It's been hard to post lately. I have lots of good game design ideas, but writing about them often gets shelved due to the plethora of game demos sitting on my desktop to try. Then, these inevitably get shelved so that I can go and pwn it up in TF2.
But then, sometimes, a new game comes along that is actually interesting enough that I don't feel like playing TF2 whenever I log on. At the moment, that game is Demigod, and I am pleasantly surprised to say that it will probably keep me amused for some good amount of time yet.
I actually wish that I was off playing it right now, but I don't want to be selfish. I want you to experience the joy of it also. Ok, ok, that's not true. I am selfish. I care little for your joy. However this is a game whose online appeal is marred by quite a lack of player numbers, and in my poor isolated Australia (land of the high pings) we are below critical mass to be able to easily get a game going sometimes. Thus, I write.
Let's save some time and do this in bullet form:
- Demigod is the first of the DotA clones (Defense of the Ancients, a Warcraft III mod). There are 2 other clones whose release is in the near future; Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends).
- I never played DotA. I tried once and found it completely impossible to learn, and therefore shite. Demigod has no tutorial, but it does offer several difficulties of enemy AI players. The game is well designed so it is intuitive to pick most things up.
- Players control one of eight demigods. Yes, this is much less than the apparently 80-ish that DotA has. No, I don't believe that all of DotA's 80 classes played radically different from each other. Yes, Demigod's classes do. In addition there are a lot more different skills to choose from as you level, meaning many different "builds" to end up with.
- There is a full underlying RPG-esque combat system, but it is much abridged and all the various numbers are a lot more transparent. The upshot of all this means that you don't have to become a forum lurker to figure out how to play the game, but at the same time there is still a lot of diversity to toy with. I think it's struck a good balance there.
- Most games that people make are 3v3, but you can have any combination of 1-5 players per team (you can do 1v5 if you really want to). Games take around 30 minutes usually.
- The goal of the game is to conquer the enemy's base. This is best done by two separate yet equally important routes:
1) Kit yourself out with lots of shiny items and level up to obtain lots of shiny skills. This in turn comes about by killing wave after wave of enemy computer-controlled monsters. This is most fun due to the rapid leveling speed, and just what I need after too many hours grinding it out in MMO's. You get a hefty bonus for killing enemy demigods as well, and even if you can't kill them you will want to at least harass them to stop them from leveling up as fast as you.
2) Upgrade your team's war effort. This includes upgrading the turrets that defend your base, increasing your team's gold acquisition, etc, but the most important upgrade is to improve the fodder spawning from your portals so that it is less fodder-like and more base-smashing-zergfest like. The better upgrades are unlocked when you reach certain levels of "War Score", which are points that you get for controlling more of the various flags around the map than the enemy does (which each offer various bonuses of their own).
So there's some nice tactical considerations there. Do you focus on AoE skills to level up faster, or more damage/stuns/snares etc to harrass enemy players better? Do you upgrade yourself so that you can perform better, or do you upgrade your team's war effort? Do you concentrate your demigods in one area of the map to try to get some kills, or do you spread out and attempt to control a lot of flags?
Apart from these interesting design considerations, the game just works. It's a blast to play. The production values are high - everything looks top notch, the character's dialogue is amusing, the music is catchy. Each demigod is fun to play in a different way - from the giant castle that can sprout mini turrets from the ground and feed upon enemy turrets, to the "Unclean Beast" who is a force of unstoppable melee destruction, to the teleporting vampire lord who converts enemy monsters to become his minions, to the Angelic archer type that can snipe enemies from half way across the map.
Now, some people among my many legions of followers are not entirely enamored by competitive PvP games. However, note that you can easily play co-op with friends against teams fielded entirely by AI controlled demigods, at 4 different difficulties. There is also single player mode (yes, you can pause this whenever you want) so that you can go it completely alone, and I've found that I've got a lot of hours out of this. Single player also features a "tournament" mode in which you are paired with various combinations of the other demigods, across a variety of maps and game types, to see who can achieve the highest overall score. This becomes quite tough on the hardest difficulty, so provides a lasting challenge and incentive for the achiever within.
There were, of course, awful connectivity issues at launch. However I believe them when they say it's all fixed now, as I have not had a single connection problem while I've been playing. However, if I attempt to play a game with players on the other side of the world (300 ping is probably the limit that feels tolerable), the game will be a total lagfest. This is because the game uses peer-to-peer connections and so must (fairly) run at the speed of the slowest connection. The moral of the story is: play with people close-ish to you and you will never have any problems.
To make up for the rough launch, Stardock have provided a very generous demo. It is generous because it allows you to play the most common map and game type, choosing from 4 of the 8 demigods, for as long as you damned well please. At first this seemed like a bad business choice - why buy the cow when I can get the milk for free?
But after a week of playing the demo, I found myself happily forking the dough over to try out the other maps and characters. The thing is just a blast to play, catering nicely to my inner competitive PvP player, casual achiever, and of course the loot whore within.