Experience also plays a greater role in expanding the overall depth of Overlord II. Minions level up as they fight alongside you, and if they die you have the ability to go back to the Netherworld and resurrect them so that your trusted allies remain part of your army. Powering up your equipment and armour remains key to progress, although you'll soon discover that you can't simply upgrade everything unless you're prepared to spend a long time gathering souls and ransacking every last barrel and chest in the game world.
As well as generally ramping up every element of the gameplay, adding variety where needed and fixing some of the niggles of old, Triumph has proven itself no slouch in the technical department either. Visually, the game has come on leaps and bounds with an array of subtle new effects adding greatly to the already beautiful fantasy game world. And to complement the sumptuous, gigantic world that you explore, the characters that inhabit it are delightfully rendered, extremely well animated and full of comic touches. Watching the minions go about their business is never less than amusing, as they don improbable objects as headgear and tool themselves up for battle with whatever they find among the chaos.
And it's no surprise that the audio is similarly top-notch, with the excellent voice cast returning to give Gnarl and the minions an infectious character that somehow works even better the second time around. Hearing a minion ensemble singing 'Ring-A-Ring-A-Roses' out of the blue right after they've stolen a bunch of kid's clothes is priceless, and one of innumerable moments where you'll be grinning helplessly.
But while the game works brilliantly on the whole, there are a few occasions where some elements could have been tightened up. Arguably top of the list is the slightly wayward camera system. Whereas before the game took full automatic control, it now attempts to offer the player a halfway house system, where it will generally do its thing, but also give you the chance to tweak it whenever you fancy. While this is an admirable goal, the truth is that it's sometimes easy to trip the game up and make it think you want to sweep minions instead of moving the camera. When it does this, the view automatically snaps to the minions, meaning you end up running into the screen and have no idea where you're going. This takes some getting used to.
Another small complaint is the mini-map, which for some reason is nowhere near as effective as Overlord: Dark Legend's on Wii. While it's useful to have a broad overview of where to head next, it's strangely ineffective when you need a little more detail, with neither the ability to zoom in and out of the sub-menu map, or flick between explored areas. Oftentimes, the game throws up an exclamation mark on the map, but when you get there the nature of the goal is not always particularly explicit.
And if we're going to be really picky, it's pertinent to mention that the game is - on a few rare occasions - inconsistent with its checkpointing. For the vast majority of the time, when you die you simply go back to the start of the segment with your resources intact, but on others it may decide to checkpoint along the way, possibly after you've lost a ton of minions. And, of course, the more you fail, the harder it actually gets, to the point where you may end up with no choice but to go off on a frustrating trudge around to kingdom to re-harvest more souls to stock up your minion pool. Fortunately you can prevent such issues by changing the save-game slot now and then, but if you forget, you could find yourself grinding away just to make progress.
Another possible source of frustration is the soul-harvesting system. Unlike with Dark Legend, again, every soul you harvest is colour-coded, and corresponds to a type of minion. While this makes the game more strategic and tactical, it does mean you tend to run out of particular minion types just when you need them. Personally, I prefer this system for the challenge, but it's important to be vigilant about your save games if you don't fancy repeat soul-harvesting runs.
In terms of the challenge and game length, mind you, I'd say Triumph has got it spot-on, with a satisfying blend of styles that can be achieved in a number of different ways. And once you're all done with the campaign mode, there's also a pleasingly diverse multiplayer mode to dive into. Although restricted to just two players, each of the four maps are effectively modes in their own right. My favourite of the bunch is Invasion, where you play alongside a friend to take down a Centurion in the quickest possible time. Broadly the same as the single-player mode, you have to work together, guiding a limited number of minions around taking down progressively more difficult foes. As a glimpse into what Overlord in co-op mode would be like, this is a promising start, and it's a shame there's only one map shipping in the game.
Elsewhere, co-op Survival simply pits you within an arena and tasks you with surviving an onslaught for the longest possible time. This is fun, but slightly overwhelming and quite limited in the long run. Of much more interest is Dominate, a versus mode where the two of you essentially try to capture each of the five points around a large map and increase your score the longer you hang onto them. With limited resources, you end up trying to tread a fine line between defending each area with carefully placed minions and going for your opponent's jugular. A great game of cat-and-mouse, I can see this one being played most out of all of them. Finally, Pillage mode grants each player an island vault to defend, and gold to collect in the water surrounding it. Again, the balance between plundering your opponent's vault and worrying about yours is a tough one to manage, and rounds quickly descend into a nervous balancing act.
Overall, in what has been a pretty underwhelming year for games so far, Overlord II feels like a shining beacon of quality. Not only is it a distinct improvement on the original, but the new features add greatly to what was already a superbly entertaining game. It manages to strike an excellent balance between being challenging and rewarding, and does so throughout with a wicked smile on its face. If the original was something of a sleeper hit, then the sequel ought to wake people up to its deliciously evil charms.
8 / 10