Overlord 2: Final Thoughts

By Shamus
on Aug 6, 2009
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I guess I overestimated just how much I’d have to say about this game. I probably could have covered it all in one post. It was a candy bar game: Sweet, temporarily satisfying, and gone quickly.

The best part of the game was the elves. The original game had whining emo loser night elves. This game has hippy dippy wood elves. Clad in birkenstocks and rainbow prints, these peace and love saps are a hilariously inappropriate foe for the stoic black Overlord. It’s like Strawberry Shortcake versus Doctor Doom. The Care Bears versus Diablo. The Smurfs versus Tiamat.

overlord2_music.jpg
One thing that struck me was the music during the jungle section. I kept feeling like I’d heard it before, in another game. It was some sort of ambient… electronic… jungle… synth… thing. Descent? Hmmm. I don’t think so. But something old. Eventually I found myself picturing the jungles of Na Pali. No, not the real Nā Pali. I’m talking about the planet from Unreal. Sure enough, both games have the same composer. I’ve never read the name Michiel Van De Bos before, but his work has always appealed to me on some deep, atavistic level. He’s behind music from Unreal, Unreal Tournament, and Deus Ex. These are all games where I would listen to the soundtrack on its own, and his style is distinctive enough that I was reminded of his work from a decade ago without realizing there was any connection. I think it’s all those synth strings he uses.

Sire, an NPC has requested an audience in order to offer you some plot exposition. Sort of.
Sire, an NPC has requested an audience in order to offer you some plot exposition. Sort of.
I still feel like they’re under-utilizing Rhianna Pratchett here. There is very little to the Overlord 2 story. It’s mostly circular self-justification:

I need to break into the castle to rescue my green minions. Why? Because I’ll need the green minions to get out of the castle. Why am I rescuing the minions? Because I’ll need them to defeat the bad guy. Why am I trying to defeat the bad guy? Because he has my minions.

None of it is really bad. It’s sort of appropriate, given the satirical bent of the game. It’s not stupid or insulting, which puts it above a lot of other videogame plots of late, but it feels like there was a missed opportunity for cleverness here. I felt like the overall plot should have tried to say something. Something silly, even. Or perhaps it would have helped to simply hang a lampshade on it by having an NPC deliberately point out your Quest To Go On A Quest. It needed a hook or an idea to play with along the way, something to liven up the dialog.

I give them full points: Your fortress is much less phallic this time around.
I give them full points: Your fortress is much less phallic this time around.
Most of the dialog was from your evil adviser (and in gameplay terms, your teacher and quest-giver) Gnarl, and most of what he had to say was simply explaining your next task. Again, it was serviceable, but hardly the kind of thing for which you need to retain the likes of Pratchett. You don’t hire Alan Moore to storyboard a Mac vs. PC commercial. You can feel when the game moves from “boilerplate game dialog” to “Rhianna Pratchett wrote this” mode, and she doesn’t show up all that often. The twist at the end was good for a laugh though.

overlord2_kelda.jpg
It’s also interesting that this game was written by a woman. The “mistresses” you collect in the game are what inspired me to write my most recent Experienced Points column, because the events here don’t just fail to cater to women, but will repel some. Like I said in the article, if you reversed the genders in the game I’d enjoy it a lot less, because building a harem of pliant hunks isn’t very high on my agenda. Perhaps the game is satirizing me in some way that’s too subtle for me to detect. Maybe Pratchett is making fun the male drive to “get girls”. I dunno.

On a completely unrelated note: Mistress Kelda was my favorite.

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20929 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. Avaz ( [d20]Teldurn ) says:

    Shamus, did you mean to use the same picture/caption for the first and third images?

    Oh, hey, look at that, first. :) Whee.

  2. Shamus says:

    Nope. That was a mistake. Fixed, thanks.

  3. David V.S. says:

    > It’s like Strawberry Shortcake versus Doctor Doom.
    > The Care Bears versus Diablo. The Smurfs versus Tiamat.

    You have read the comic Boris the Bear, haven’t you, Shamus?

  4. David V.S. says:

    > Like I said in the article, if you reversed the genders
    > in the game I’d enjoy it a lot less, because building
    > a harem of pliant hunks isn’t very high on my agenda.

    I would not enjoy that either, unless it was done well. One hunk could mumble about how in 20 years he will be out of shape and only able to teach weight lifting to college kids. Another could ponder going into politics somewhere sunny. A third could be assembling a set of weight lifting equipment that grows during the story into a humorously immense tangle of beams, cables, pulleys, and weights. A fourth could be searching for the perfect oil to put on his muscles. (Vinagrette? No. Dip stick? No.) Etc.

