, the puzzles involve sending your minions in different directions to work out a way of being able to move on to the next area, usually by destroying something or releasing a mechanism. There’s plenty of incentive for exploring as well and doing so is a welcome deviation from attacking monsters and causing carnage. The lure of finding treasure to improve your wealth, or gathering life force to improve your Minions combat skills, is part of that appeal. Then being able to spend that well-earned money by pimping up your Fortress and seeing how your wealth gradually accumulates is a satisfying reward for your efforts.
The enjoyment of exploration is hampered somewhat by the fairly chaotic map design, which can lead to frustration as you go back and forth re-visiting areas in order to try and work out where you need to go. The game is actually very linear and there’s usually only one way to progress, but finding the right way can be a struggle. Our path-finding skills weren’t helped by the fact that we spent some of our Overlord II experience squinting at the screen. The visuals won’t appeal to everyone. The graphics in Overlord II don’t look a million miles from the visuals you’d see in a Crash Bandicoot game, with a cartoon style and garish bright colors. Visually, Overlord II certainly doesn’t come anywhere near pushing the graphical capabilities of the PS3; quite the opposite, in fact, as it looks more like a high-end PS2 game.
Though we’re disappointed with a couple of areas of Overlord II, most notably the confusing map design, the failure to make the most out of the minion classes and some of the regurgitated ideas from the last game, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed causing havoc across the land. Along the way we’ve laughed heartily at the minions and their funny antics and gleaned satisfaction from seeing our power and wealth grow. As long as you’re not expecting a true evolution of the Overlord series, fans of the minions and new players alike should have a very good time pillaging, savaging and causing misery across the Netherworld. It’s good to be evil once in a while.