Codemasters' self-styled "evil 'em up" Overlord is back with a sequel. I sat down this morning to play through the opening hour. Here's what happened...
00:00 - Right. Overlord 2 disc is in the Xbox. Let's go. 00:01 - Opening section sees you playing a nascent Overlord who looks no more than six years old. I smash crates, destroy snowmen and terrorise children. You can whack kids with your club, but don't appear to be able to kill them. They just run away, and sensibly so. 00:04 - Graphically reminiscent of Fable II. Same kind of idyllic medieval Europe vibe going on. (Also, framerate's not the smoothest, again like Fable II.) 00:06 - A-ha! I have my first minions. I tell them to smash some more crates. Get attacked by a pack of fluffy white bunnies. My minions make short work of them. Filthy vermin. 00:09 - Scare some more children and steal their clothes to disguise my minions in order to sneak into the village. Realise I now have twice as many minions as before - where did they come from?
00:13 - In the town now, still following the linear tutorial. Apparently there's some big festival happening. I set off some fireworks, launch a giant rocket and moments later the village square is ablaze, killing several of my minions in the process. Oops... 00:16 - A quick cutscene later and I'm booted back out of said village - understandably, perhaps - as it comes under attack by an army of what appear to be Roman legionnaires. 00:19 - Not entirely sure what's going on, I figure it best to get outta there. More and more minions join me as we cut a swathe through the invading soldiers, commandeer a catapult, rescue a Cyclops Yeti from imprisonment and finally fall victim to a fragile ice floe and sink to the chilly depths. Cue cutscene. 00:22 - So far I've been little more than running along a twisting, turning path and ordering my minions to attack with the press of a button. Slightly more complex, I've learned how to send some of my minions forward while manouevring the remainder with the right analog stick, which gives you more precise, direct control. 00:24 - The cutscene ends and I'm all grown up. I now look like the Overlord dude in my heavy armour, red cape and pointy helmet. I am, apparently, the last hope for evil.
00:27 - More crates and barrels to smash. My Cyclops Yeti friend is back too, although less happy to see me even after I bust him out of his (frozen, this time) cage again. He's angry, but I follow him anyway, out into the snowy wilderness where I find... more fluffy bunnies! 00:30 - And - yes! - fluffy seals too. I kill them all, stealing their life essence for my Overlordly purposes. I run into a seal hunter camp, so of course I set my minions on these fur coat wearing fools so that I might have more seals to hunt for myself. Oh, and I steal their wolves for my minions to ride (thus letting them leap across small chasms). 00:34 - But what's this? A bunch of mincing elves think they can protect the fluffy seals. Seriously, what are they going to do - braid my hair to death? My minions once more make short work of them... and their beloved seals. (I'm becoming slightly irritated at having to walk over the life essence dropped by fallen creatures rather than it being automatically pocketed by my minions.) 00:37 - The elves - or "Spirits of the Sanctuary" - are the perfect foe in this kind of game, a preening parody of their familiar fantasy brethren. They're so wet you can't help wanting to wring their necks. 00:41 - After a couple more skirmishes with the seal hunters, I finally corner the Cyclops Yeti in a small dock area. My first boss fight. Here, I need to direct my minions to hack away at the chains holding the platform the Yeti is standing on while I fend off his elf protectors. It's easy enough, yet despite my victory the Yeti is inexplicably able to make good an escape on the elven ship.
00:46 - Undeterred I keep following the path as it leads from the snow-blanketed hills inside a cave teeming with vegetation. My minions dispatch some more soldiers with comedy English accents before my progress down one passage is halted by a dryad. As a threat to "all that is fluffy and adorable", she won't let me pass. I'll have to find another way. 00:49 - Back through the cave I find something called a Spell Stone that my minions can pick up and carry. I've managed to figure out by now that I'm still in the process of proving myself as the real Overlord, thus explaining why I have to only the most basic abilities. This Spell Stone should help. 00:54 - Delivering the Spell Stone to a Netherworld Gate grants me a new spell, some sort of lightning bolt that I use to kill a few villagers who happen to be in the vicinity. Having killed some innocent humans - oh, and a few gnomes along the way - it seems the Netherworld is now suitably impressed with my Overlording credentials. They grant me access and presently I find myself deep underground and surrounded by torrents of lava. 00:60 - I think I shall call this home.
So, the big question is… Do I want to keep playing beyond the first hour?
Absolutely, if only because I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. Despite playing what is essentially an hour-long tutorial, the combat had ramped up enough by the end that I was having to consider how many minions to send over there and how many to keep with me for protection, and also where and when I should wade into the fray myself. With three more varieties of minion still to come - plus loads of different enemies - I foresee the tactical scope widening substantially.
Overlord II oozes charm... like the pus from a minion's freshly-picked scab. It's also funny. Comedy is tough for a game to pull off, as repetition can ruin even the smartest gag. They don't go for the killer lines of dialogue, instead the emphasis wisely remains on the absurd and the ridiculous, not to mention the sheer wickedness of the tasks you're assigned. I look forward to continuing my Overlordly career.