  5. Korivak says:

    Shamus, how could you do this. I thought you were cool. But then you went and linked to TV Tropes.

    http://xkcd.com/609/

    Well, there goes my possibility for having a productive day….

  6. chabuhi says:

    I am at the (I presume) last “level” of Overlord II, and I’m not sure if I really WANT to finish. I mean, I know I will, but I feel like I’ve unearthed all the “treats” and I don’t feel compelled to go on. It seems like all the other “levels” had a unique quality to each that is lacking from this last level.

    Otherwise, I’ve really enjoyed this sequel. Wish it could have been longer. Would like to have seen more side quests. I also found the Overlord’s lair kind of pointless – as it was in the first game. I never had enough gold to forge much in the smithy, even though I think I destroyed every chest, box, jar, and fruit basket in the game. I realize you can visit each level multiple times and [SPOILER?] the loot is reset somewhat [/SPOLER?], but I’m not much on re-exploring otherwise empty maps.

    This title is ripe for DLC.

  7. Vegedus says:

    I haven’t heard of this Rhianna Pratchett, and after checking up on her, I can’t say I’m ashamed. She isn’t an old veteran, she seems to have been in the industry for around 6 years. None of the games she’s worked on have been noted for having great stories or storytelling, in fact some are denoted as flawed or mediocre (which is about average in the video game). You yourself criticised the story in Mirror’s Edge. She has worked on exactly zero of the games that ARE known for great storytelling: Fallout, Thief, System Shock, Black Isle and Bioware stuff, etc. (Your milage may vary)

    Yet she does seem to be a pretty big deal. She’s written multiple how-to-write-game books and is apparently on some list of “100 most influential women in the games industry”, though that is also a much too big list. Doubt anyone know anyone on that list that’s not in the top 10.

    I cannot conclude that it’s anything other than “OMG, she’s a female with an important job in the video game industry” like Jade Raymond, producer of Assasin’s Creed, before her. This is all very rantish and tangential to the topic at hand, but I find it very odd.

  8. Groboclown says:

    @David V.S.

    Boris… The Bear?!? Wow. I haven’t heard that name in ages. I still have all my comics for it, too.

  9. MadTinkerer says:

    Isn’t Rhianna related to Terry Pratchett, or did I just assume that? Terry’s the really famous writer-Pratchett, and one of my all time favorite authors.

  10. Slippery Jim says:

    Rhianna is his daughter I believe.

  11. Rutskarn says:

    Yeah. I mean, I can’t really guess whether or not she’s a good writer, because most studios don’t really let the writers loose on their projects. It’s hard to construct a storyline against a basically rigid framework, all while being edited and pushed about by management, the designers, the marketers…

    I mean, if you look at Whedon’s writing for movies, you’d probably pass him off as a mediocre writer (you might do so anyway, but bear with me). However, it’s reasonable to accept his explanations for this–his botched writing projects were the result of massive, unannounced edits of his work. Many times, he said, not even entire scenes could survive with their original intent. Alien: Resurrection was the worst offender–he claims to have punched a hole through a bathroom wall while working on this piece.

  12. Adeon says:

    @Vegedus: I think that the main reason that she’s considered a big name is because she’s the daughter of Terry Pratchett.

  13. eri says:

    I just recently played through the game. My impressions of it are basically as follows:

    Excellent atmosphere, and I love the cheeky, semi-subtle inversions on fantasy and storytelling tropes, but unfortunately it falls into some of them in the process (it’s hard to detect if the whole mistresses thing is meant to be parody or not, as you noted). Some of the characters are done surprisingly well. Gnarl is very likable, but I was surprised at how I got attached to Kedla as well, and some of the villains are genuinely detestable, simply because they’re made out to be such incredibly pompous jerks.

    Unfortunately I just don’t feel like everything comes together fully. The game seems streamlined, like they never make full use of the minions and their different abilities, rather choosing to confine their use to particular areas of the game. Although there are places where you have to backtrack to collect power-ups, few of them are really necessary to go back for, and there is nothing in the main story to actually make you revisit those places. One of the beauties of Metroid is that it litters the world with initially inaccessible places and items, but instead of making you remember where they are, it instead directs you to those old areas again, and in the process makes them more exciting and enjoyable than they were initially – you get that satisfaction of “oh, THAT’S how you do it!”, and that element is completely missing in Overlord.

