Baby Seals, and Other Horrible Fluffy Things...
From the outset the delightfully dismal demeanor of the game picks up right where we left it. Gnarl's still plotting, scheming, and generally reviling anything good; especially the fluffier things in the world, with a special and unexplained hatred of baby seals. The minions are still, well, drooling and grinning and endlessly making a mess of things. Yes, the world is as it should be. This time, though, the graphics are decidedly prettier than last time. The world now has that "next-gen" look. The game's opening of Nordberg shows real-time snow, and some wonderful lighting effects, providing a world easier to sink your claws...or minions' claws...into.
The great news for fans of the original game is that Overlord II hasn't changed all that much. We'll talk about some of the new additions in a moment, but the overall core of the gameplay is virtually identical to the original game. Your overlord is an active participant in the game with the ability to wield a weapon, armor, and a bit of spell-casting. His main strength comes from his ever-growing horde of minions who trail him around endlessly, of course. As you progress through the game you obtain each of the four varieties of minions. The browns are your grunt units, designed for melee damage, plundering, high durability, and a fair bit of slobbering. The reds are the slightly over-obsessed pyromaniacs. They serve as your ranged units, lobbing fireballs at nearby enemies. The greens are stealthy, They are invisible when still, and can leap onto the backs of enemies for silent take-downs. Finally the blues are both swimmers and healers, with the ability to revive recently fallen minions. This, of course, varies in effectiveness, but such is the life of a blindly loyal minion. As you progress between tower portals which serve as checkpoints as well, you may insert or remove minions from the minion gates. This allows you to change the balance of your "team." Minions may be selected by variety, set to "guard" a position, "swept" (guided) directly by the player, or singled out for individual tactics.
This time around, there's a few notable additions to the game. The most inventive one, by far, is "minion possession" shrines. When you encounter these, it allows the overlord to possess the body of one of his minions. As a minion, you, in control, can fit into small places only minions are able to squeeze into, while still leading your minion horde. While a few of these scenarios are a bit contrived, nearly one entire mission takes place using the green minions in a stealth infiltration via the possession mechanic. This is arguably the single most fun mission of the game, as it requires more forethought than would be required if you had your browns and reds around and lets you see "through the eyes" of the green minions, highlighting them far more than in the first game.
The second is the notion of ridable creatures for minions: wolves for browns, spiders for greens, etc. While the game doesn't make overwhelmingly strong use of this aspect, and most of the applications of it are explicit and unavoidable, the fun of watching the minions ride the "nice wolfie" makes up for it. I can foresee some expansion fun stemming from this idea in the future, as well.
The beauty of the game is the tactical pacing, though. Most scenes play out like a puzzle of sorts, and using each of your minion classes is the key to getting through. Sometimes there are physical obstacles, some are created by the presence of enemies, some involve finding your way to the switch to activate or door or bridge. In all cases, using your minions in the right way to solve the situation requires some careful thought and planning. In this way the game plays as a semi-puzzle strategy game with action, and makes it the only example I can think of in that genre.
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