Fusing elements of Sacrifice, Pikmin and wicked British humour into its deliciously dark premise, Overlord is one of the most adorable new games of recent times. Released in 2007 on 360 and PC, positive feedback was in plentiful supply, with the monumentally evil Kieron Gillen happy to dish out a well-deserved 8/10 for Triumph's strategy-adventure. A year later, the tweaked, beefed-up and generally refined Overlord: Raising Hell appeared on PS3, and scooped another creditable 8/10.
The warm reception helped convince Codemasters to commission a sequel, and following the game's announcement we travelled to Triumph Studios in the picturesque town of Delft in the Netherlands to get a first look at the follow-up, due for release this spring. You can read our Overlord II hands-on preview for an overview, but while we were there we also sat down with creative director Lennart Sas to discuss clubbing seals, minion-bowling and why he's not bothered about the Pikmin comparisons.
Eurogamer: Why do another Overlord? Why not another Age of Wonders or something new?
Lennart Sas: The primary reason Triumph took on to do the sequel was that we all felt there was a massive amount creative opportunity remaining in the concept; stuff that we feel people want to play. The original Overlord was a unique game with no real competition and so, creatively, there was lots of uncovered ground and ideas to explore for the sequel.
Eurogamer: For those who missed out on the original, can you sum up what they missed, and why they should be excited about the sequel?
Lennart Sas: The original Overlord was the only game that allowed you to conquer the world as an evil despot directly controlling a horde of destructive and funny critters, the minions. The central Overlord character, controlled from the third-person perspective, directly orders the minions, of which there are four races: the Brown Warrior, the Red Fire-throwing Imp, the Green Stealth Assassin and the Enigmatic Blue Priest.
Overlord II features an all-new world to conquer, with new minion antics displayed in an improved game engine with high production values. Overlord II is more epic in feel, with larger battles; the minions have mounts to ride and can control immense war machines and even set sail in ships. Both the players of the original game, as well as newly aspiring Overlords, will enjoy Overlord II.
Eurogamer: Some would say you've hijacked Pikmin's mechanics and replaced them with evil cackling minions. Fair assessment?
Lennart Sas: There's no denying that there was some inspiration from Pikmin, but we also took a good look at games such as Sacrifice and games that involve a central player character who controls a horde of followers. However, I feel the implementation of the core mechanics and the settings are very different and all of these games differ far more from each other than typical games in the shooter or RTS genres.
Eurogamer: Does the reissue of Pikmin on Wii (out on 6th February) bother you in any way? Or do you think it will help when the Wii Overlord comes around?
Lennart Sas: Personally I'm greatly looking forward to Pikmin on Wii and see how they make use of the Wiimote. I think the Wii is in great need of more gamers' games, and the market as a whole will benefit with quality games appearing. Overlord: Dark Legend, a standalone Overlord game for Wii, is very much a gamers' game and Climax, the developer, is focusing on making the most of the Wii controller for control and minion direction.
Eurogamer: What would you say were the strong points of Overlord 1, and what were its weaknesses? In what ways have you addressed them?
Lennart Sas: The key features for Overlord are the minion gameplay, the Overlord world-domination theme and the overall style, which is a combination of the visuals, the humorous script, the voice acting and audio. With the original Overlord we spent a lot of time proofing the concept, which meant that there was less time for fine-tuning than we originally planned; the absence of a mini-map an example. In designing Overlord II, we haven taken the critique to heart and planned time to both evolve the concept and allow more time for polishing.
Eurogamer: For the benefit of those who know the original Overlord inside out, then, can you detail the main gameplay differences and additions in the sequel?
Lennart Sas: There are loads of ideas stuffed into Overlord II - often we had to watch out not to add too much. Just a few of the new gameplay highlights include the minions' ability to control war machines, such as catapults and ships, where the minions operate the oars and act as galley slaves. Enemies have become smarter too and some enemy types operate in formations lead by centurions, creating more challenging and epic battles.
The Netherworld is the home hub for the player and replaces the Dark Tower from the original Overlord. The player's dark domain is now much more alive with minion culture and can be extended to become a massive powerbase for the Overlord. The Overlord is able to possess minions to go on infiltration missions and the minions have learnt the art of disguise and can dress up as enemies to sneak past guards. All of this results in a much more rich and epic world-conquering experience.
Eurogamer: We saw new minion abilities such as disguise, more destructive minions, minion champions who can lead groups of ten or more, as well as minions who can mount and ride wolves, salamanders and spiders. Any we missed?
Lennart Sas: When designing Overlord II, it was important for us that we expanded what the minions can do. Overlord is all about the minions. Rather than adding more base minion types (which would make controls more difficult and blur the lines between the minions), the four races are now stronger, more destructive and funnier then before. All the minions have had their abilities adapted to new challenges the game brings. Minions are now able to do things such as riding mounts, which in turn all have unique abilities. Wolves can jump, spiders can walk vertical walls.
