Monday, July 06, 2009

Review: Overlord 2

I enjoyed Overlord 2 more than I did Overlord 1, for a number of reasons. These days it seems a rare thing that a sequel genuinely improves on the original, but this one does in a number of ways - which, given that the original Overlord wasn't all that shabby to begin with, is all the more pleasing.

For those of you who missed it, Overlord is a game franchise about being evil, doing evil, and inevitably, overcoming some other evil that is getting in the way of you exerting your own evilness. You're a hulking, muscular brute with demonic glowing eyes and a suit of armor copypasted off of an artist's concept sketch of Sauron. You have dozens of little impish minions who you send to do most of your dirty work, though you yourself aren't bad at chopping and stomping either.

When Overlord 2 begins, you are put into the boots of Overlad, the 6 year old progeny of the previous Overlord and his tower mistress, who then fled the tower and abandoned you in a sleepy snowbound northern village. Called "witch-boy" by the locals and cruelly ostracised by most of the other children, Overlad is then discovered by a small handful of evil minions who were part of a large, scattered effort to locate him after the untimely demise of the previous Overlord in a mysterious magical explosion that destroyed the Dark Tower and most of the surrounding area. They help him put paid to his squabbles with the local kids and escape to the netherworld.

Fast forward through 13 years of being raised by demented goblin henchmen, and Overlord Jr. is now ready to settle old scores and claim his father's birthright.

The first and most obvious improvement is also probably the most expected one - with the increase in available graphics horsepower out there now, Overlord 2 has more visual complexity than the first. There's more dynamic foliage, the fur lining your armor wafts in the breeze, many more destructible objects in the environment that shatter and crumble in a much more spectacular fashion, more particle effects, and so on and so forth. It still abuses the hell out of bloom, but what doesn't, these days?

The second, and most needed improvement in my eyes, is the "be evil" paradigm got an overhaul. One of my larger gripes with the first overlord was that there were far too many chances to be good, and the evil that you did do was very "saturday morning cartoon" type evil, which made it really just mean-spirited slapstick and not really any kind of dark humor. While you're still not exactly peeling people out of their skins and hanging them by their entrails or anything, the evil has gotten more Darkseid and less Gargamel. For instance, your first task as a grown overlord is to slaughter 25 baby seals to harvest their life force for use in summoning minions. There's no retrieving a lady's lost freaking baggage here. There are still choices to be made, but rather than choosing "good" or "evil" like in the first game, now the choices go between enslave and dominate, or kill and destroy. The ending of the game changes as well, depending on whether you enslave everything, destroy everything, or use a mixture of both.

Just for the sake of one-upmanship as well, Junior does not share the same "one tower, one mistress" limitation that daddy did. Over the course of your rise to power you will aquire not one, not two, but three mistresses. Which of course leads them to squabble over who is your harlot-in-chief, which of course gets you out of the netherworld and doing nefarious things more often.

Another new addition is the ability of your minions to obtain mounts which improve their performance. Browns can ride wolves which increase their fighting ability, reds can ride salamanders which let them toss fire on-the-run, and greens can ride spiders which let them climb vertical surfaces. Your enemies have some new tricks as well, particularly the new human "empire" which uses phalanx formations that are hard to break up and require much strategy to overcome. There's also fun catapults and ballistae to play with, new weapons and armor to forge (as well as some of the better items from the first one... the helmet that gives you double life energy for each orb you collect is my favorite), and new spells to use. I particularly like using the "evil presence" spell to dominate the minds of local civilians and using them as cannon fodder when I confront the military that is supposed to be protecting the town. Delicious irony.

Sadly, the control scheme did not improve from 1 to 2, and we're still left trying to emulate thumbstick movements with the mouse. However, they did improve the camera angle a little bit, making it easier to see what's right in front of the overlord instead of being blocked by his body. There's also new fighting moves associated with holding down different directions while swinging.

All in all, the game improves on the first one in almost every way, and is an enjoyable experience to play through once and revisit once in a great while.

Grade: B+. If they could get more replayability into this game via dynamically generated content or something, rather than everything being married to the in-game plot, it'd be an epic game.