Genre: RTS, Action, RPG
Over the past few years, real-time strategy games have changed. For some time, developers refused to innovate, but slowly they've adapted, taking more creative risks. Oftentimes, these changes are spurred by the genre's active community and the tradition of shipping RTS with level creators. In Warcraft 3 alone there are thousands of custom levels in circulation, the most popular of which is Defense of the Ancients. DotA takes the "Hero units" of Warcraft and builds the gameplay around them, turning the RTS into more of a competitive action game. It isn't official by any means, but that has given the creator the chance to allow it to grow on its own, relying on community interaction instead of oftentimes ill-informed executive decisions. Gas Powered Games takes the general premise of DotA and applies it to a full retail release with Demigod, and has players pitting potential deities against each other in massive arenas, hoping to capitalize on the niche market.
The developer has done several things to attempt make Demigod worth purchasing. The most noticeable enhancement comes in the form of the game's fantastic presentation. While the gameplay might be similar to six-year old Warcraft 3 custom map, there's one aspect that makes it stand out above all else: Demigod looks and sounds beautiful. The game's levels are breathtaking and varied, characters look fantastic, and the typically low-resolution units of RTS games are extremely detailed and well animated. Besides that, they've attempted to expand the game's mechanics into something more complete than the WC3 mod.
It might sound strange to mention the Warcraft 3 map so much, but it’s hard to apply a traditional genre to Demigod without mentioning Defense of the Ancients In a way, it takes aspects of different games and blended them together to create a genre of its own. It’s a mixture of RTS controls, RPG progression, action gameplay, and online competition, all on a game board populated with dozens of AI controlled enemies. Computer controlled units continually spawn from portals and march along pre-determined paths, attacking each other when they meet mid-map. Generally speaking they’ll remain deadlocked, without either side managing to actually make any progress without help from the players. Players control Demigods, which are far stronger than the typical AI grunt, and continually grow in power as the game progresses. They roam the map, wielding powerful weapons and magical attacks, turning the tide of the battle and facing off against each other in massive godly duels.
The game’s eight Demigods are separated into two tiers: assassins and generals. Whereas the generals’ skills revolve around spawning units and controlling small armies, assassins focus more on taking out their opponents through brute force. Creating these archetypes allowed Gas Powered Games to really refine their characters and assure that there weren’t any over or underpowered Gods. Eight characters might seem a little low for a game focused on multiplayer, and truth be told, it kind of is. Games vary in size (from 2v2 to 5v5), but even the medium sized games usually end up having a few doubled units. Players quickly choose favorites, and without a huge amount of variety this means fighting the same few Demigods in every game. Downloadable content for the title has been promised, and should alleviate this issue immeasurably, but even ten or twelve characters are a far cry from where it should be.
Luckily, each character is highly customizable. With branching skill trees, there are several different ways to build the characters, leading to vastly different results. Players also continually gain money, which can be used to purchase a number of upgrades. Equipment can be equipped, potions can be purchased, and each team’s citadel offers a number of different upgrades. While initially only regular units spawn from the portals, clerics, angels, catapultasauri, and giants can be purchased as well, increasing the power of the reinforcements. Other upgrades, including enhanced experience and hitpoint regeneration, are also available, further benefiting the team’s effort. Needless to say, there’s enough customization to almost forgive the lack of character variety. Almost.
Demigod doesn't supply a singleplayer component beyond playing against AI, which, while regrettable, isn't as bad as it might sound. The build in opponents are fairly tricky and intelligent, playing in a similar style to how human players would. It doesn't stand out by any means, but it serves as a great training ground for the fantastic multiplayer. Demigod's multiplayer should be its high point, and when it works there's no doubt that the developer intended for this aspect to be the game's main selling point. Skirmishes, custom matches, and tournaments are available, and should give gamers plenty of chances to test their might against players from all around the world. Sadly, the game suffered a sketchy launch, made more difficult by an influx of piracy and broken street dates. Connecting online is an issue, and staying in a game for the entirety of the match is next to impossible. To make things worse, players who drop are replaced with AI, which, while passable for offline games, serves as nothing more than fodder online, feeding opponents experience and money. Hopefully the connection issues are fixed in the near future, because there's great potential in the game's multiplayer.
Brad Wardell, CEO of the game's publisher Stardock, said it best: "Now right now, Demigod, as a game, is awesome. Demigod, as an on-line service, however, sucks ass." That couldn't be more true. With any luck these problems will be addressed quickly, because the gameplay is simply too engaging to allow a few network problems get in the way of an otherwise fantastic experience. It should be easy to pick up for RTS advocates, different enough for anyone unfamiliar with the genre, and simply bliss for fans of Defense of the Ancients. Though it's likely worth waiting until the multiplayer issues are resolved, it's easy to recommend purchasing Demigod for anyone interested in epic battles of godly proportions.