"This is Overlord, as in over-the-top," laughs Creative Director Lennart Sas when we question him about Overlord II. And when in the first level you're clubbing baby seals and killing environmentalist elves, you can't help but agree with him - it's pretty strong stuff. Yet, it's entirely acceptable to commit such acts of unrepentant evil, because the entire thing is laced with a wit and charm that actually manages to raise the odd smile here and there. No mean feat for a videogame.
Starting the game as an entirely new Overlord, the story begins with a well-disguised tutorial stage where you're a taunted and ostracised young 'witch boy' growing up in the snowy fantasy village of Nordberg. With mysterious glowing eyes and a face shrouded in darkness, there's no doubt that the Overlord in waiting is the wee troubled pariah, that is until the roving minions find you to lead you to your true calling.
So, after ending up frozen in an icy lake with a huge one-eyed yeti, you're found once again and thawed out to finally become the Overlord of evil. Like the first Overlord's giant tower, which was originally your seat of power, you're given a cavernous Netherworld palace where you can forge new weapons, armour and helmets, assemble a harem of mistresses and teleport to any areas within the game world that you've unlocked. You can even have an audience with various characters who bring you valuable information in return for a reward. Of course, like any truly evil Overlord, you have a trapdoor to send them packing if you'd rather decline their selfish offers.
The antagonist in Overlord II is the so-called 'Glorious Empire', a Romanesque civilisation who has expelled all magical creatures from their society. Suffice to say that you're not particularly welcome either, so it falls to you, the evil Overlord to depose the bloated empire from their seat of power. Best way to do this is to strategise from your own seat of power, deep down in the magma chambers of your Netherworld retreat.
When you're not sat on your Netherworld throne pondering the next malevolent machination, you're out commanding your minions who are the real stars of Overlord II. There are four different types of minion who obey your every instruction, which mostly involve destroying, killing and pillaging the spoils. Browns are your all-purpose brawlers who will tear into a fight and trash anything in their path. Reds throw fireballs that can burn down barriers, greens are stealthy assassins able to disguise themselves to infiltrate otherwise inaccessible areas and finally blues can swim, pass through enemy lines undetected and heal fallen minions.
Throughout the course of the game, you may find yourself growing attached to certain members of your obedient horde as they mischievously put things on their head, mount and ride wolves or other creatures and collect weapons and other paraphernalia which they hang onto. Each one is unique, with their own name so when one dies in battle you can resurrect him using the Netherworld graveyard. Essentially though, your minions are your main weapon and you fire them at enemies in the same way you would a gun. Hell, they're even mapped to the right trigger. You can also sweep them to whatever position you like using the right analogue stick, which is surprisingly intuitive.
The Overlord himself is pretty weak and can only execute melee moves that are limited to swinging a sword or axe and launching magical attacks, so he's not much cop in a frenetic scrap. Using your minions tactically is key then, so you'll want to keep your reds at the rear throwing fireballs and your blues on the periphery, doing their thing while the others get stuck in. In the event that they do die, then you can beckon more from the minion gates depending on how much lifeforce you collect from the still-warm corpses of seal cubs, gnomes and other unfortunate creatures, so you can usually maintain a full strength army.
For Overlord II, Triumph Studios have tweaked the minions' AI too, so they carry out your commands more efficiently than previously. However, we still encountered moments where the odd minion got lost and strayed away from the pack, running in circles or into an obstacle. And this leads us neatly onto why the game isn't quite the major improvement over its predecessor that we'd hoped for, with the very same irritants that marred the first game still annoyingly present. For one the camera is still a little wayward and can sometimes get stuck on scenery or give you a view obscured by some ugly, pixellated tree branch or some such.
The game's new 'tyranny system' presents you with the binary choice to either dominate or destroy your way through the game, but this is largely superficial. Dominating allows you to subdue the peasants and enlist them into your burgeoning army of subservient slaves, while choosing a path of destruction is wholly self-explanatory. Other than reaping steady rewards throughout the game via domination or gaining instant gratification through destruction, your choices have virtually no additional bearing on the outcome or direction the game takes. We'd have loved to see your actions have more of an impact on the course of the games events or the way that NPCs respond to your presence.
Visually the game is quite rough too, with dodgy lip sync and animations exacerbating the somewhat shoddy overall look and style. Still, the many quirks and idiosyncrasies in the game could have been forgiven had there been enough genuinely new and innovative stuff to merit this sequel, but really Overlord II is essentially more of the same. If however, you happened to miss the first Overlord, you'll find a lot to like in Overlord II. The game still stands up on the virtues of its unique blend of action and strategy, as well as the boldly humorous personality it brings to the table.
Overlord II initially appears to be a worthy sequel, but once you come to the realisation that it's really not sufficiently different to its predecessor, it's difficult to justify a purchase if you already happen to own the original. Bugs and glitches still pervade much of the game, with graphics and animations that seem a tad unfinished and crude. None of these issues conspire to completely break the game, but they do make for a sequel that fails to be what it could have and should have been. That said if you missed the original game, then Overlord II will be a pleasantly fresh gameplay experience well worth your time. If however, you caught Overlord the first time round, then you may find yourself feeling a little disappointed and short-changed by this sequel. Overlord II is solid enough, but it doesn't go quite as 'over-the-top' as we'd have liked.