Review | 8/3/2009 at 8:19 PM

Overlord II Co-Op Review

Who hasn’t dreamed of commanding a horde of minions, blazing a path of destruction through their enemies while cosplaying as Sauron and brandishing an outlandishly oversized weapon? …What?  Why am I the only one who has that dream?  Well, I suppose if you’re a deviant like me, then Overlord 2 may just be your perfect game.

You begin the game not as an Overlord, but as the Overlad: a terrifying youth with magical powers, shunned by the village you live in.  One day, while being chided by the village children, a group of minions find you and encourage you to terrorize the village with your powers, proving to them that you are fated to become their Overlord.  The resulting tutorial becomes a sort of demonic Dennis the Menace simulation, wherein you terrorize the populace and knock over snowmen to be spiteful.  You then become the supreme Overlord, and must command your army of minions to dominate the world, battle an evil (but not as evil as you) Empire, take on four wives and kill a pack of PETA-esque hippie elves.

The heart of Overlord 2 lies in controlling your various minions, memorizing the rock/paper/scissors-ish relationship that each type has with enemies, and deploying them to great success.  Defeating enemies causes their armor to splinter and break, as well as their weapons to drop to the ground, and sending your minions out will cause them to pick up whatever happens to be lying around and equip it, increasing their damage output and chances of survival.  In a nice twist, you'll see minions wearing oversized centurion helmets, brandishing swords, and in the case of the tutorial, wearing baby seals as hats.  You can also attack with your Overlord and use spells to kill/enslave the populace, but most of your time will be spent ordering your minions to commit devilish acts.  I can't overstate enough how much personality is put into the minions- it's as if you took all of the best parts from the Gremlins franchise and mashed it up with the sense of humor displayed in the classic Dungeon Keeper games.  They're sinfully delightful to behold.

Graphically, the game reminded me an awful lot of Fable 2- which is a good thing!  There's a lot of European architecture with a fairytale twist, and everything is brightly colored and slightly oversaturated.  The colors in this game really pop off the screen, and makes watching your minions' antics all that more enjoyable.  There is some pop-in and every now and then the framerate gets a little uneven, but neither affects gameplay significantly.  Controlling the game was my biggest issue, as it's very focused on stopping, selecting groups of minions and giving them basic orders, which is fine when you've got time to approach a situation, but in the middle of a fight it's rather annoying.  You've also got the decision to map the "sweep your minions around in a big group" to the right thumbstick, which also happens to control the camera, which can make for some awkward moments while surveying the battlefield. Once you've got a hang of things, it gets a little better, but I wish a little more thought had been put into the control scheme.

Unfortunately, the co-op is fairly lackluster and doesn't retain much of the charm that exists in the base game.  Either through splitscreen or online play, you and a buddy can take on one of two co-op modes: Invasion and Survival. Survival mode plays exactly as it sounds: your Overlords are put into an arena, and waves of enemies rush you until you can't take it anymore.  Invasion is more interesting, since it's basically a slightly harder version of a single-player level.  Two Overlords team up and invade a village held by the Glorious Empire with their full range of minions and abilities.  While this mode contains most of the joy of the single-player campaign, it's not a simple affair to bring in a friend for a quick game.  The game's controls are quite complex, and for someone who hasn't played a significant amount of the game already, it's not very intuitive.  My local co-op sessions in this mode were punctuated with extended periods of having to explain nuances of the game to my partner.

In addition, each co-op mode only contains a single map, which severely limits its replayability.  There has been DLC for the game already, so perhaps more maps can be added in the future, but out of the box the co-op is severely disappointing. Essentially, if you enjoyed the single player experience and can get a co-op partner who understands the ins and outs of the gameplay, you'll probably have a great (but short) experience.

All in all, Overlord 2 is a solid single-player game that isn't without issues, but its quirky sense of humor and core gameplay are funny and engaging.  Just don't play it for the co-op.