Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Demigod: Intial Impressions

I've played a lot or RTS games, starting with Dune 2, and proceeding through a plethora of others including Warcraft, Command and Conquer, and many more. But in recent years, it seems that the emphasis has shifted towards more and more micro-management and base baby-sitting, which I don't get a lot of enjoyment from. One of the best variations (and one of my favorite games of all-time) was the Myth series. One of the best features of this game was that it focused on controlling you troops. There was no base building, and when a unit died, it was gone for the rest of that match. This allowed the player to focus on the strategy and action of the game. Alas, the company behind this game pushed out one too many games in an attempt to cash in, ended up folding under, and no one since (that I know of) has tried to resurrect this type of gameplay.

Bu now, along comes Demigod! Demigod is an RTS game, and there is micro-management, but you're not worrying about sending peasants out to harvest gold or making sure that your Space Marines are securely nestled into their bunkers. That's all piddly stuff, beneath the notice of one who is aspiring to ascend to godhood. Instead you focus on your character (who can easily carve their way through waves of soldiers without breaking a sweat), crushing the pitiful mortal forces arrayed before you, clashing with enemy demigods, increasing your power and skills with battlefield experience and acquiring powerful artifacts as you and your team try to emerge victorious over the lesser contenders!

It may sound confusing and overly simple at first. "All I control is one character?" I can hear the laments even now. But, despite its seemingly shallow gameplay, once you get into it, you realize that Demigod is a complex game with enough variations to make sure that no two matches are ever exactly alike. Each Demigod has their own distinct playstyle, and even then, your strategies and options vary based on which skills you choose to focus on.

Gameplay is based around already developed bases that each side controls. Each base has a number of defensive structures, a shop to purchase basic equipment, portals that spawn computer-controlled soldiers (who are nothing more than fodder for your elevation to godhood), and a citadel where you can purchase upgrades for your entire team. The objective is to break the defenses of your opponents and destroy their citadels. In between the bases are various flags and capture points that provide a range of different bonuses to your team. Only the demigods can capture these flags, which creates an interesting dynamic as you frequently have to decide between aiding your troops or taking a detour to try and grab a nearby resource flag. There is a surprising amount of back and forth on the maps. The presence of one or more demigods in an area can radically shift the balance of power on that section of the map. And having your defenses broken does not mean the game is over. In a recent match I played, my team was not only assaulting our enemies' citadel, but we had captured both of their spawn points, which cut off all non-demigod reinforcements for them. I figured the game was a lock, got careless and died. Ten minutes later, they were in our base, doing the same thing to us, and my team eventually lost. I was both astounded and delighted to see such a major swing of momentum when playing with nothing but AI opponents. I imagine that multiplayer matches get even crazier!

So far I've only played the single-player game (though since all the maps are designed for team games, there were numerous AI-controlled Demigods who do provide some decent competition). I wanted to get a feel for the game, try out all eight Demigods and become more knowledgeable about a few of my favorites before diving into the maelstrom of fighting other players. And apparently, their multiplayer setup has been having some major difficulties. But that's alright. I'm fine with honing my skills against computer opponents while they work out the kinks in the system.

The number of maps are pretty limited at the moment, but I'm sure that list will expand in the near future. The developers have also stated that they plan on having free releases in the future that will include new Demigod characters. Demigod is easy to learn (which is good since there isn't a tutorial). I was able to dive right in and start playing. The basic controls and UI layout were very intuitive, and I pick up more advanced strategies and tricks every match I play.

All in all, I've found Demigod to be a very entertaining game that helps to grow the RTS field in new directions (though technically, the free player-created mod for Warcraft III, Defense of the Ancients, has had similar gameplay for a number of years now). This game should be enjoyable for anyone who loves RTS games, and also for those who found the genre, but disliked the amount of micro-management generally required to play most of them.

Here are a couple of related links about the game that you might find interesting and/or useful.

Tom Chick's overviews of each Demigod character

Demigod wiki

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