The whole question of Good vs. Evil is kind of a thing with videogames these days – will you save the puppy or save yourself? – but Overlord 2 suffers from no such moral ambiguity. As the titular dark lord, you are gleefully, exultantly, and unrepentantly evil, as you and your minions leave a trail of destruction and chaos in your wake. Cleverly expanding the scope of its predecessor without forgetting what made it fun in the first place, Overlord 2 is wonderfully refreshing after so many games featuring reluctant heroes with tortured consciences. I just wish it wasn’t so damn annoying.
Fans of the first Overlord will immediately recognize that much of that game’s structure is intact: Using your Dark Tower as a center of operations, you and your minions sally forth into the world above to cause havoc, take all the good stuff, and basically crush anyone who looks at you funny. Minions come in four colors – brown, red, blue, and green – and come with individual strengths and weaknesses. Browns are strong and make excellent footsoldiers, reds can hurl fireballs, blues can cross water, greens are immune to poison, and so forth.
Figuring out which minions to use in which situation is key to solving not just the game’s many environmental puzzles, but also successfully getting through combat. Pitting reds against a wall of soldiers probably won’t get you very far; the better idea is to mount some browns up on wolves and have them go charging in. When a frontal assault won’t work, rely on the greens’ backstabbing ability to see you through, or when all else fails, let the blues use their healing mojo.
Your trusty followers aren’t quite as disposable – or forgettable – as they once were. They level up as they fight for you, which makes it even more upsetting when they croak, but you can resurrect them with a quick trip to the graveyard. It’ll cost you some lower-level minions to do it, so it’s definitely a cost/benefit decision, but it helps make the game feel more strategic than simply throwing a wall of anonymous bodies at your enemies.
If you’d rather not risk the life and limb of your adorable and faithful minions, you can always put the whammy on humans and get them to be your cannon fodder instead. They can be tough to chase down, but a quick zap and they’ll fall to their knees in devoted worship. If you’re in a combat situation, they’ll fight for you, which can come in very handy if you’re running short on minions. Subjugating the masses helps you control towns, too, another nice addition to Overlord 2.
Given its subject matter, Overlord 2 could’ve been a dark, gloomy, unsettling game, but its sense of humor saves it from being angsty. The minions are – it has to be said – just plain cute as they rain down destruction in your honor, and the writing and acting throughout the game is simply top-notch. Everything, from your quests, to your advisor, to the very descriptions of your evil armor and weapons, is handled with tongue firmly in cheek. You have to admire a game that not only makes you feel OK about slaughtering baby seals, but actually kind of makes you look forward to it.
What keeps Overlord 2 from being a nonstop giggle-inducing destruction-fest are its finicky controls and obnoxious camera. You use the right thumbstick both to move the camera and to sweep your minions across the countryside; more often than not, you’ll end up looking at a rock when you’re trying to send your soldiers somewhere. Not that they’ll necessarily do anything when they get there, though. The minions can be frustratingly obtuse, standing around basking in your glory when you’re trying to direct them to a particular enemy or location. Even when you and your minions are in perfect synch, the camera sometimes insists on pointing at where it thinks you should be going instead. Yes, I’ll get around to pushing that statue off the cliff in just a minute but for right now, I’d like to look for gold in these pots, thank you very much, Mr. Camera!
Though it does a fine job of building off its predecessor’s foundation, Overlord 2 repeats just enough that folks who played through the first one may find themselves overcome with an overwhelming feeling of been there, done that. For all the improvements, you’re still stuck spending the first several hours of the game locating the various hives that let you raise minions and shlepping them back to your lair, and the combat with the minions hasn’t really changed all that drastically, either. Of course, if you never played the first one, this isn’t a problem at all.
Overlord 2 takes a fantastic, but simple, idea – using a bunch of fawning minions to tear a swath of chaos through the countryside – and makes the most of it. There are spells to learn, armor to upgrade, decorations to collect, ships to sail, catapults and guns to man, peasants to subjugate and mistresses to enrapture. It’s a gleeful homage to being bad, a well-deserved kick in the shins to every goody-goody nancyboy that ever wanted to save the world. At times it’s aggravating, in others it’s simply cheap (more checkpoints in missions, please), but it allows you to embrace your inner mischief-maker in ways that few other games can.
Bottom Line: If the wanton destruction doesn’t put a smile on your face, the spot-on sense of humor most certainly will. Overlord 2 isn’t deep and it isn’t profound. It’s just fun.
Recommendation: If you never played the first one, there’s no question that you should give Overlord 2 a try. If you enjoyed your first stint as the Big Bad, then you’ll more than likely appreciate how the sequel improves upon the original – just be prepared for some serious déjà vu.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Susan Arendt finally reached an uneasy détente with the camera in Overlord 2. Neither one of them was entirely happy with the results, but it was the best compromise possible.