Review: Demigod

Demigod.jpg I love Stardock Games. I love the games they make, I love the way they steadfastly support PC games, and I love their commitment to DRM-free releases. I also hold Gas Powered Games in pretty high regard, in spite of some mixed feelings towards their games: I consider Dungeon Siege best as a platform for the Ultima V and VI remakes; I liked Dungeon Siege 2 but considered the Broken World expansion … um, broken; I thoroughly enjoyed the complex RTS Supreme Commander and its expansion; and like most I considered Space Siege abysmal. Regardless of any potential misgivings, I was highly anticipating the release of their team-effort Demigod.

Demigod is billed as a real-time strategy (RTS) game, but is better described as an action-oriented RTS/RPG hybrid with a multiplayer focus. The game is highly competitive in nature as you are pitted against other Demigods in a variety of combat modes. When I say ‘multiplayer focus’ what I really mean is that if you aren’t planning to play this game online or on a LAN with friends, don’t buy it. It is that simple – this is a game that knows what it is, and what it is is a multiplayer battle royale.

But before I continue I have a couple of rants to get out of the way. First, GameStop started selling the weekend before the game was supposed to be released, which quickly led to pirated versions quickly becoming available (due to the lack of DRM ). This resulted in the multiplayer servers being hammered before anyone expected players to be on them, causing loads of issues and a support nightmare. The estimate was that of all players on the servers on the first official release day, only 18,000 were legitimate paying customers, while more than 120,000 were using pirated copies! The combination of piracy and a greedy GameStop releasing early to pre-empt sales on Impulse resulted in disasters on the multiplayer servers. Unfortunately many reviewers for top-sites were trying to get in their play time for evaluation during that exact period, resulting in some critical scores and scathing reviews based on performance issues caused largely by things beyond the scope of the developers control.

My other issue has to do with the resale and trade of used PC games. But wait Mike, I hear you saying, since Stardock uses no DRM, shouldn’t that mean that trading the game after using it like you could for stuff like Warcraft and Diablo and Call of Duty should be no problem? You would think so – but you would be wrong. Demigod installs the Impulse utility, and in order to register on the multiplayer servers, get support, or even be able to patch the game you need to register your game to an account on Impulse. This permanently ties your serial number to the email associated with the account, meaning that you can’t trade it once you’re done … meaning it is no better than Steam or digital downloads or anything else that denies you ‘right of first sale’. Recently Impulse has announced their own ‘marketplace’ that will let you sell your games to other members … but I’ve yet to see how that will work.

Now, back to the game… The first thing you will likely notice when you start is that there is no tutorial. To that I say ‘nonsense’! There is a HUGE tutorial called the Single Player Mode that offers loads of ‘on the job’ training. Seriously, there is no basic means of gaining knowledge to get yourself started, so it really is best just to jump into a quick battle. The opening menu for single player gives you two options: Skirmish and Tournament. Skirmish mode is just a series of battles against the computer, and for each you can chose the setting, rules and allies. Tournament allows you to take your Demigod into a series of battles and gain favor points and eventually become a god!

To be honest, the lack of a tutorial annoyed me greatly as well. I would much rather learn from a quick tutorial than by reading a manual. So when I started, I went into skirmish mode, expecting some sort of hand-holding during the first round, as some games do their tutorials that way. But no such luck … and so I ended up breaking out the manual and reading to get myself acclimated before diving back in. Fortunately the manual is helpful with plenty of clear information regarding the background of the game and the relevant controls and settings.

Technically the game looks and plays every bit as wonderfully as we’d expect from the pre-release videos Matt posted a while ago. The lighting and environments are extremely detailed, which makes it even more amazing that there is no slowdown or lag even when the screen is a mass frenzy of Demigods and minions battling it out! The graphics scale nicely so the game looks good on a low-end system as well as on a very powerful computer. This is particularly surprising given the amount of special effects flying around screen during battle and how detailed and distinct all of the character models are. In addition, choosing different areas truly provides a different feel to battle – the environments are more than just a new coat of paint, they really change how battles look, feel and play.

The audio is also solid, with a very good musical score that keeps things moving during combat. The sound effects for battle and environmental sounds are all very well done, with the explosions that seem to punctuate everything standing out as the best part of the audio. The little remarks from troops now and then get annoying, but nothing like playing Stalin vs. Martians!

The premise is fairly simple: the mythical ‘All Father’ is dead, and it is up to the Demigods to battle it out for favor and supremacy and become the new all-powerful leader. The game is based loosely around mythology of Demigods, though there are fewer presented in the game than in mythology, and those present divide neatly into two categories that don’t accurately represent their historical descriptions. But the game isn’t out to be a history lesson, so the mythology just serves as a nice underpinning to move the game along.

As I mentioned, Skirmish mode is more or less ‘quick play’, where you set up the parameters for battle and then launch right into things. This is also where you get the immediate feel for the game as an action-heavy RTS . You can choose from two types of demigod – General or Assassin. Assassins are powerful tanks who can dish out and take loads of damage but are more dependent on their own abilities. Generals are, as the name suggests, powerful because of their leadership abilities. It is through commanding hordes of minions to do their bidding that a general gains victory.

Gameplay works as expected, with a simple point and click interface: you right click to move and attack, and the objectives are often based around capturing and controlling strategic points around the map. As you engage opponents you gain gold and experience. You can use gold to upgrade your citadel, buy potions and grab other items and upgrades to make you more powerful and better protected. This allows you to gain advantage over others on the battlefield, and when they are defeated they lose gold before respawning, which in turn allows you to become even more powerful, and so on.

Single player mode really is like a massive tutorial, as the AI is pretty decent and makes things fun, but remains static as you learn and progress and eventually presents little challenge. What makes the game work is multiplayer.

At this point, joining a multiplayer match is quick and easy. You can engage in simple one on one battles, or gather up several players on a side for some really crazy battles. Once you begin you immediately try to capture flags and gain experience and stat bonuses attuned to that flag, which will make your Demigod and minions more effective. The game allows you to alter various settings which can drastically change the length and flow of the match. For a slow-paced beginning have everyone start fresh; otherwise you can give everyone gold and some experience and let them launch right into a much faster paced battle.

Demigod is by design a game with fairly narrow appeal. It is action-heavy, multiplayer-centric, and is based around fast matches and no long-term investment. That said, it makes no pretense about being anything else. That is why I make a big point about the lack of tutorial and single player mode. If these things are a really big deal for you, skip Demigod. The game is about learning how things work, about investing the time in becoming more adept at micromanaging your minions and conquering the relatively steep learning curve associated with mastering the frantic battles at higher levels.

The final thought I have is the amazing support. Stardock and Gas Powered Games are turning out updates frequently to help with balance and performance and who knows what else – because honestly I’ve yet to have a problem so I have no idea what they’re fixing. But this is the sort of game that is meant to last for a long time and keep players coming back for more – so patching issues and adding content is critical to keeping fans engaged. And that is a big part of my recommendation to buy – solid game, singular focus, great support combine to make a satisfying experience.

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Excellent graphics
+ Excellent audio including tremendous explosions
+ Exciting gameplay
+ Detailed skill tree with plenty of options
+ Excellent support with minor patches coming at least twice a week since launch

Cons:
– No tutorial
– No real single player campaign
– Limited content – 8 maps, 8 Demigods

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Stardock
Developer: Gas Powered Games
Release Date: 4/14/09
Genre: Strategy
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-10

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!