Monday, August 17, 2009


Sorry for the hiatus. What with summer heat, Lolla & Lyme and all that jazz, blogging has been far from my mind. But it's time to jump back in, and what better way than with a nerdalicious game review.

My latest obsession is Gas Powered Games' Demigod. It's a lovely thing, all action and special effects and big noises. Perhaps its greatest strength is that it is not easily definable. It surely falls into the real-time strategy category, since time does not stop and you need to make quick decisions on the fly. But it's not like the typical RTS wargame where you collect resources, build a base, create multitudes of units, and attempt to overwhelm your opponent. Rather, you control one uber-powerful unit: the Demigod. Every game is team-based, and you can choose to play anything from 2 vs. 2 to 5 vs. 5. You and your teammates must coordinate your actions in an attempt to capture and hold strategic locations on a map, assassinate enemy demigods, and eventually destroy the opposing citadel. While playing with and against AI opponents is moderately amusing, the real meat of Demigod is online. This has its pros and cons.

There are currently 8 demigods to choose from, with 2 more planned for an upcoming (free) expansion. Here's the absurd Queen of Thorns, who is great fun to play but is sadly among the weakest of demigods:

Each demigod plays quite differently, with varied strengths, weaknesses, and special powers. To the game designers' credit, the demigods are also fairly well-balanced. The Unclean Beast seems to win more times than it should, and as stated, the poor Queen of Thorns probably needs some kind of boost in a future update.

After you choose you demigod, you can pick one of several maps, which vary in size and structure. From an artistic standpoint, these arenas are stunning:

(the astounding Exile map)

(Cataract: the most popular map)

These birds-eye views are available to you at any time during the match. With a turn of your mouse-wheel, you can also zoom in to watch your demigods in action. Here's one of the gigantic Rook facing off against the Unclean Beast:

On each map are a number of flags that serve as valuable strategic locations. By standing next to a flag for a few seconds, you can capture it, granting your team a nice statistical bonus (like increased mana).

(my Rook is capturing the flag in the background,
while a battle occurs in the foreground)

As you capture and hold flags on the map, your team's "War Score" will increase. Higher War Scores allow you to upgrade your citadel, enhance your defensive structures, and call in stronger reinforcements. This latter feature, in particular, is crucial to eventually overwhelming your opponent. Thus, map control is a central aspect of success in Demigod.

Besides capturing flags and facing off against opposing demigods, you also need to level up and acquire new powers. This is done by "farming creeps." On each map are a number of portals that release reinforcements at periodic intervals. These "creeps" march towards the enemy base in a predetermined path. If left alone, they'll likely run into enemy towers which will easily destroy them. In this sense, Demigod has borrowed quite blatantly from the Tower Defense genre of games. As a demigod, you can interrupt the path of the enemy creeps and easily slaughter them, gaining experience in the process. Eventually, you'll level up and be able to choose a new skill or power.

(skill tree for the Oak demigod)

Each demigod has several skills they can focus upon - indeed, too many to maximize all of them - so players should have a particular "build" in mind as their demigod grows in strength. For example, the Rook can be molded into a pure damage machine by focusing on his powerful Hammer Slam and the amusing Boulder Roll. Or you can create a more subtle Rook that excels in lane control - one in which he grows tower farms that slowly advance towards the enemy's base.

A great joy of Demigod is planning these builds offline and then testing them out in real games (this site has been incredibly useful for this purpose). Besides choosing your powers as you level up, you also need to go shopping periodically. Literally. Each side has a shop where demigods can purchase armor, helms, magic items, and potions. You can choose items that ameliorate some of your demigod's weaknesses (like Boots of Speed for the Rook), or you can try to maximize a particular strength by stacking a number of items that all provide similar bonuses (like choosing a number of items that all increase health regeneration). Your choice of items during the game should be informed by the "build" you are developing. If you want your Torch Bearer to spam Fireballs all day long, you probably need to invest in a couple magic hats than increase your mana and mana regeneration.

So you maneuver your demigod on the map, farm creeps, gain levels, try to team up on enemy demigods ("gank" them), buy items, and eventually force yourself into opposing territory. You'll need to knock down those pesky towers mentioned previously and eventually upgrade your reinforcements from simple grunts to powerful giants. You need to pay attention to what your teammates are doing, and whether they need your help, as well as where your opponents are at all times. The worst thing that can happen to you is you overextend yourself into enemy territory and suddenly 2 enemy demigods appear right behind you, cutting off escape. The strategic use of teleport scrolls is especially useful, for both ambush and escape.

There's a lot to like here. I typically hate online RTS games but I love playing Demigod, even against idiots. Games are the perfect length (~30-45 min usually). You get a real sense of seeing your demigod evolve into a powerhouse without having to suffer through hours of mundane back-and-forth play. Coordinating attacks and feints with your teammates is great fun, although if you have a weak player on your 3-man team, you're likely doomed.

However, if you've heard anything about Demigod since its release, you probably know that it didn't receive the best reviews right off the bat. The primary reason for this was internet connectivity issues. It was very difficult for players to form online games, and when they did get started, oftentimes the game would crash or players would get dropped. Not surprisingly, this did not enthrall reviewers. Since its initial release, Demigod has gone through a number of updates and patches and, for the most part, those issues have been resolved. I've played numerous online games and have never been dropped. Devastating lag can happen, if one or more players' pings are particularly high. In those situations, there's not much you can do but quit.

Rage-quitting is also an issue, as with most online RTS games. By this I mean the more general phenomenon of a player quitting a game part way through. This player's demigod will get taken over by the AI, which nearly always results in a loss for that team. There are rumors that in a future update, players will be able to adjust some of the features of the AI substitute (making it a bit more challenging, having it provide less gold to the opposing team, etc.) which may help alleviate this problem. Another feature I'd like to see instituted is better match-making. All too often, teams are unequal because of a particularly strong or weak player on one team. Demigod tracks all your stats (including win/loss ratio), so it should be fairly easy to group players of similar experience and ability.

Possibly a bigger issue at this point is the lack of a vibrant online community. Here's a screenshot I recently took of the available online games in the lobby:

Only 3 games open! Now, I should say that this is somewhat abnormal and I rarely have problems finding an open game when I want to play. But I suspect the early bad press for Demigod really hurt the potential playerbase. Part of the reason I'm writing this blog is that I hope some random people read it and decide to give the game a chance. It truly is a blast to play. Furthermore, the support this game has received, and will receive, from its distributor, Stardock, is strong. Updates and fixes occur regularly, often in response to consumer feedback, and the playing experience is improving all the time.

In my next post, I'll outline my favorite demigod build right now: minion Oak. Stay tuned.

No comments:

Post a Comment