    Some of the puzzles and similar are a bit sketchy as well, and in many cases the game never really outlines what it wants you to do. You learn to adapt to it, but there is a huge learning curve. One of the worst parts comes at the end of the game, where there’s a rebellion at Everlight that you can quell. This wouldn’t be a problem on its own, except for that it’s also tied into the quest to take control of the town. If you want to succeed, you must enslave or kill every single villager, meaning that if you accidentally kill one, it’s a trip to Resetville for you. Since some of the peasants that take part in the rebellion count as town residents, you can only kill some of the people participating safely, and combined with aggressive minions and bombs, it means it is extremely easy for the guys you want to enslave to die in the crossfire. Coupled with a less-than-clear solution of how to actually quell the rebellion peacefully, it led to huge frustration on my part. The game wanted me to do something completely contrary to what it had taught me previously; it broke its own established rules, but also expected me to be able to figure it out with no guidance whatsoever.

    In any case, it’s little things like that which added up. I thoroughly enjoyed the game, but it just lacks the polish, design consistency and creativity that could have put it over the top for me. I doubt I’ll replay it more than once, mostly because of the fact that its challenge hinges on solving single-solution puzzles instead of combat/reflexes/tactics/etc.; once you know everything, there’s little reason to go back.

  14. Rehtul says:

    Vegedus wrote:

    “[Rhianna Pratchett] has worked on exactly zero of the games that ARE known for great storytelling.”

    I thought Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was pretty good, I also appreciated Heavenly Sword, though, so it’s different for other people I guess. Terry Pratchett is great, but I’m not so sure how his style of writing will apply to videogames.

  15. Jennifer says:

    Curse you for linking to TVTropes! It ate my afternoon!

  16. Rutskarn says:

    Rehtul: Technically, we do have an idea.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discworld_(video_game)

    He didn’t write it, per se, but it’s done in his style.

    Interestingly enough, Terry Pratchett is quite the gamer. In fact, when he gave his press conference on the subject of his alzheimers, he began with a reference to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion expansion Shivering Isles. He also likes Half-Life 2, apparently.

  17. Tom says:

    Spot on about the lack of real story depth this time around. The flawed characters and backstory were much better done the first time, had much more of a point to make (it did the whole heroes-becoming-villains thing some time before the latest generation of superhero movies really got in on that act), and just seemed a lot more interesting. The seven deadly sins basis was a nice touch too, and the whole Tolkieny Sword & Sorcery satire permeating the whole thing was much more prevalent.

    Oh, and as a matter of personal taste, I much preferred the emo elves to the hippie ones, and the old tower to the new caverny thing. Call me old-fashioned if you like.

    The thing is, though, that Overlord was a first of its kind game, and most firsts are forgiven a few rough edges as an inherent risk of trying anything new – if the brand new concept is awesome enough, slightly wobbly implementation here and there is usually tolerated, provided it isn’t actually unplayable. Once you’ve got onto the sequel, however, your audience expects you to have fixed all the glitches you didn’t get quite right the first time, and too many of them are still present. The big ones are, in no particular order: the main action button still gets stuck, which can wipe out your entire horde in seconds if it happens in a dangerous area; the checkpoint saves and level exits are much more erratic and unreliable than before, which can make some instadeath and gauntlet missions particularly annoying, not to mention some arenas you can get stuck in with no resources left but no way to go back and collect more, and thus no choice but to repeatedly die very quickly; the sweep command is, if anything, even harder to control than the first game and makes the sweep-puzzles frustrating instead of fun; you can all too easily end up having to farm resources too often to just stay in the game. Turning conquered towns into work camps was a brilliant idea, but as implemented it’s just too damn tedious and time consuming to actually collect enough of the weapons and stuff they produce to really have an effect – also, the mushy sweep controls made it far too easy to accidentally destroy bits of the town when all you wanted to do was have your minions pick up the shiny new weapons in front of them.

  18. MNF says:

    On the subject of Alien: Resurrection, Whedon was unhappy that “The script was filmed incorrectly.” Yet, looking at the script itself… It’s still terrible.

    There’s also an uncanny resemblence between the crew of the Betty and Serenity.

  19. vukodlak says:

    I seem to remember Rhianna Pratchett used to write reviews for one of the UK gaming mags (can’t remember which one) and those were quite well written. But, I was also a bit taken aback by the deference you give her here. I mean, it seems she’s quite capable and all – but comparing her to Alan Moore might be going a bit far!

