Overlord II (PlayStation 3) review
"Pastoral scenes and even the menacing fairytale forest are gone, replaced by environs that seem to have been drawn with no discernible rhyme or reason from a hat labeled "whatever was left." The icy village that you once called your home is improbably bordered by a tiny cave that leads almost immediately to a lush forest populated by elves who preach peace and love for all creatures. In effeminate voices they protest your vile actions (which literally include sending your minions forth to club baby seals) as you break apart pots and vases and swing the camera around wildly in an effort to see through thick foliage presented as an assortment of paper-thin textures."
Many years have passed since the last overlord was slain. He was a nefarious being of extraordinary power and people throughout the land breathed a collective sigh of relief when they heard word of his demise. His few remaining minions have fled to the underworld, while in the world above mankind celebrates the beginning of a glorious military regime. Peace reigns.
There is hope, however! Hope that darkness will once more spread across the land, that the people will be enslaved, that chaos will rule. In Overlord II, that hope is you.
Born a mysterious child with dark powers but little interest in using them, you wander the streets of Nordburg as an outcast. Adults shun you and children build ice fortresses from which to pelt you with snowballs. Yours is a lonely, miserable existence.
All of that changes on the evening of a grand celebration. Forced to either give up an outcast they never liked or to watch their homes be burned to the ground, the people you've known since childhood prepare to hand you over to an invading force. Torture and death surely await you. Left with no choice, you take a proactive role in your continued existence. With help from your minions--impish creatures with shriveled faces and razor-sharp teeth and claws--you slaughter your would-be captors and attempt to escape over an icy lake on the back of a yeti that you recently freed from his cage. He's a stupid beast, though. Bellowing defiantly, he leaps into the middle of an icy pool of water. The two of you sink toward its icy depths, popsicles. Just like that, your potential reign of terror is over. Or... is it?
Overlord II wouldn't be much of a game if it were. Years pass. Finally, you open your eyes to the sight of a cranky old minion dressed in tattered robes. As you watch, he directs his underlings. With assistance from a dragon, they free you from your icy container. You soon learn that you are their only hope. If you prove your worth--something you almost did when you engineered the defeat of a full regiment of human soldiers--then you can someday call the entire world your own.
Throughout the game's remainder, you'll attempt to make that possibility your reality. The developers at Triumph Studios were quick to reproduce several important elements that made the first title such a treat. From the jester's expressions of adoration as you sulk in your fortress to the endearing cries of "Treasure!" as your troops scamper toward you with loot held high, there's much that returning fans will find familiar and even some stuff--like several character models--that doesn't seem to have changed at all. You still begin your quest for domination with access to only one type of minion. Procuring the other three types is still a monumental task and once you have them all under your control, you won't even have to pay close attention to the load screen prompts to know what button does what.
If someone had told me everything that I've written about so far, it would have made me anxious to play Overlord II. The first game possessed a wicked sense of humor, distinct environments and addictive exploration that made for one of the most unique adventure games in recent memory. I would have been quite content with more of the same, along with some tweaks and polish to the few areas that were tarnished by sloppy design. Unfortunately, the developers seem to have forgotten a few of the things that made their first project great. In the process, they also got a few details completely wrong. As the saying goes, the Devil is in the details.
First, the worst news: the world that you get to explore this time around--a big part of the overall experience, since much of an Overlord game is spent leading your crew around the different zones on your way to the occasional boss showdown--is a definite step backward. I appreciate that the artists went back to work and created different locations, but the new world was developed without the expected flair and polish. Pastoral scenes and even the menacing fairytale forest are gone, replaced by environs that seem to have been drawn with no discernible rhyme or reason from a hat labeled "whatever was left." The icy village that you once called your home is improbably bordered by a tiny cave that leads almost immediately to a lush forest populated by elves who preach peace and love for all creatures. In effeminate voices they protest your vile actions (which literally include sending your minions forth to club baby seals) as you break apart pots and vases and swing the camera around wildly in an effort to see through thick foliage presented as an assortment of paper-thin textures. The first game sometimes bothered me because I wasn't sure which path to take and occasionally found myself wandering in circles. That's the sort of thing that you'd hope developers would fix when they have the luxury of producing a sequel. Not so here.
Clutter and an inadequate camera aren't the only issues, either. During my first trip through the elven lands, the trail reached a dead end and a hidden artifact emerged from the soil that allowed me to possess one of my minions (one of several abilities new to Overlord II). Doing so then allowed me to backtrack to a smaller path that wasn't available to me in my standard form. I slid downhill to a grassy basin near a mystic statue that I'd been trying to reach for the last 10 minutes. However, magic barriers still kept me from approaching. Several minutes later, I finally realized that I wasn't even supposed to slide down that hill. I was actually meant to utilize an elevator hidden in some foliage at the edge of a platform above. The developers only included that slope so that if a player rides the elevator down to a battle and dies, he can re-spawn near the hidden artifact, slide down the hill in minion form and then ride the lift back up to the ledge before backtracking to the ledge again in standard overlord form and riding it back down again. Someone at Triumph Studios apparently considers that good design. I disagree.
It would be one thing if such occurrences were rare, but they're not. Perhaps a half-hour later, after powering up a ballista and firing high-powered arrows at legions of soldiers who were back in Nordburg, I found the square emptied of targets. I waited for a prompt to tell me what I was supposed to do next, but it didn't come. Finally, I abandoned the weapon and resorted to wandering again--something that happens a lot in the game, despite its overall linearity--until finally as I approached a random area along the edge of the map, a checkpoint appeared to indicate that I had shot some enemies with a ballista. Minor issues of that sort persist throughout the adventure and are often exacerbated by other flaws. Haven't the developers had enough time to figure these things out by now?
Overlord: Raising Hell had a lot going for it, but it also had some weak points that detracted from the overall enjoyability. Rather than trying to correct those issues, Overlord II ignores most of them and in some cases actually magnifies the bad stuff to the point where the experience has now become a bit of a chore. Worse, much of the personality and humor that added so much to the first game is either absent, repeated verbatim or replaced by a poor man's substitute. You can still have fun. The concept remains solid and enough bright spots are sprinkled throughout this unfortunate sequel to prevent it from killing the franchise's potential. It just came closer to doing so than many gamers will be prepared to accept. You're better off with the first one.
Staff review by Jason Venter (July 05, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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