Demigod is similar to Defense of the Ancients All Stars (DotA), but feels more like Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War than Warcraft 3. It has that pacing, with the back-and-forth around flags.
If you don’t know DotA, it is a custom map for Warcraft 3 that constitutes a new game and is starting to spawn a new sub-genre. You control one hero (of 80+) who levels up and buys items in classic CRPG fashion. Your goal is to destroy the enemy base, which is guarded by towers along the three entry paths. Waves of troops spawn at the end of each path at each base, crashing at the intersection. You support your troops, destroy enemy troops, and fight the enemy heroes doing the same, until one of you destroys the other’s base. It is a great game, and Warcraft 3 is worth buying just to play it.
Demigod is a lot of fun, and I’m not even playing it to its full potential. I have been playing alone with computer bots, learning how the heroes work. It is possible that it will all turn to ashes once I play real humans, who exploit imbalances instead of relying on an “as intended” AI, but I have been enjoying my time. I expect it to be even better on the LAN.
DotA has dozens of heroes, while Demigod has 8 demigods. I still think that 8 is too few, given that there are 5 vs. 5 maps, but they plan to add at least 2 more as a free content addition. DotA was just the one map, while Demigod has 8 maps. Each has a recommended number of players, but you can ignore that, and you can set different victory conditions. Play “Slaughter” on the “Crucible” map for a short, bloody game.
The 8 demigods look pretty good, in varying ways. They are divided into two categories: assassins and generals. Assassins play a lot like DotA heroes: you have one badass in a world full of cannon fodder. Generals play more like RTS heroes: you have one pretty cool guy with his own army, again in a world full of cannon fodder. I expected to gravitate towards the generals, but the first two characters I tried were assassins.
I have a simple approach to trying out a character: play one or two skirmishes (single map fight) to see what the buttons are, then play a tournament (eight skirmishes chained together) to try a couple of builds and get to know him/her. That totals about two three hours, since a normal game is 15 minutes (ranging down to 5 depending on the map and objective). I have now done this at least once with every demigod.
Some demigods are more visually distinctive than others. On one extreme, you have The Rook, who is larger than your citadel. That’s him on the cover. In the middle, you have Regulus (with glowing wings active) and the Queen of Thorns (despite appearances, her mount is not a killer cabbage). On the other extreme, you have Lord Erebus, who can hide among his troops pretty well. You may be drawn to the demigods that look more awesome, but you will note the effectiveness of being just a little less noticeable.
A difference from DotA is that each demigod has more skills than levels. In DotA, if the game goes long enough, you get everything, probably in the mid-game unless you are buying attributes instead of skills. In Demigod, you pick a few skill paths to follow, and you can try some of the others next game. You can still pick attributes for the passive boosts. If you skip that last option, this means that you can get more skills than DotA offers in fewer levels. Options are good.
The controls are simpler and more effective. You do not need to memorize the hotkeys for each character, which you may remember as a nightmare if you were trying to play Chen or Kael to maximum effectiveness. You do not use the number pad to activate items. Everyone uses 1-4 for skills, F1-4 for items. Done. If you cannot remember what numbers your skills are, they are in order with large, friendly icons on your screen. Click to select, right click to move or attack, alt-right click to attack move. If you hold control, mouse-over will ignore everything except Demigods, to help you target. Those last two are not in the manual.
That is a problem: almost nothing is in the manual. There is no tutorial. The manual explicitly takes the position that learning from either is boring, so have a brief summary and go try it. This is hardly ideal. It lists no stats, no skill trees, nothing you can work from. Conveniently, players will create guides to everything anyway, so you will be able to find it online, but this is not user-friendly. If you were not already a gamer, I could not recommend it to you, because you are thrown into combat with no training. I expect to learn basic things weeks from now, because I did not stumble on them on my own.
Visually, the game is impressive but not distracting. Instead of the Warcraft 3 cartoons, you have modern, 3D-rendered characters. I need to spend some single-player games just wandering around to sight-see. Your fights take place on floating platforms of varying kinds, and you can usually send enemy minions flying off the edge with your big attacks. On the “Prison” level, look down. The troops are a little more sci fi than fantasy, once you realize your “archers” have some sort of energy blaster.
The camera controls are better than anything I have seen in any other game, ever. In a video game industry that seems to take perverse pleasure in using horrid camera angles at crucial moments, this is a superlative example that other games should steal blatantly. You have complete control over where the camera centered, which direction it faces, how rotated your view is, and how closely you are zoomed. You can do all this with keyboard controls, or a mouse and two key-strokes. You can have the screen follow your demigod or look somewhere else while he is fighting. It is intuitive and effective.
There are only two flaws with the camera and map. First, The Rook is so huge that targeting around him is difficult. Maybe that is intentional, but it can be inconvenient to play him. Second, I do not seem to be able to use the mini-map to target my teleport scrolls. If I want to teleport home, I want to be able to aim at the citadel on the mini-map, not zoom and pan until I can see it. It speaks to how well it works that this is the harshest criticism I have, especially since the latter is a momentary inconvenience.
