Overlord offered something a little different on its release in 2007. While it didn't let you be quite as evil as a real evil Overlord would be (if such a thing existed), the combination of tongue-in-cheek humour and accessible RTS-light gameplay made it well worth owning. There was something quite addictive about sending groups of minions on evil rampages through lush rural villages, destroying everything in their path. We wanted a sequel that upped the evil quota while retaining the fun gameplay and tone of the original, and that's more or less what we've got with Overlord II.
Once again your goal is to cause all manner of chaos and evil. The story picks up during the time of the Roman Empire, as the minions are in search of a new master. The first level sees you learning the ropes as a child would-be Overlord, before taking one final test once you're all grown up. Anyone who's played the original won't find things all that different, at least at first. You control the Overlord like you would any character in a third-person adventure game, can hack and slash enemies with your big sword, call minions over, use evil magic and command minions to do your evil bidding.
While the Overlord is capable of holding his own in a fight, the game is built around the minion mechanic, so you'll generally be taking a back seat to the action and sending the little grunts out to do all the hard work. You can either target a creature or object and fire them off to attack or manually guide them around the environment as a pack. The early going is incredibly similar to the original game, although it's not long before you get your first taste of something new in the shape of mounts for your minions.
The first you'll encounter are vicious wolves (you'll come across more animals later on), which the minions will jump on and ride, making them even more deadly in fights. You can't take these mounts everywhere though, with the creatures refusing to enter certain areas, forcing the minions to continue on foot - for example, wolves don't seem too fond of caves. You can also use a magic spell to possess a minion, giving you the chance to play as one of the little terrors and experience life from their pint-sized point of view. These sections are stealth focussed and nicely break up the more action-oriented gameplay that dominates the rest of the game.
So how exactly can you be more evil in Overlord II? Is clubbing baby seals to death evil enough for you? Baby seals that let off whimpering cries when they're at death's door? It's evil, but somehow the game never feels nasty. It's all done in jest, although we doubt mummy and daddy seal think the same - they'll just have to be clubbed to death too. Killing does have a purpose, with each life force you harvest being used as a kind of minion life reserve, allowing you to summon more from the various portals should some fall in battle.
As in the first game, minions come in a variety of forms: brown, red, blue and green. Browns are the brutes, good for getting their hands dirty in straight up brawling; reds can put out fires and fire flaming coals at enemies and obstacles; blues can swim and greens are good with gasses. Keeping the minion class count to four might disappoint some players, but the simplicity prevents things from bogging down with complexity. There's still some thought required - the game is far tougher than Wii game, Dark Legend, but things are too tricky to pick up for beginners.
This time around some effort has been made to develop a bond between you and your minions through experience. Your hard working slaves will level up as they're used throughout the game, so if one of them dies it'll affect your whole minion team. Thankfully you can sacrifice some lesser minions to resurrect them, and this helps them become more than just the browns, reds, blues and greens.
The Overlord's magical abilities have also been expanded, making his attacks much more useful this time around. These, along with weapons, can be upgraded in the game's main hub, so there's a strong sense that you're growing as an all-powerful evil entity as you progress through the campaign. There's certainly no sense that developer Triumph is short-changing anyone with this sequel, as the campaign is long and backed up by some very solid and enjoyable two-player game modes that will keep you playing for some time.
There are still the odd few problems, such as the wayward camera and the game's occasional inability to figure out if you want to move minions or get a better shot of what's going on, but on the whole the game is far more polished than the original. Minion AI is considerably better here, so you're less likely to find yourself shouting very bad words at them as they repeatedly suicide in water. They will still get stuck from time to time, but as long as they don't die they'll just return to the netherworld. The mini-map is perhaps the biggest issue. For some reason the map in Dark Legend is far better, with what's on offer here not really being detailed enough to do much more than vaguely point you in the right direction.
Overlord was a solid-looking game on its release, but it didn't dazzle with its visuals. Overlord II certainly has more going for it in this area, with the game definitely benefiting from being the studio's second next-gen effort. The Overlord is particularly well detailed, making him a much more imposing character than in the original game. The minions, too, look far better than before, especially when wearing the multitude of disguises available to them - and there's something evil yet cute about them riding like maniacs on top of creatures.
Special mention must go to the game's audio work, with the musical score through to the superb minion voices fitting the tone perfectly. The minions are chattier than in the original game, so you'll hear them shout out far more catchphrases and even sing songs - which you'd really have to be a bitter scrooge to not raise a smile at. Minion leader Gnarl is once again voiced brilliantly and acts as a consistent help figure throughout the campaign, while your jester Quaver is again on hand to take a beating - although his annoying voice means it's fully justified.
Overlord II is a solid improvement on the original and great fun for newcomers and existing fans. The core gameplay hasn't changed too much, but small tweaks here and there and the introduction of mounts helps keep things fresh. It's also a far smarter game in terms of presentation, with Triumph able to bring the game world into the modern era very successfully. If you've always wanted to command a group of ugly creatures that can sing Ring a Ring o' Roses, Overlord II comes highly recommended.