Like Ron Jeremy, Hercules, or the sun, Demigod does exactly one thing really well: it enables players to pummel each other to death as a wide variety of sleek powerful juggernauts. Like most landmark titles that have gone before, it’s a meticulous fusion of existing genres – only with energy levels so intense and visuals so appealing that it may take a few games to confirm that there’s actually some pretty sophisticated tactical depth underlying it all.
Demigod’s hero-on-hero-besieging mechanics are openly cribbed from the Warcraft III mod Defense Of The Ancients (aka DotA), whose obscene popularity and strategic pedigree have long since eclipsed its parent. But it also suggests the descendant (by marriage) of Shiny Entertainment’s underrated 2001 RPG Sacrifice, with a sprinkling of Shadow Of The Colossus as told from the colossi’s perspective.
As in Defense Of The Ancients, Demigod basically consists of players, usually in teams of either three, four, or five, selecting a powerful hero unit apiece and levelling it up while battling to an enemy citadel across battle maps bottlenecked with siege towers and gibbering hordes of constantly replenishing minions to complicate matters. What prevents such a one-trick formula (which we found pretty tedious in DotA) from getting old fast? Everything, for starters.
Despite a paucity of map selections, everything from L the artwork to the curiously ominous harp music is rich with detail and atmosphere, gracefully conveying a sense of antiquity and cosmic strife. The battlegrounds are mysteriously suspended either in space or a dim underworld, and while there’s an announcer, a Christopher Lee sound-a-like who periodically informs you Unreal Tournament-style whenever a particular demigod is “rampaging” or “godlike”, mortal audience members don’t appear to have been invited.
Especially attractive are the demigods, each of whom looks, sounds, and plays quite distinctly. Split up evenly between ‘generals’ capable of summoning minion armies and ‘assassin’ units who boast greater fire power, all eight ooze with individuality, from a life-stealing vampire to a flora-themed witch with discreet green pasties, a crossbow-wielding Aryan, and a snarling hellhound. There’s also a crunchy mobile granite fortress called The Rook with a hammer the size of a Routemaster and archer towers firing from his clavicles. Thankfully there’s certainly not much in the way of an intrusive backstory, outside of dark forces warring with light and frankly, if you need to know just why giant monsters are duking it out with minotaurs and catapultasauri in carven stadiums, you’re already asking too many questions.
Demigod’s fun lies in experimentation, unlocking abilities, figuring out just what counters what, how much it’ll cost, and whether those towers of yours will hold out long enough for you to port back and unleash it. It may take a few games to get the hang of balancing your demigod’s levelling with which skill paths to favour and how best to spend your slowly accruing gold – your options range from buying essential healing potions to selflessly improving the calibre of reinforcements or towers for the whole team.
Because Demigod is, first and foremost, a multiplayer game. While a tacked-on single-player campaign isn’t missed (especially considering your AI allies), your options are pretty much limited to skirmishes and ‘tournaments’, along with a ranked multiplayer mode called Pantheon – a continuously running point-based contest decided by team games where your goal varies between having to kill 20 demigods, hold three forts, or occupy territory à la Company Of Heroes.
Winning games unlocks favour points that you can use to purchase persistent in-game artefacts, which is a nice idea. Yet while the tallies for single and multiplayer are kept understandably separate, you can easily obtain the highest tier items simply by grinding against AI opponents in multiplayer skirmish. That’s fair enough perhaps, if it’s really worth that much to you, but it does take some of the sweetness out of the reward.
Forum threads are already predictably ablaze with debates as to the over or under-poweredness of certain combos, but the asymmetry contributes a lot to the game’s free-for-all flavour and replayability. Demigod is not without its perplexities. It’s not too fond of being Alt-Tabbed out on, even briefly. There’s no attack-move key (holding down Alt is intended to perform an ‘aggressive move’, but the effective range is about a pixel), and while there are handy shortcuts for selecting your guy and/or his minions, there isn’t one for targeting the nearest enemy demigod, which arguably gives a slight edge in chaotic battles to smaller anthropomorphic types over, say, the Rook.
As of this writing, though, the real deal breaker is Demigod’s connectivity issues, which in its first few days of launch have already become as legendary as a demigod. Between all the hassles in portforwarding, ‘NAT facilitator’ d/c errors, and hours lost to pot-watching a connection progress window that unconvincingly tells you who’s no longer connected to whom rather than why, trying to get Demigod online feels kind of like trying to persuade a supermodel to invite you to the Oscars from inside a jail cell. Gas Powered’s Brad Wardell attributed the debacle to unforeseen numbers of players with pirated copies causing unprecedented server snarls not experienced in beta.
Whether you blame the pirates or the devs for not sufficiently factoring piracy into their front-end capabilities, the networking kinks are truly depressing and will hopefully be resolved by the time you’re reading this, There is reason for hope. Patches addressing the problem have already been issued and, according to Gas Powered, more are on the way, along with two new downloadable demigods. Frankly, they can’t come fast enough.