Once you leave the first island, the game then pulls exactly the same trick as the first game did. You're whizzed off to see your homeland, only to see it destroyed by raging Aztecs. So you get to plonk a couple of people through portals, roll a few flaming hay bails over Aztec platoons and use those whizzo camera madskillz you developed on the tutorial island. Oh wait, no you don't. All the action takes place on static screens where you don't need to (and indeed, can't) move the camera. Another ulcer and several capped teeth later, you get to the second island, where... you're given more tutorials to do! And it deliberately prevents you from using abilities (such as creating Disciples) until you've completed its requisite tutorial! Give me a minute; I'm just off to the chemist for some Rennies.
There; that should keep me from vomiting blood all over my keyboard for another couple of hundred words. To be fair, these particular tutorials on the second island actually allow you to finally do something useful in the game, and can thereby be tolerated (grudgingly), so once you finally get to grips with managing your settlement, you can then (finally) play with your creature. Creatures now have Roles that they can take: Builder, Gatherer, Soldier and Entertainer. Alternatively or you can leave them to their own devices in the Free Will Role. The Roles essentially make your creature a Disciple, and you can use the leash to fix your creature to a set position if you want him to work in a particular area. These Roles make your creature a lot more controllable, but I'm still not sure if that's a good thing. One of the real beauties of the original was that to get your creature to do useful things, you really had to invest time and effort to make it learn spells, not to eat villagers and not throw poo into the storehouse. Here, thought bubbles can tell you exactly what the creature is thinking, and a quick stroke or slap will ensure you never have to worry about it trying to feed itself on ore rocks and subsequently spewing its guts out over its pen, or having your citizens subjected to Crushing Death By Turd. In their efforts to make the creatures more accessible (and, dare I say, useful) Lionhead have only succeeded in marginalising their attraction. No longer do you have to spend time with it trying to teach it spells. No, you just buy them from the Tribute menu. Instead of having to make it watch you gather grain from the fields and put it in the storehouse, you just click a button, attach a leash, and you've got your own little robot minion doing your bidding. Okay, they're cute as hell little robot minions, but the Roles effectively negate any need you might feel to spend time with them, because the Roles override what they may have learned (or what you've taught them to do).
'Your citizens are idiots'
You're probably going to be far too busy town building to worry about your creature anyway. This is where I get back to my opening paragraphs: namely the feeling that you're more a manager than god. Firstly, your citizens are idiots. If you don't tell them what to do, they'll quite happily starve to death ("Need food!") rather than wander over to the vast tracts of agrarian land that you've provided them with and get some for themselves. They'll also plaintively wail "Need sleep!" in the middle of the night, and promptly go wandering around the local meadow (or down the road to the nearest tavern) instead of going to bed. I'm sorry? What do you want me to do about that? Put you to bed personally? Or just throw you off the top of a mountain? Your subjects also have absolutely no initiative of their own for expanding their town. You have to do everything for them. Even with a veritable army of Disciple Builders, once you put down the foundations of buildings, you're usually much better off dropping wood and ore directly onto them, because if you leave it to the Builders it'll take hours and all the biscuits and tea bags will disappear from your cupboard. True story.
Doing all the building yourself does have its advantages, of course. You can build some spectacular cities, and canny placement of roads will allow you to maximise the use of available ground and boost the Impressiveness of your town. Certain structures, such as Universities, Temples, and the like, will make your city appealing to the occupants of other towns on the island. If you're able to make your town sufficiently impressive, you can even take over the enemy city without a fireball being thrown in anger. "Where's the fun in that?" I hear you cry. Victory through urban sprawl isn't quite my idea of fun, and I LIKE micro-management. Achieving the island victory condition this way literally takes hours of meticulous planning and building, and makes you feel that you're playing a fantasy-styled Sim City. Ironically, this is actually more fun than achieving victory the other way - through violence.
You can now build armies, replete with swordsmen, siege engines and archers, plus (of course) your creature in Soldier mode. Combat is more Rome, Paper, Scissors than Rome: Total War. There's no real scope for tactics at all. Just chuck men at each other, bung your creature into the mix for good measure and stand by with a couple of Heal miracles whilst the two sides grind it out. You can achieve the victory conditions a heck of a lot quicker this way, but otherwise it's a pretty empty experience. It's even amusing to use an army to take over a deserted town, and have the nonexistent population tell you that they "Need Wood!" or some other resource that a population of zero could inexplicably want.
In spite of all this, incredibly, I do quite like it. Perhaps I've just got a soft spot for defective strategy games (A game of Star Wars: Supremacy, anyone?). Like its predecessor, the game's vision exceeds its execution, but it's not without charm. Virtually all the flaws from Black & White make a reappearance (with a few new ones, besides) and really should have been addressed. The unskippable conscience dialogues, awful tutorial, cursor imprecision, some dreadfully uninspired Silver Scroll challenges (which made me somewhat nostalgic for "Eidle, eidle, eeee!" boat quest from the original) and a script that's awful in places all drag the final score down. If they're not fixed in the inevitable sequel/expansion pack, I'm going to personally throw a fireball in the direction of Guildford and to hell with the collateral damage. Technically, however, it's magnificent. You'll struggle to find a better looking strategy game and the interface is much improved, but the game doesn't have the "Wow!" factor of the original - you simply can't overlook the gaping holes in the design this time around. How it manages to be entertaining at all is beyond me, but it is. Well, they do say God moves in mysterious ways...