Demigod provides an original take on the strategy genre dressed in breathtaking visuals, while offering a deep and rewarding gameplay experience. But certain design choices by the developers make this game more suited to hardcore fans than the casual gamer.
Does the mod become a god?
Demigod describes itself as a revolutionary combination of action, strategy and role-playing. What it doesn’t mention is its true source of inspiration: the immensely popular Warcraft III mod Defence of the Ancients (DOTA). The formula of this mod is relatively simple: each side has a fixed base with a core, a shop for items, and a regeneration point to quickly regain health and mana. Units with limited AI (or creeps) spawn automatically and move forward to engage enemy forces, destroying enemy buildings and units in their path until they ultimately destroy the core of the enemy base. Since both sides initially have an equal flow of creeps, the player’s job consists of giving his side an advantage through the use of a strong hero character that has special skills and items.
True to its roots, Demigod was clearly designed as a multiplayer game. One can complete the singleplayer “campaign” in roughly two and a half hours, during which not a single plot twist will surprise the unsuspecting gamer. You duke it out with other demigods to see who has what it takes to ascend to full-fledged godhood. Guess what happens when you finish the game? Judging a game like Demigod by its story would be to miss the point entirely.
Misses Demigod, can Rook come out and play?
Since most of the rts-elements of the game (like the spawning of creeps and gold income) are automated, the player can focus exclusively on controlling his or her demigod. The game’s diverse character roster (which was expanded from 8 to 10 demis through free DLC) is divided into 5 assassin-class demigods which excel in 1-on-1 combat with other demigods, and 5 generals, that aim to gain the upper hand through controlling minions. An immediate favorite is The Rook: a giant moving castle manned by archers and catapults. Other options include Queen of Thorns, a deadly beauty carried around in giant flower, or Lord Erebus, a sneaky vampire that moves in a cloud of bats and likes sinking his teeth in the opposition’s neck.
Once you’ve chosen a demi, you need to decide how you will play. If you can figure out what all the shiny buttons are for, that is. In a somewhat bizarre omission, the developers did not provide a tutorial, so you will have to figure out how to play on your own. The combination of the numerous items and skills and the fact that the game doesn’t pause while you are reading their descriptions, can be a daunting prospect for anyone. As it turns out, the game is relatively easy to pick up, even if you have to do it on the fly while your base is being attacked by enemy forces.
Playing the singleplayer tournament or skirmish mode will pit you against AI opponents with 1 of 4 difficulty settings. Both the easy and normal settings are pushovers, but the hard and nightmare cpu levels provide a real challenge.
However, the core experience of Demigod is to be found online. It is when playing with and against other human players that the game shows its true face: that of a rewarding game which becomes deeper the more you play it, and proves surprisingly difficult to master.
Quite a lot of strategy games on the market today have incorporated a form of levelling hero characters, with upgradeable skills and items, but in most games, this doesn’t really alter the feel of the game. Not so in Demigod. The way in which a round progresses asks the player to make very specific choices on how he wants to develop his demigod. There is a wide variety of possible builds, many of which require radically different item setups. Not all items are available from the start, but should be unlocked by investing favor points which are earned for various achievements during earlier matches. If you randomly spend some skill points you will end up with a character that is proficient mainly in dying. All-in-all, the combination of skills and items to form specific builds feels more like the character-build-madness surrounding games such as Diablo II, than an ordinary strategy game with some rpg ornaments slapped on. This is both a good and a bad thing: good because nothing involves players more than testing out new builds, combining new items and skills. On the other hand this relatively wide array of choices made it well-nigh impossible for the developers to balance the game from its initial release in may 2009. It took Blizzard almost a decade and more than fifteen patches to (more or less) balance Diablo II, and similar problems of over- and underpowered skills and characters plagued the first months of Demigod.
Many of the initial flaws of the game have since been addressed through patches, but these require you to install Impulse, an online content system like Steam or Games for Windows Live. Since you can only update the game through Impulse, installation is required for both online play and the addition of new content (such as the expanded 10-character roster). While one can understand the reason for publishers to use these systems, they never fail to be seriously uncool.
