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With new ideas and features, Overlord II addresses some issues but still has its frustrations...
Codemasters and Triumph Studios created a surprisingly enjoyable adventure with Overlord in 2007. Serving up a mix of Dungeon Keeper and Fable, Overlord owed much to its main source of inspiration with a charming take on Shigeru Miyamoto's Pikmin series. It had it flaws, but it seems a concept that a lot of people seemed to enjoy; enough, it seems to warrant a huge blowout of new Overlord titles. Today sees the release of Overlord spin-off titles on Wii and DS, along with the true sequel appearing on the Xbox 360, PlayStation3, and PC.
Immediately it's apparent that Triumph Studios has been given the license to run freely with the idea. Production and gameplay features are considerably expanded upon, creating a sequel that's an improvement on the original blueprint in many ways, but still fails to address the key issues that plagued the original. Building upon the original's fantasy - seen from the other side - theme, Overlord II finds the new Dark Lord, his loyal servant Gnarl, and the assortment of Minions coming into conflict with a take on the Roman Empire that bears one or two similarities to Goscinny & Uderzo's Gallic warrior Asterix. The way in which the story handles the new heir and his ascension to the dark throne is thoughtfully handled, which builds the confidence that Triumph aren't making a sequel just for the cash.
As the Dark Lord, it's up to you to take control of the loyal Minions, sweeping them across the landscape with the right thumbstick, drinking and smashing, solving puzzles, fighting against various Elf eco-warriors, the Roman Empire, seal cubs, and generally causing mischief and havoc along the way. The premise is that Minions can access areas the Dark Lord can't, use special abilities to solve puzzles, and generally be thrown headfirst into combat as a barrier to the surprisingly vulnerable main character. Browns are the basic bashing and smashing variety, making them ideal for the frontline and general looting; Reds can lob fireballs, making them a deadly weapon in combat; Greens can drift past an opponent and unleash a deadly blow from behind, while the feeble Blues can swim and resuscitate fallen buddies. Each Minion is unlocked in turn, which allows you to gain an understanding of each before progressing to the next. It can be a little slow paced at times in terms of flow, but it is a considerably sized adventure and you rarely feel the need to run through just to advance to the next element.
Selecting the different types of Minions mapped to the face buttons is an instinctive setup, providing for considerable tactical nuances such as restricting your fireball-throwing Red Minions to higher grounds, whilst ordering the bashing-happy Brown Minions to wade into the battle and grab fleeing opponents to slow them down. The distinction between the species of Minions and their use in combat and the various puzzles sprinkled throughout the game is generally much more effective than before. The Greens stealth approach for instance is far more pronounced then it was before, whilst the resuscitating abilities of the Blues is made more useful by their ability to run through opponents unseen. The tactical side to combat is also highlighted by the various Roman units you'll come across. In tight formation, the Romans provide an insurmountable obstacle to overcome by mere button bashing. Instead the solution comes from using the Minions effectively; making sure to sneak the Greens behind their opponents for a deadly backstab, or trying to defeat the Centurion to upset the moral of the troops. Triumph has done a fantastic job of bringing out the strategic elements of the game, which emphasises the fact that this is certainly not a routine hack 'n' slash.
The Minions on their own are a destructive bunch, particularly when taking into account their specific abilities, but the newly added mounts such as wolves, spiders and salamanders adds increased power but an extra dimension to the various puzzles. Wolves can jump across gaps that were previously inaccessible, spiders can crawl around webs and salamanders can roll around what looks like a skateboard halfpipe. It's a small addition, but one that again adds a little more to the gameplay on offer. Also new to Overlord II is the ability to take direct control of a Minion in certain set-pieces, which provides an entertaining change of perspective to the proceedings. Crushing battalions of Roman troops with catapults is another set-piece that is put to frequent use (perhaps a little too much) along with taking control of boats and rafts, which helps to diversify the standard gameplay but fails to bring anything significant beyond a little respite.
Managing your Minions however is a tough task to handle, as each species is now defined as a very definite resource to manage due to a slight change in the way in which new Minions are created. Harvesting differently coloured light orbs from dead opponents rewards you with a new Minion of that colour, instead of the global pool featured in the original. Although it adds a tactical element to the proceedings, it can lead to frustrating situations when you're running low on Minions and forced to replay previous areas to earn some more orbs - particularly later in the game. Take our advice and make sure to accomplish the secondary quests and harvest as many orbs as you can early on.
Such situations highlight a further source of frustrations, with the unpredictable checkpoint system. For the most part, the checkpoint system does a fairly good job of keeping you relatively near to the action; but there are several situations where the setup fails and causes plenty of annoying re-runs over land you've previously pillaged and plundered. Thankfully Triumph Studios has decided to include an in-game map this time. Although it's a definite improvement and helps to reduce the sense of aimless wandering, there's an overriding feeling that the level designs are still confusing and a little staid (Zelda and Metroid this certainly isn't), which isn't helped by the ambiguous quest details page. Generally these issues combine to cause Overlord II's main source of frustration and certainly provide an area for further development should Overlord III ever see the light of day.
A new slant on the magic/spell system feels largely underdeveloped and inconsequential. The premise is that your actions will affect the alignment between Destruction and Domination, in turn forming the different types of spells available to you. Ultimately this comes down to a choice as to whether you kill or subdue the townsfolk of a few settlements; an effort that feels little more than overt padding and never encourages you to actually see it through. We also never really felt the need to purchase new weapons and armour for the Dark Lord throughout the course of the adventure.
Triumph Studios has nearly sorted out the camera conundrum that thwarted the original, where the use of the right thumbstick to take control of the Minions meant that you had no control of the camera beyond resetting it behind the Dark Lord. The sequel maintains the same control setup with one notable improvement in the form of a manual camera; simply hold up on the right thumbstick before 'sweeping' to switch control over to the Minions. It's still not entirely perfect and gets a little chaotic during intense action, when the camera is rotating around like crazy when you simply wanted to make your Minions move to another area.
With a considerably sized adventure, Overlord II also boats multiplayer modes in the shape of four co-op and competitive modes. There's fun to be had provided you enjoy the basic gameplay, but we wouldn't imagine they'll maintain your interest for too long once the final credits have rolled in the single-player mode.
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