It's kind of a cliché in BDSM circles that the sub is really the one in charge of things, and it's a truism that easily carries over into Overlord 2
. You may be a big evil badass with glowing eyes and an axe the size of a compact car, but it's your swarm of diminutive minions that take center stage, and ultimately seem to be the ones actually running the show. After all, there's probably a reason the little beasties go through Overlords like most people go through socks. Finding out just why that is, and what really happened to all your predecessors (of which there have been at least three, at last count, and probably more), is just a part of the game's hook.
The real appeal, however, is in having a whole gang of mischievous little psychos to order around. When I first saw Gremlins
as a kid, it was probably my deepest wish to become one of those gleefully destructive, unaccountable monsters. Upon reaching adulthood, however, I decided that I'd much rather just own a bunch of them to unleash at will. Commanding a legion of hilariously evil little critters to plunder and wreck everything in reach is the game's most basic appeal, and something that never really seems to get old. There's just something endlessly entertaining about watching a bunch of peasants fleeing before a horde of goblins as they ransack a bar, guzzle a few gallons of booze, and subsequently pee all over everything in sight. Everyone has an id that doesn't get let out often enough, and Overlord 2's minions are a pretty handy proxy.
Beyond that, you've still got all the other trappings of an alienated adolescent power fantasy. From the beginning of the game which places you in the booties of your ostracized preteen overlord, through his vengeful, minion-aided sacking of his hometown, the construction of his bastion of evil deep in the underworld, accumulation of artifacts of power, and the gathering of a harem of mistresses, you're pretty much getting to carry out that evil mastermind fantasy that's always lurked in the back of your mind and occasionally comes forward on the subway after a particularly ¤¤¤¤¤¤¤-filled day. Don't deny it, there's a part of everyone that wants to lead an unholy army of the night and crush underfoot everyone and everything that ever pissed you off. It's just a lot easier to confront when that unholy army is goofy looking, childishly gleeful, and adorable as its soldiers slaughter baby seals to wear as fuzzy hats.
Which would almost be enough on its own, but you also gain some increasingly deep strategic options. The four different minion types specialize in: frontal assault, ranged attacks, backstabbing, or magic; utilizing these specializations becomes more rewarding than victory through sheer numbers. Sure, you could just fling a crapload of minions to their deaths until they eventually wear down whatever you're facing, but it doesn't take long to realize that it's easier to put your fire-flinging reds on a nearby hill, charge in with your wolf riding browns, and then attack the enemy's rear with a squad of spider-mounted, backstabbing greens.
With its powerful commander, color-coded cannon fodder, and console-friendly controls, Overlord 2, like its predecessor, is essentially a hilarious, blackhearted take on Pikmin
. Where it branches out a bit is in its puzzles and seamlessly integrated mini-games. As you acquire your different varieties of minions, their individual abilities open up new avenues of exploration, and necessitate the kind of backtracking usually reserved for a Metroid-
style game. Meanwhile, as part of any given mission you may be required to do things like commandeer a slave galley to chase down and board an enemy ship, or take over a catapult to bombard distant armies and barricades. Far from an irritating distraction, these setpieces make for a leisurely break from the usual slaughter; the only disappointment is that there aren't more opportunities to go bowling with boulders.
Not that it always works out. There are occasional sections that allow your Overlord to possess one of his minions, leading the rest on infiltration missions in otherwise inaccessible spaces. These, unfortunately, tend toward standardized stealth gameplay; requiring either the observation of enemy movement and then ambushing from behind, or the avoidance of the spotlights of sentinels. While the mechanics of minion-possession mean there aren't any game-over moments for failure, these bits can still tend to be frustrating and go on a bit long. I don't think it's a coincidence that discovering a possession altar usually prompts me to take a break from the game, or at least to go dicking around with the customization of my fortress.
Overlord 2 rectifies a lot of the first game's issues, particularly the frustration of minion death. Through the course of the game, the little buggers acquire a lot of spoils, as well as some unique weapons and gear, and the old game made for some serious annoyance when some of your best minions inevitably got themselves croaked. For the anal-retentive, such losses would mean reloading from a previous save, or the difficult and inevitable decision to just say "to hell with it." Overlord 2, on the other hand, keeps track of the accomplishments of your beasties, gives them names and titles based on their exploits, and most importantly, offers the option of resurrecting (at a cost) favored minions -- who return with their levels and equipment intact. With particularly high level minions this can become expensive, and necessitates the weighing of resources between maintaining your best minions or using those resources for forging new weapons and armor.
Overlord 2 offers a lot of options for customization, be it in the form of minion upgrades, spell specializations, and purely aesthetic options like how to decorate your fortress and which of your mistresses you choose to favor. Most of these, including your choice of whether to specialize in dominating and brainwashing people or just outright killing everyone, seem to be largely inconsequential in gameplay terms. It makes some difference whether you want to, say, specialize in either giving your minions a combat boost or unleashing a damaging shockwave, but spells are so seldom used in comparison to everything else, that they don't amount to much in overall strategy. Additionally, traveling between your forges, minion hives, and personal quarters is time consuming and involves some not-inconsiderable walking and load times. After initial exploration of your infernal abode, tinkering with these gameplay aspects becomes something to be avoided except when you're putting off doing something else. Which is a shame, really, given that a lot of that sort of management could have been handled with a single menu interface. Sure, wandering around your fortress to micromanage things adds to your tower's sense of scale and the feeling of actual overlording, but it's still kind of a pain in the ¤¤¤.
So no, it's not an entirely perfect experience. But all of the above complaints -- even combined with my minor irritation with details like the marionette-like cut scene animation -- barely contests my overall joy at just playing this damn thing. The original Overlord
was a perfect send-up and reversal of fantasy game clichés, and the sequel is even more satisfying while fixing a lot of the first game's rough patches. Coupled with other improvements, like the upgraded visual detail, draw distance, and the greater sense of weight behind the Overlord's animations, all add up to something a hell of a lot better than a game I already liked an awful damn lot in the first place.
If that dark place in everyone's heart lies a little bit closer to the surface of yours, this is far and away the best place to let it out. I mean, unless you already have a tower, harem, and army of hilarious little ¤¤¤¤¤¤¤s to do your bidding. In which case, do you need a roommate?