The (demi)god is in the details
The first thing you notice about Demigod is how well-polished its interface looks. Even the windows component for starting up the game (an area in which a lot of other developers just can’t seem te be bothered) looks gorgeous, and this sleek interface carries over to in-game menus and the online tournament.
Things only get better when you fire up a match. The demigods themselves are all beautifully designed, each with its own distinct style and animations. The Rook moves slowly and heavily, while a born predator like Unclean Beast leaps across the battlefield exploding with rage. Especially the death sequences stand out: it would be rather unfitting for a slain demigod to keel over like the hordes it is commanding. Instead one can find the demis exploding in clouds of acid, crumpling to the ground in a million pieces, or leaving their body and taking flight. The animations for attacking and respawning are no less grand.
The arenas are another high point of the game: all of them are absolute masterpieces. But there is a reason they are called arenas and not maps: even the biggest environments are still tiny when compared to some other strategy games. This is not a major issue though, as the size of the maps works well with the game. A more serious flaw is the absence of buildings, trees or other environmental props that litter and diversify the battleground. While the areas outside the arena show some of the most beautiful level design I have seen in a long time, the inside is just flat floor strategically interrupted by impassable parts. While it isn’t really required for the game, some graphical variety would have been nice. Both the small size and the relatively monotonous layout of the arenas seem to be a deliberate design choice by the developers.
You can tell a lot about the graphic quality of a game by looking at the way it represents fire, and by that yardstick demigod rules supreme: flames have never looked more real, and you can see the hot air around anything exposed to fire. The other elements are represented equally beautiful, the lighting is superb, the fog of war actually looks like fog and destroyed buildings collapse in a cloud of dust.
It’s quite a shame that most of the time you won’t even notice the graphic quality of the game, because only during very crowded fights will you zoom in enough to actually see a lot of the details on the smaller units. If you compare this with a game like Dawn of War II, which also has you zoomed out most of the time, Demigod’s environments and overall graphic experience just seem somewhat less overwhelming.
The Sound of Nothingness
The musical score consists of classical pieces. The developers opted for a ‘less is more’ approach, and the music sits in the background with a quiet dignity. You could even go several minutes without hearing any music. Until suddenly, at exactly the right time, an inciting battle march kicks in. It’s saying a lot that after playing the game for dozens of hours, the background music has not been disabled yet. Sound effects for fighting mobs, explosions and teleporting are just right, while the death wails of the demigods remain impressive no matter how many times you’ve heard them. Both the background music and the sound effects do their job extremely well: they enhance the gaming experiences without drawing too much attention to themselves. The only thing that does draw the gamer’s attention is the unreal tournament-style announcer voice. It hits the right tone, without being too over the top. And face it, if you crush your opponents, you want a bass voice shouting “Godlike!” to reward you for it.
Apples and Oranges
As a multiplayer-oriented game, Demigod’s long-time prospects depend on its player base. And this could likely be the game’s biggest weakness. Because of connection issues with the game servers right after the launch of this game, and the relatively slow issuing of bugfixes or new DLC, Demigod’s loyal player base is much smaller than what it could have been.
Two other games that have become serious rivals for Demigod in this respect are League of Legends (freely downloadable and developed by the creators of the original DOTA), and Heroes of Newerth (which is still in beta-phase). Both of these games have a much larger player base than Demigod, though it’s hardly fair to compare a commercial title with a free game and a beta. On the other hand, Demigod has some different gameplay mechanics and just trashes aforementioned games in the graphics department.
Demigod is a hardcore game. This can be seen in a lot of the design choices made by the developers, among which the absence of a real singleplayer campaign and the bare bones leveldesign. This game is all about the match: human player vs human player. Provided you are willing to invest some time in it, Demigod delivers a deep and rewarding experience. If you’re just looking for some casual fun, this game is still a viable option, but you’re likely to lose interest before you get to the good parts.
- A true blend of rts and rpg offering an addictive variety of character builds
- Beautiful character and arena design
- Divine soundtrack
- Lack of tutorial and info on how to play the game
- Requires installation of impulse to update the game (which is required for online play and expanded character roster)
Read on : Gamespot