    Incidentally, while reading about what else she’s done, I notice Andy Serkis is credited as co-writer and dramatic director of Heaveny Sword?! Wow, that was a missed marketing opportunity…

  20. Daniel says:

    The lack of story (or more specifically, the lack of motivation for the Overlord in the story) was the biggest reason that I didn’t love this game as much as the first. I don’t need a lot of story or motivation for my character in games, but I just felt like there was none in this one (other than “they did me wrong, grrrrrr”)

    Most of the game I was like: “This is fun, but why am I doing it?”.

    Overall, the game was enjoyable, but not as good as the first (IMHO).

  21. Bryan says:

    Thanks for that mention; now I’m off to play a bunch of Unreal again. :-P

  22. Xykon says:

    Even though I did enjoy the game myself, you do make a few good points.

    The whole “Motivation” of taking down the Empire does seem to be the fact that they’re Anti-Magic and as a being of pure dark magic or something you’re officially on their shitlist as soon as they hear of you. At least they do give you actual “Good Guy” enemies to fight so that you’re not just a borderline Antihero.

    Also, Kelda was the favorite of the mistresses. She’s the Rose of the story, the snarky non-slutty choice and storywise she seems to be the one who actually cares about the Overlord (or Witch-boy as she calls him) as a person. Still, at the endgame I kept Fay for First Mistress just out of the fact that I liked the Salamanders she gave me. Juno was generally the least likeable of the mistresses (though I’d say that’s intentional since she’s basically Velvet 2.0)

    I also enjoyed Gnarl’s rants on evil and the Minions. Strangely I do make an effort to try and revive some of them, if only due to the fact that I revive really strong ones with really awesome gear (Gargantuan Swords, Special Headgear, the likes) because I don’t like taking on later enemies with a bunch of loinclothed imps with clubs.

  23. Linking to TVTropes is worse than RickRolling in two ways. Firstly, you can sap someone’s productivity or free time by hours. Secondly, the victim might not even realize what’s been done to them.

    This is why I like to do it all the time.

  24. Danath says:

    Owned you, I just read Tvtropes for the past 4 days and… no… no…. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I hadn’t read Lampshade Hanging again on this tvtropes cycle!

    Damn you Shamus!

  25. Broggly says:

    Rutskarn: The first Pratchett book I ever read was “Only you can save mankind” which was about a teenage boy playing a sci-fi video game (it’s a little ambiguous whether it’s a 2d shooter or 3d flight sim, the description of the cockpit as being familiar to him suggests the latter but the enemies always coming in the same pattern clearly points to the first) when the aliens realise the humans always just restart the game if they get killed and surrender to him.

  26. RedClyde says:

    This article reminded of this post:

    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/4104/vital_game_narrative_a_.php

    It’s a pretty interesting read, and an eye-opener. It’s no wonder so many games have stories that seem tacked on as afterthoughts – because they are just that! (In the link, Rhianna Pratchett mentions that all of the levels in Mirror’s Edge were already done when she was brought aboard.)

  27. Rutskarn says:

    Ah-ha! Vindication for my sorta-weak defense of Rhianna Pratchett! I knew my insane Pratchett fanboyishness wouldn’t steer me wrong!

    See, once we know that, the lackluster storyline of Mirror’s Edge makes sense. It’s slightly-nonsensical meat thrown over already-constructed bones. The story had to warp and fudge to fit over the pre-existing framework of the game, and as a result, it…wasn’t all that good.

  28. Ferrous Buller says:

    I still feel like they’re under-utilizing Rhianna Pratchett here.

    I’ve been underwhelmed by the narratives of all the games I’ve played which she’s worked on. Mirror’s Edge, Overlord, Heavenly Sword, and Viking all had bare-bones perfunctory narratives with their fair share of cliches and lazy plotting IMHO. There are some clever bits, particularly in Overlord – enough to convince me that maybe she’s got some real talent – but clever bits do not a compelling story make.

    I’ve no idea how much of that is her fault, largely because I don’t know how much she contributed. Maybe she wrote absolutely brilliant scripts for all of them which then got turned into a mushy slurry by the sausage-making process of game development. Maybe she scribbled some notes on the back of a cocktail napkin after a particularly booze-soaked post-conference party and had to stitch something together from them six months later.

    All I know is her name in the credits of a game are not yet a selling point to me.

  29. Daemian Lucifer says:

    To anyone thinking that spider part in overlord 2 is hard(if they are still reading this),you do know that you can put rally points on walls,right?Easy as pie.

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