Sometimes video games let us do things that we would never normally experience. They let us fly, travel through time, and meet interesting people in distant foreign lands. Sometimes, video games are simply there to help us make our dreams come true… And sometimes video games are there to let us do some really messed up things. Like clubbing seals to death, and murdering pandas.
Yes indeed, Overlord 2 lets you commit one of the biggest of all ethical no-noes, opening a can of whoop-ass on two of the world's most popular endangered species. Whatever will they think of next? A veal-rearing mini-game, perhaps - or a quicktime sequence in which you skin a whale while eating endangered salmon? Still, we shouldn't be so surprised to find such wanton evil. You are the Overlord, after all - you're supposed to be a complete bastard.
Indeed, one of Tom's criticisms of the original Overlord was the general lack of evil deeds to perpetrate. The concept, if you remember, is that you play a villainous tyrant who's hell-bent on dominating the fantasy world he inhabits. While the Overlord himself can run about and attack people, the real twist is that he (and therefore you) has an army of imp-like Minions who will run about and do his bidding. The Minions come in different colours and have different specialities: brown Minions are good at standard fighting, the red ones can throw fireballs, and so forth. In the first game you got up to quite a bit of looting, pillaging and killing, but Tom was a little put out by the frequency with which you actually came to people's aid.
With any luck, the nefarious Mister Orry should be a bit happier with Overlord 2. This time, in addition to the aforementioned slaughter of pandas and cute-faced snow seals, you'll also get new options when it comes to villainous behaviour. After conquering a town you'll be presented with the choice to "destroy" or "dominate". In the first case, you simply trash the place and (presumably) kill everyone, resulting in a one-off gain of lots of life force - the currency you need for summoning more minions. Alternatively, you might choose "dominate" - enslaving the entire community, and providing you with a slow-but-steady supply of life force. Either way, it's quids in for you and endless misery for the local townspeople. Joy and joynesss!
Your main opposition in Overlord 2 will now be the Glorious Empire - a bunch of arrogant posers loosely based upon the Ancient Romans. The idea is that after the events of the first game, the former Overlord was thrown into an abyss. However, before he met with this fate, he managed to spawn an evil offspring - the Overlad. This strangely adorable little fellow was sent off to live in the snow-covered town of Nordberg, which is where we find him at the start of the game. At the beginning of the adventure you're little more than a malevolent runt, but it isn't long before you're rescued by your Minions - setting you on a path for violent and terrible revenge. The game's plot will heavily involve the Empire's plans to destroy all magical creatures, but Codemasters assures us that the Overlord is only interested in furthering his own power, rather than helping anyone out. Let's hope so, because being a Goody two-shoes is certainly not what the Doctor ordered!
The chaotic core gameplay remains largely the same, with you controlling Mr Lord on the left stick and your loyal hoard on the right - a sort of demonic variant of Pikmin. The most important change is that your Minions are now a lot smarter than they were before. Summon a large group of the little buggers and they'll automatically arrange themselves into a suitable formation, with the melee-types at the front and the ranged attackers at the back. Minions will also stop short of cliffs and other hazards, although you're still more than free to send them over the edge if you so desire. And indeed you should, every once in a while - you're an evil despot after all.
The Minions have also learned a few new tricks. If you bring a certain coloured imp into contact with a specific animal, they'll clamber aboard and use them as a mount. Brown Minions get to ride wolves, the reds get fire-breathing salamanders and the sneaky greens get giant spiders. Magical blue Minions may also be getting mounts, but Codemasters are remaining tight-lipped on this for the time being. In addition to their new jockey skills, your wretched servants can now also commandeer siege weapons. One level I was shown involved sneaking into an Empire Fort and getting the boys to seize an enormous catapult that was then used to smash thorough a wall blocking the Overlord's progress. Needless to say, it was also used to crush quite a large number of hapless guards, too.
It seems that sneaking about will have an increased role in Overlord 2 - and this time it won't just be your green Minions who get to have all the fun. Special Possession Obelisk allow you to temporarily leave your despotic body and to enter one of your tiny servants: By sending your gang running around the needle, your Minions will start to perform a sinister ritual that causes the sky to turn dark. With a crackle of power, you'll assume control of the unfortunate goblin - who'll often shout "Enter me!" or "Be gentle!", or something equally suspect. Once inside (ahem), you'll be able to lead your gang as one of them, forcing your way through tight tunnels and holes (ahem!) that might have otherwise been closed off.
Unfortunately, your Empire opponents have also been blessed with a few interesting abilities. The Glorious Empire is all about order and control, and this is reflected in the arrangement of their rank and file warriors. Standard soldiers form into tight rank-and-file regiments, much in the manner of the Roman legionaries in Asterix. Take a bash at such a group, and you'll notice that the entire unit has a collective health count, making it a fairly tough proposition. However, if you manage to scare the group - perhaps by killing a commanding centurion - they'll panic and split up, allowing you to easily take them down. United they stand, divided they fall.
If you hadn't already worked it out, there's a bit of thematic opposition at work here - the Empire's organised bureaucracy contrasting with the rampant chaos of your infernal gang. The game's plot is once again being handled by Rhianna Pratchett, daughter of the slightly-more-famous Terry. She'll be contributing much to the game's prevalent sense of humour, and apparently quite a lot of the Overlord vs Empire jokes will reflect modern-day events and issues. I'm already pleased with the portrayal of elves as a bunch of limp-wristed hippies; I've never been a fan of those pointy-gits… which is perhaps a tad ironic, as I'm somewhat of a limp-wristed hippy myself.
In any case, it's certainly good to see that Overlord 2 has retained a strong sense of humour - one of the best elements of the original game. Controlling your enormous gang of Minions is also as much fun as it was last time around, and thanks to the improved AI it should be a lot less frustrating too. It's looking quite nice too: the Yeti who graces one of the early snow-bound stages was pleasingly hairy, and the seals with big black eyes were suitably lovable… or at least they were until my Minions beat them to death.
Oh well. Overlord 2 isn't out until the summer, so there should be plenty of time to think of a suitable excuse for such brutality.
Overlord 2 is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in June.