Back to gameplay, there are more small goals to be reached, rather than DotA’s few key buildings. Playing DotA, the loss of a tower is a big thing: you have three in each lane and two as a final defense. In Demigod, there are dozens of towers, and while you do not want to fight next to enemy towers, they are not terrifying engines of destruction. In numbers, they provide defense to keep the enemy from chasing you into your base. More dynamically, you can see flags flipping possession.
Flags work a lot like Dawn of War, Team Fortress, or anywhere else where you capture them by standing on them. In Demigod, each has a bonus attached, such as more mana, faster cooldowns, or a gold mine. They also help you upgrade your base, and one of the game types is won by controlling flags. You can watch them flip on your minimap, and the computer warns you. This happens all the time, so the battle is constantly moving. Very dynamic.
Different maps change that pace. “The Brothers” and “Mandala” have flags spread across a huge diameter, giving you a dispersed battle. “Crucible” gives each base one exit, and the two are almost within sight distance of each other, so you must choose to brawl there or make a dash for the flags. “Prison” is a very small, wide-open map with a central battlefield and little else. “Exile” is two interlocking spirals, a large map that spreads the fight, with extra health crystals on the far corners from the bases.
Coming from behind might be difficult. If an enemy demigod out-levels you, he can probably keep killing you. The further ahead you are, the more resources you have to get even further ahead. On most maps, you can even push to the enemy’s base and take over the portals that spawn his troops, giving you even more troops and all within striking distance. One of the game modes is first to 10 kills, and if your team gets the first few, the enemy may be too out-leveled to come back. On the other hand, losing a troop-summoning portal can be a good thing if you are behind, because you can farm them for gold and experience. That can create a perverse incentive to avoid getting more support troops, because they are feeding the enemy.
On the other hand, it really looks epically awesome to lead a final assault on the citadel with fully upgraded troops and control of all the portals. You just need pitchforks and torches while you storm the castle.
Upgraded troops? Yes indeed. In DotA, you improved your troops only in the late game, by destroying buildings in the enemy base. In Demigod, you buy improvements like items, with higher level citadels giving you access to better improvements. Give them better attacks or upgrade the armor on your buildings. Buy teamwide improvements to gold and experience gains. Add priests, angels, catapultasauri, and giants. Yes, the siege engine is the catapultasaurus.
Why would you spend money on this, when you could be buying items and artifacts for yourself? First, winning is good. Second, how can you not love a catapultasaurus? Third, favor is awarded at the end, and there is a prize for buying the most base upgrades. You can cash in favor to get one item for each fight. And favor rewards recognize those who contribute to team success in ways other than pwning the enemy, such as capturing flags, clearing troops and buildings, upgrading your troops, or providing assists on kills. (Capturing flags also awards experience: good thing.)
Items and artifacts? Stuff to buy. Lose DotA’s dozen shopkeeper NPCs, in favor of two buildings and a couple of tabs. Get yourself a hat or two to start, then start saving up for artifacts, which are more expensive and far more effective. If you pick up 1000 hit points, 10% life and or/ mana leech, or something that makes your normal attack AE, the game has changed in your favor. The artifact shop is usually controlled by a flag, so you might need to fight for it. Don’t skip all the basic items, though, since a few are rather impressive and cost-effective.
Against the computer, that fight will not be very hard. On “Normal” difficulty, the AI is a cakewalk. The DotA bots are much stronger players, although both share that ability to know exactly when to start teleporting out. I cannot tell you how many times the enemy has escaped while literally one attack from death. That ability aside, you will crush it. I should move up to Hard difficulty, now that I have tested them all at normal. (I did not want to get an unbalanced assessment by playing half of them on Hard.) I have read that the computer just cheats on Nightmare, for example getting the final tier skills at level 6, so I am not interested in that right now.
The only real difficulty of the AI is that your allies have the same AI. The only time I lost, my allies had 2 kills between them. No matter how bad the opposing AI is, you cannot win a 3-on-1 when the enemy has about 40,000 extra gold to buy artifacts.
I have yet to test the online play. Some games have toxic online communities, and I am always hesitant to dip my toe in the pool. Demigod has had connectivity problems because of massive piracy. Stardock is well known for its stance against instrusive DRM, and that led to something like 8-to-1 illegal copies trying to connect to their servers. I would think that to be a solvable problem if they can tell which are not legitimate copies, but I have not pursued the issue. For me, DotA was a LAN game, not a Battlenet game, and I just need to spread some copies of Demigod before our next LAN party.
This has been a scattered walk through the game, which is probably how you will learn it given the lack of manual guidance. Pick a point that looks interesting and wander from there. Pick a character that looks interesting and learn how to use him/her. Tomorrow, I will post about my thoughts on each of the eight demigods.
Amazon has the game for $35, so don’t over-spend.