Overlord II
Release Date: June 23rd, 2009
ESRB Rating: Teen for Alcohol Reference, Crude Humor, Suggestive Themes, Violence
Available On: Xbox 360 (version reviewed), PS3, Windows PC
Genre: Action/Strategy
Number of Players: 1-2 (local/online co-op/competitive)

Do you remember Overlord? A game that came out in 2007 that blended action and strategy elements in a fashion similar to Nintendo\'s Pikmin games and received decent sales and reviews from the critics? I know I don\'t. Which is why we\'ll be looking at Overlord II completely on its own grounds.

So what is this Overlord II? In short, it\'s a game that blends action and real-time strategy elements (didn\'t I just say this?) with a dark sense of humor and a savage drive to destroy. Cast as the netherworld\'s new dark overlord, you are given a horde of raging minions and set out to do the evil that you do best.

Picture this: The Great Overlord has been sealed away in the Abyss. The fiendish hordes of the netherworld are left without a master to guide them. Then, by luck or fate, they find you, a young lad with glowing yellow eyes and a knack for the supernatural... and for being a menace to the town you vaguely call home. Meanwhile, the Glorious Empire is working overtime to do away with all of the world\'s magic users. It just so happens they\'re in your town today.

The game begins with a two-part tutorial. The first part teaches the absolute basics of controlling your Minions while Gnarl, the chief minion, personal advisor, and game\'s narrator, gives you directions to escape to the netherworld. Fast forward to adulthood and the second part of the tutorial. Now comes the final test of whether or not you have what it takes to truly be the new overlord. Just so happens that the final test takes place back at your home town in the mountains where the Empire has set up an airtight rule.

So begins your tale. A tale filled with action, mystery, romance, surprise twists, and... none of these things, really. The story revolves around the overlord\'s quest to bring down the Glorious Empire (which resembles to some extent the Roman Empire of old) and any other dogooders that get in the way.

The game\'s story isn\'t going to keep you coming back for more, so the gameplay should compensate for that, right? That would be the case in ideal terms. Unfortunately, it\'s a rather mixed bag in practical terms.

In Overlord II, you amass legions of Minions. To keep things challenging and feasible from a designer\'s perspective, you are limited to a certain number of Minions in your group at a time. The number is raised as the game progresses, but you will have limitations to work with at all times. So learning how to work best with these limitations requires at least some strategy be involved.

Fortunately, you have some advanced strategic tools available. There are four different kinds of Minions available, and each kind of Minion has its own strengths and weaknesses. You can set small groups (or your entire party) to sit around posts wherever you choose to put them. You can set up blockades this way, or you can set up ranged attackers at out of reach places. Unfortunately, the control scheme for this is not very intuitive.

Actually, it\'s downright complicated and even unreliable. Sadly, the same can be said about the majority of the controls. They\'re context sensitive and clunky as a result of that. The button used to send Minions is used for all Minions regardless of which color they are. You can control exactly which kind of Minions are called upon in a given circumstance, but this requires another set of button presses. The same principles go for most of the Minion controls.

The problem isn\'t that they are wholly broken or impossibly complex on paper; the problem is that it\'s incredibly hard to actually use any of them in the heat of battle. When you\'re in a situation that allows for some planning ahead, they\'re nice options to have, but when you get stormed by a phalanx of soldiers, there\'s just not enough time to implement much of the game\'s strategic side. The result is that the game becomes a mindless fight for survival with actions being limited to direct melee from the overlord, dispatching all of your Minions at once at a target, or calling them all back to crowd around you for protection.

The game promises all kinds of neat features, and they\'re there. They\'re even serviceable in concept. They just don\'t play out very well in practice most of the time.

The sad thing is that the problems don\'t end there. In at least a couple of situations, you need fairly precise control of your moving hordes. The reality is that the control stick response just isn\'t up to the task. In one place in particular I tried to do the same thing over and over for upward toward a half an hour before giving up. What needed to be done was easy enough to figure out, but actually getting the Minions to do it was nearly impossible.

As an insult to injury is the last (and perhaps most infuriating) trouble spot on the list: the awful save design. The game has a pretty workable autosave function. No complaints from me on autosave; I depended on it most of the time, and it gave me no trouble. The problem is the fact that you can only save at save points (with or without autosave). Worse is that the time between these save points varies between a reasonable 5-10 minutes and upward toward a half an hour or more. The fatal blow for the game is that some of these longer spans have something of dire nature just before the save point.

