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Overlord 2 [360]

Most games have a defining moment of some sort. It’s the point where everything clicks: the game either hits an amazing peak that ties everything together wonderfully, or quality drops off a cliff. The soldiers in Half-Life, or That Bit in BioShock, or Velvet Assassin’s spitting-while-wearing-a-gas-mask conversation. In Overlord 2, the defining moment arrives after about five minutes of play – and similar moments occur at least once an hour after that.That first moment involves playing as the amusingly-named Overlad, the son of the Overlord from the original game. Sent to grow up in the icy town of Nordberg, his glowing eyes and evil temperament lead to him being nicknamed “Witch-Boy” by the locals. When the Minions find him, of course, all hell breaks loose, and what follows is a fairly gentle introduction to the controls. Your enemies are children throwing snowballs – not damaging, but irritating. It’s nice. Then you order the Minions to blow open the children’s snow fort with a giant firework and steal their clothes so that the little beasties can sneak into the town itself, while humming Ring a Ring o’ Roses. Re-read that sentence.It’s one of those jaw-droppingly creative and hilarious moments where you realise that, even if the game turns out to be arse, you’ll be able to talk about things that happen for a long time. This never really lets up throughout the game – I want to tell you all about the hippy elves, or getting chased through a jungle by an angry panda, or the yeti. Oh, the yeti.So the humour is present and correct, and when it comes to the game the team has clearly taken the criticisms of the first game on board and tried to fix most of them, albeit with mixed results. One of the more important is that the game hangs together a lot better as a whole. No longer are you chasing down “heroes” who seem loosely tied together. Following your escape from Nordberg and your subsequent ageing from Overlad to Overlord all of your actions segue nicely from one to the other, and before long you’re embroiled in conflict with the Glorious Empire, a group styled after the Romans who are stamping out magic of all kinds. There’s always a hint or a reference as to where you’re going next, so it never feels like a location has just been pulled out of nowhere for your next conquest. That said, it follows much the same path as the first game: starting with Brown Minions, which are melee-centric, you wander the world looking for the Red (immune to fire, shoots fireballs), Green (immune to poison, can stealth and backstab), and Blue (can swim, resurrect other Minions) Minions, which you can use to progress further into the needed areas. It’s all very linear, although once you start conquering towns, you can grant audiences to members of the town who usually have some news of trouble going on, or go back and explore previous areas with your new Minion types to find previously inaccessible upgrades.One of the other major criticisms of the first game was that it “wasn’t evil enough,” which I never really understood as to me it was more about over-the-top evil in a Saturday morning cartoon sort of way. The fact that people frequently hailed you as a saviour was, I thought, meant to be ironic. Still, this is another criticism that’s been addressed. When taking over a town, you have the choice of Domination or Destruction – either enslave the townspeople through magic, or murder them. The direction you choose affects your magic, as all three spells have a Destruction side and a Domination side. Gather energy to buff the Minions, or release it in a destructive shockwave. Supercharge one and hurl it at the enemy, or sacrifice it to give you health and a shield. Whichever tyrannical direction you choose, it powers up the appropriate half of the spell. While I’m not entirely sold on the Destruction/Domination choice – it doesn’t have that noticeable an impact on the gameplay, and imposing your will on a town takes forever and involves hunting down stray villagers – there are parts that are enjoyable. The dialogue of a town you rule is great, obviously, and having tribute chests stacked in front of your portal every time you head there is a nice touch. So is having the Minions bash down doors, run inside, scare out the inhabitants, ransack the treasure, and then set fire to it. While giggling.{PAGE TITLE=Overlord 2 Review Continued}Other changes aren’t quite so welcome. The camera was a perennial pain in the ass in the first game, mostly because the right analogue stick is used to sweep and direct your Minions, and the solution here is neither one nor the other. Now, the right analogue stick rotates the camera if you push it left or right. If you press it forward, it goes into “sweep” mode, which, as before, uses the stick to move all of the selected Minions. Problems come into play when you try to turn the camera to see what’s shooting at you, only to discover that the game thinks you’re still trying to move Minions, usually resulting in you charging them into the wall with the camera focused on them. It happens the other way around, too – you try to move Minions but didn’t sweep forward enough, so your subsequent stick movements send the camera spinning uselessly around you. Obviously, these moments aren’t a problem when it’s not urgent, but when you’re in the middle of combat and you really need to move your Red Minions onto a hill so that they can bombard the enemy troops with fire, it’s a lot harder to make sure you’ve got the requisite movements spot on.The other major change is something that should’ve been in the first game from the off: a minimap. While you’ll still do a lot of backtracking and wandering around looking for the path to the next objective, the minimap minimises these problems significantly. Hurray for this, at least.No hurray for the moments when the game forgets that it’s an RTS/puzzle game hybrid and attempts to be something else. One mercifully brief section sees you controlling a boat as you attempt to chase down and board another, which is faster than you, while respawning mermaids mean you have to stop the boat to deal with them every twenty seconds. Another bit has you trying to break a heavily fortified enemy line while under fire from catapults that require constant repositioning of Minions, and can pretty much kill you in a single hit. With the occasionally quirky Minion controls, this is a nightmare, and the checkpoint before this particular section is a long time back – which is another oddity, as some checkpoints are a hell of a lot closer together than others.In the end, though, the gameplay wins out. There are occasional irritants in the form of checkpointing, or sections involving boats or catapults (the latter of which can be forgiven, somewhat, for letting you use it immediately afterwards) but what you have is a devilishly funny and deceptively clever RTS/puzzle game. Working out just how to break through an Empire formation without taking losses is a treat. Electrocuting fleeing villagers is a bigger one. But the real star of the show, as ever, is the writing, and there’s so much more of it. Gnarl, your advisor, is as evil as ever, and now he contends with various Mistresses, all of whom argue and banter amongst themselves. And then there are the hippy elves, the screams of joy when your Minions discover mounts for the first time (“Spideeeey! Giddyup!”) or when you just hold down the right trigger and watch them run amok. And then, there’s the yeti. Oh, the yeti.

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