Minions work together and can operate massive war machines under the Overlord's command. It's great to go catapult-bowling and score a full strike against an enemy formation that is marching. The new abilities also ramp up the humour. For instance, the disguise ability introduces a new tactical element, but also adds humour - it's just wonderfully comical to see minions dressing up in armour that doesn't really suit or fit them and generally arse about amongst the Empire legionaries. However, they will be able to fool enemies and act a little stealthier than the not-so-subtle amassed hordes of malevolent minions can normally be, so it opens up new routes and puzzles.
Eurogamer: How do you keep adding new features while also maintaining the game's intuitive control system?
Lennart Sas: The new features are not opened to the player all at once, while they all do fit within the core controls scheme. Spreading the new features across the levels means that the player is confronted with new cool stuff to do across the game.
Eurogamer: There's a different Overlord this time around, whom we understand is the offspring of the previous Overlord's mistress. How will he differ from his father, and where is he based this time around?
Lennart Sas: Yep, in Overlord II the player's character is the son of the original protagonist. Here's a bit of history. At the end of Overlord: Raising Hell, our dark protagonist was trapped in the Abyss by his treacherous Jester. In the vacuum left by his absence, the peasants of the world formed a new Glorious Empire heralding an age of logic, science and reason and other boring and sensible things. As it spread across the world the Empire started destroying anything to do with magic including the remnants of the Overlord's realm.
In Overlord II, we first meet the heir to the Dark Throne as a misunderstood and hard to manage ADHD kid - the son of the original Overlord and his mistress, another reveal from the end of Raising Hell. He is soon contacted by the last surviving member of his father's minions. From the hidden Minions Burrows in the Netherworld, the new Overlord emerges to harness the dark powers of magic in order to fight the most despicable Empire and fulfil his dark destiny.
The Netherworld is the hub of the player's dark domain, replacing the now-destroyed Dark Tower from Overlord I. From the Netherworld, you will literally undermine the world above. The Netherworld's features include a minion graveyard, where later in the game the player can resurrect his favourite minions, who are now named and have a title assigned according to their accomplishments.
Eurogamer: Congratulations on the Writers Guild award for Rhianna Pratchett's script for Overlord. How did Rhianna get involved with the project in the first place, and what brief did you give her for the sequel?
Lennart Sas: Rhianna became involved with the original Overlord after doing a test with a bunch of talented scriptwriters. Her unique style and wit was a great match with the style and the story framework we had already established. For the sequel we wanted the satire and parody to go beyond the basic fantasy parody to something with more contemporary references. For example, Overlord II features an environmental activist group of elf hippies that tries to stop your onslaught and destruction of nature with protests, clinging themselves to your Netherworld gates.
The world, and the Glorious Empire, is modelled after the Roman Empire because their society is recognisable to many people and, in many ways, it resembles our own world with corrupt politicians and such. It creates a fresh new setting to conquer, in addition to the magical realms, which still exist as the hidden magical sanctuaries. The Empire's marvellous marble cities make a great target for the Overlord and his savage minion horde to destroy and for Rhianna to have fun with script-writing wise.
Eurogamer: You mentioned in the press briefing that you think Rhianna's "head and shoulders" above some of the Hollywood writing talent. In what sense does she get it where they don't?
Lennart Sas: Just like writers of novels don't necessary make great screenplay writers, Hollywood writers don't necessary make great game writers. Games are a different medium than movies and require a different writing process. Games writing works best when the writer works hand in hand with the game's designers, so the story is not written before or after the game is made, it's an integral part of the entire process.
Eurogamer: Can you go into a little big more detail about what you mean by 'lawful evil' and 'chaotic evil'? How will the new corruption system differ from how people played the game before?
Lennart Sas: Overlord is a parody on the rise of the evil overlord. However, in the original we got feedback that the game was not quite evil enough to suit the taste of the gaming public (sign of the times) and that the choices seemed to be between good and evil. In Overlord II we include Tyranny choices that are between Domination and Destruction - cold-hearted enslavement versus demonic destruction.
These choices will have an effect on how spells function. For example, if you become a dominating tyrant, your spells will become better at subjecting the populations to your evil will. Controlling a town of brainwashed slaves gives more benefits spread out over time, while destroying a town gives instant evil gratification: the souls of the slain population and looted treasure from their destroyed houses are for the taking.
Eurogamer: Right, so what's this about clubbing seals?
Lennart Sas: [Laughs] Just because something is fluffy and has puppy eyes doesn't mean the Overlord doesn't kill it! If people get pissed over this, it only exposes their hypocrisy. However, Triumph doesn't approve of violence against animals and everything is satirical in nature. In fact, without the humour and satire the game would probably be banned...
Eurogamer: The bosses were pretty memorable in Overlord, and you claim to be making them even more epic. In what sense? As in bigger, more challenging enemies? How do you amp these up without making them inaccessible to the player?
Lennart Sas: In Overlord II some of the bosses will be closer tied into story; so the player has a bit more of a grudge against them. In Overlord 1 they sometimes just popped out of nowhere. Others are closer designed around the minion gameplay and the minions' mounts.
Eurogamer: Finally, what's the story with multiplayer? Anything you care to share?
Lennart Sas: Multiplayer will be back with split-screen out of the box and as host of new multiplayer game modes, the details of which I'll save for another time.
Except perhaps the title of one: Dominate.
Overlord II due out for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 this spring.