Despite the good things that Overlord II manages to do, the overall enjoyment factor of the game is brought way down when you can play the same half hour segment over and over because you get suckerpunched with no escape right at the end of that segment. I clocked around 20 hours in the game system, but I\'m sure I spent at least 30 hours in front of the game because of this obnoxious design choice.

It\'s really unfortunate that these things so heavily mar the overall experience because the game has some good ideas in it (even if many of them were borrowed from Nintendo\'s Pikmin series). But more importantly than the presence of good ideas is an overall game design that is actually fun. Despite sometimes getting lost for a long time because of a missed branch in the path, exploration and destruction are generally enjoyable even if a bit straightforward.

Like the mixed bag that is the game design, so are the production qualities neither wholly great nor wholly terrible. Take, for instance, the realm of graphical direction. On the one hand, you have a colorful, fun, creative art direction that may not be groundbreaking, but it\'s still easy to appreciate as being very solid. On the other hand, you have mediocre technical qualities. Most things in the game are shiny, but many things (characters and structures) alike are lacking in detail and variety.

The aural aspects of the game largely follow the same trend. Actually, nothing about the audio realm is particularly noteworthy. Some voice actors are intentionally annoying or otherwise over the top, but for the most part they\'re simply obnoxious. The saving grace is the humor of Gnarl, your advisor, and the noises/words of the Minions. The music isn\'t anything to write home about, either.

And then there\'s morality\'s side of the story. I\'ll cut to the chase on this one, if you\'re easily put off by constant slaughter, the idea of being a dark overlord, or by the surprising amount of sexual content for a game that got a Teen rating from the ESRB, then don\'t even give this game a second thought. But if you want more details on the matter, here they are.

The game is fueled by violence. You and your hordes will slaughter countless humans, elves, animals, and mystical creatures such as dryads and gnomes. The general rule of thumb is that if it moves, you should kill it. Some civilian humans and elves are an exception to this rule because they are initially neutral toward you. You can then choose to kill them and collect life force from their fallen bodies, or you can use your magic to control their minds. In the case of the latter, you\'ll gain long-term rewards, so the game halfheartedly encourages you to spare them. Despite the endless slaughter, there is no blood, and the only thing resembling gore is one boss creature\'s head is severed and charred (resulting in a browned skull on the ground) that must be crushed to reclaim an important item and prove your dominance to its followers.

The supernatural aspects are somewhere in that gray area between pure fantasy and borrowing from the occult. You play as a dark overlord and control a host of Minions. The Minions look and act like stereotypically portrayed drone demons, but the game never really refers to them as such (except for some of the civilians who cry out "demons!" in fear). Magic is limited to lighting-like attacks and mind controls. The game world is filled with mystical creatures, but there are no undead (barring a possible ghost depending on how you play the game). *spoiler* The final boss is collecting, not destroying, the world\'s magic supply and users in attempt to become a god.

The sexual content is far from a gray area, though. Most of the females in the game have giant busts and, at least the ones in the tropical town, are moderately clothed at best. Moreover, fairies and similar creatures have only flowers to cover their breasts. The game requires that you build a small harem of three mistresses over the course of the game. Your advisor makes some sexual comments about all of them such as “she’s a handful… or several.” But it’s your harem and the things that result from interactions that are most alarming. The game does not require you to actually have sex with any of your mistresses, but there are Achievements given for doing so. After buying all of the things a given mistress requests, a cutscene is played wherein the current mistress offers to treat you with a provocative invitation. The actual sexual act takes place off camera behind a drawn curtain (which a minion will stand at screaming for a chance to watch). Meanwhile, the camera will shoot out to view the entire netherworld tower being rocked, a host of minions cheering for you, and the mistress will make another sexual comment during the act. To further push the envelope, you can play your cards right to have sex with all three mistresses at once, which is more of the same but at a higher level.

Frankly, the unnecessary immoral content in the game (the sexuality is especially unneeded and does nothing to improve the game in any way) makes it all but impossible to recommend Overlord II for a purchase or even a rental. But even if you think you can get past these immoral things, the absolutely maddening design elements, relatively few as they may be, are so severe that the overall experience comes up way short of what it could and should be. Despite what fun things the game does, it\'s just really hard to get past its really rough spots. If you absolutely feel the need to play the game, at least give the PC version (or related Wii version) a shot in hope of a more controllable experience. Still, when it\'s all said and done, I recommend choosing another game to fill your action/strategy or havoc-wreaking needs.

-Kenny Yeager (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Game Score - 32/50
Morality Score - 23/50

Overall - 55/100

Gameplay - 12/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 5/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls 3/5

Violence - 4/10
Language - 6/10
Sexual Content - 2/10
Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

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