DotA plus eye-candy
From the Counter-Strike pile of ideas, promoted in other countries through LAN Parties and around here through the Internet Cafe epidemic, back in 2003 a Warcraft III custom map saw the light of day: Defense of the Ancients.
The “easy to learn, hard to master” nature of this creation lunged it from the underbelly of the Internet to the mainstream faster than a viral video featuring two girls and a cup – with both the numerous leagues, competitions and third party lobby support as well as Basshunter’s hit song being proof of that.
Whether you love it or hate it, it’s virtually impossible that you haven’t heard of DotA if you’re a gamer. Nights wasted in humming closets (or “Internet Cafes” in slang), days thrown away on ggclient, mornings lost elaborating new tactics with old heroes, meditating on the immortality of broadband connections and the level of control it takes to master the Necronomicon, all of these should eliminate any shadow of surprise off your faces when you realise there’s no dorm room that doesn’t host a DotA match at any given point, under the blissful technology that is LAN.
I’m saying all these so you can understand why it was almost inevitable for bigger, wealthier guys than the original creator, Eul, who freely made the above-mentioned map, to show up. People who smell the commercial potential of a more visually-attractive and better-marketed DotA.
Enter Gas Powered Games, the people behind Dungeon Siege, Supreme Commander and Space Siege, who start polishing, shining up and spritzing perfume all over the deal. The result? Demigod, a game which enjoys all the advantages of all other GPG titles, but also suffering from the expected handicaps.
Stun that ****, ************!
I wish I could keep Demigod as far away as possible from Defense of the Ancients comparisons, but the similarities are so blatantly obvious (to the point of ostentatious), that they drag dangerously close to a copycat. The premise is ridiculously familiar – two factions (Forces of Light and Forces of Darkness) fight in symmetrical arenas, with each player controlling a Hero with his own inventory and abilities, while the AI spawns waves of mobs that start advancing towards the enemy base.
Granted, Demigod has eight maps (as opposed to one in DotA), collective upgrades, there are multiple game modes and other cute stuff, but the mechanics are the same. We’ve got eight heroes (as opposed to 93 in DotA) and trust me when I say that most, if not all of the abilities in Demigod are taken from DotA.
Before getting to know the mechanics though, I wanted to know what new stuff is laid out on the table. I was expecting on a more elaborate exposition, for one. A story, a well-knit background for the generic, a la chess massacre that splattered blood all over my monitor for days on end. This aspect was entirely omitted however – starting with intro cinematic, an obscure speech in a manner that should pencil out a dark fantasy atmosphere, while not being very convincing or sketching out some special convention.
Even if we add the brief hero presentations to the “storyline” aspect, it’s still pretty slim. Don’t think of a storyline as a fairy tale with a clear beginning or end, a narrative line and so forth – the point is that one of the Gods of the Demigod universe got a kick in the ass for his “indiscretions” and eight candidates fight to take the late one’s place.
The minimalistic nature of the universe’s description wouldn’t be such a big problem if they somehow compensated the lack of novelty of the whole concept, but the (sad) truth is that Demigod doesn’t have a lot of things that haven’t already been said. There is however a slight possibility that this hypothetical downside won’t bother anyone else but me and besides, a critic’s job is to describe, not prescribe.
Even sheep look up…
The heroes are split into two categories: Assassins and Generals. The former focus on their own abilities to cause damage and talents which allow them to make it through the battles on their own, while Generals are mainly support heroes. These will, apparently, be complemented by two others in the near future. Obviously, a large numbers of demigods is not as important as balance, chapter at which it’s to be understood that Demigod, as any creation at the start of its road, has to be improved upon.
One aspect which was really polished is the heroes’ design (as can be felt/seen). Really now, the game’s cover shows a giant chess Rook getting ready to smash an army of helpless grunts with a giant hammer like a sea of bowling pins – this is probably the neatest character of them all as well.
The modeling and animations are perfectly up-to-date and they look absolutely gorgeous. But as with every other multiplayer-oriented game, there comes a time when you forget about graphics, bloom, lighting and polygons and your mind turns every visual glitter into a common signal or confirmation for everything that happens on the map.
You’re not seeing a stone road, but a shortcut towards tower X. You stop seeing a rain of arrows which, as a Spartan once said, blot out the sun, but the area affected by an AoE attack. And sadly, the feeling that these demigods are just polished versions of the old DotA heroes is much too obvious: Regulus is more or less Kardel, The Rook resembles Tiny in a sense, Oak is basically Chen, Unclean Beast is N’aix and so forth.
The heroes do have a relatively rich skill tree though. You’ll never get to have all the abilities in the tree in one match, so to really know a character’s potential you’ll have to play him (or her) for a number of matches. Active skills, passive skills, bonuses – since everything can seem oddly familiar, you’re looking for a completely innovative ability. But there’s none to be found.