Review | Demigod
Format: PC | Genre: RTS/RPG | Publisher: Atari | Developer: Gas Powered Games | Out now: £29.99
By Greg Giddens
During Demigod’s long installation, I read the back of the case in eager anticipation. The synopsis told me about a revolutionary combination of action, strategy, and role-playing – and with the installation complete, I began to play. Within five minutes I could check off the first part of the synopsis; another 10 minutes later, I’d checked off the lot.
Demigod does have other attributes that add to the experience, but not enough. The initial 15 minutes show nearly all Demigod has to offer, and that realisation proves greatly disappointing. The idea behind Demigod is great, but the execution insubstantial and lacklustre.
//Campaign for change
The story is, predictably, about a god: the so-called God of the Progenitor, who after sharing some divine information with lesser beings was cast out and stripped of godhood. To replace him, demigods – children of the God of the Progenitor who were born from mortal consorts – were gathered and pitted against each other in combat to gain favour. The winner will take their place among them.
It sounds like an interesting set-up, but unfortunately Demigod does not include a single-player campaign and instead allows only skirmishes and tournaments to be played, either against AI opponents or online. After setting the game up with a great potential story and a gripping cut scene, that only these options are available seems a shame.
With disappointment weighing heavily on my heart, I loaded up a skirmish map, picked my demigod from a choice of eight (four assassins – evil – and four generals -good) and once the level was loaded the battle began. But wait a minute: I haven’t a clue how to play. There’s no tutorial, which left me to commit the most cardinal of gaming sins and read the instruction manual. The shame of it!
Luckily, Demigod is definitely a case of “easy to play, difficult to master,” and within minutes I was able to play with confidence and sufficient mastery to conquer my foes. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of “why bother? To what end?”
Demigod helps to redeem its lack of campaign in many ways, notably in its presentation, which is magnificent to say the least. The music is atmospheric and epic, and matched by crystal clear, eye-watering character and environment design. Add to that the imaginative levels that, although small, offer design innovation and a style seldom seen in modern games, and you have the foundation of Demigod.
Each game begins with the map split in two, one side belonging to you and your allies and the other to your opponents. You must then achieve different objectives, depending on the game mode, to claim victory. In conquest your goal is to destroy the enemy citadel – easier said than done: to get to it you need to fight your way through the enemy demigods, their minions and the ‘Towers of Light’, which act as defensive structures zapping you as you attempt to progress.
You control a single demigod, either one of the assassins or one of the generals. As an assassin you are very strong in combat in your own right, whilst as a general you’re still powerful but are not as powerful when in one-on-one combat. The differences between the two allow for two styles of play to match the abilities each demigod possesses. Generals have the ability to summon certain minions and send them into battle, whilst the assassins cannot; instead, they have more offensive abilities to use when in combat. Both sides still have standard minions that will appear on their own accord rather than being summoned; they appear through portals scattered across the map, and once you posses the flag near the portal you will receive reinforcements through it.
With the generals summoning minions, the assassins using combat abilities and the standard minions littering the map, it can become quite cluttered and confusing, and often this will be the main reason for the death of your demigod. Luckily, after respawning back at you citadel you’ll ready to march straight back into battle, after having a look at the RPG elements Demigod has to offer by visiting the shop next to your citadel.
During battle you gain experience to spend on your demigod, and war points and gold to enhance your citadel and buy items. Upgrading your demigod will give you the standard affair of increased health, mana and combat abilities, whilst buying items allows the generals to summon more powerful minions and to kit your demigod out with armour and consumable items to aid you in your fight for dominance. But the most dynamic aspect of the upgrade system is in enhancing your citadel, which grants your entire side benefits – from increased hit points on the citadel itself, to increased gold and experience for you and your allies. The options to upgrade your Demigod and your citadel, including the experience tree and the item shop, are staggering in choice, helping to lure the RPG fan to the RTS genre and vice versa.
Further helping to blur the line between genres is the game’s fast pace. Units move quickly and the maps are small, so battles are generally over quite quickly, especially when more than two are playing. This pace keeps things interesting, but does come with problems. The path-finding is dodgy, with your demigod and minions often getting stuck behind objects or choosing longer routes than are necessary; and when you’re buying or upgrading the action doesn’t stop, even in single-player mode, so you haven’t much time to read the description for each item to intelligently decide which would suit you best. One-on-one battles tend to be longer, and with less units on screen, a little less confusing; these battles give you a chance to learn how to play and to explore each demigod and the relevant abilities. It’s certainly recommended to try the offline skirmish before playing online.
The action, strategy and role-playing aspects work very well together, and you certainly can’t fault Demigod for that. It provides a different experience to most other games and I applaud the innovation involved. It’s all very solid, but it feels like half a game, the multiplayer half, packaged and sold separately. The inclusion of a campaign, even a basic one, would have allowed Demigod to ascend. The entertainment is there, and each battle you fight will be different from the last, but it’s short-lived and shallow.
I want to see more games attempt what Demigod offers, I want to see innovation by the bucket load; but I also want to see a more complete game, an experience that feels like nothing is missing. Nice try, but divinity is only for the worthy.