Demigod (PC) review
"Though Demigod is an exceptional offering with unique strengths, one that does a fantastic job of straddling the genre fence and moving gaming forward, the multi-player headaches beg the question: is it ultimately worth buying?"
In 1974, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published Dungeons and Dragons, refining the experience of table-top wargaming to the control of a single character in a fantasy world. Twenty-five years later, Gas Powered Games and Stardock Entertainment have teamed up with a similar purpose: bring the focus of a real-time strategy to an individual unit. Demigod which features a pantheon of colorful deities duking it out on a more intimate level, is the fruit of their labor.
Not content to simply refine the RTS, the people at Gas Powered Games have followed in the footsteps of their gaming forefathers even further, turning to RPG elements to provide Demigod with its own personality. Demigods level up over the course of a game, earning skill points to spend on new abilities and gold with which to purchase items for themselves and upgrades for their team. The amount of variety in builds and strategies in Demigod is staggering, providing each of the eight demigods with plenty of options.
Demigods are divided into two categories, assassins and generals. Regardless of your choice, each side will automatically generate wave after wave of units to throw at the enemy. These "creeps" spend their time marching obediently to their deaths without your direct control. Generals are the exception to the rule, as they can summon small cadres of minions to command, but assassins prefer the lone wolf approach.
Despite their solitary tendencies, even the assassins benefit from having teammates. Demigod is a thoroughly multi-player focused title. The single-player campaign is skeletal at best, consisting of a series of skirmishes against the AI. Whatever its flaws, the mode does at least serve as a great practice field and is a nice way to try out your builds and tactics before taking them to multi-player.
Multi-player adds a few layers of complexity to Demigod that you won't get playing with the AI. Different teams of demigods can create strong synergies between skills and builds. The game seems to reward team play well, with smart planning and execution trumping higher levels or strength in numbers. Balance is even and well-executed, with each demigod in possession of adaptable and unique skill sets. Healing and minion-based demigods can outlast their more damage-based counterparts. Evening things out is the ability of damage dealers to burst right through the defensive types. It is a rare thing for a game this deep to be so well-balanced. Kudos for the developers are in order.
Indeed, there are plenty of praises that one might heap upon Demigod. Not all of them revolve around the wonderfully involving gameplay, either. From the demigod character models to the epic environments in which they so gleefully slaughter one another, Demigod's presentation is beautiful. Depending on your choice of semi-deity, voice acting ranges from grating to gratuitous, but most importantly it all works to imbue each demigod with additional personality.
Though Demigod may have shipped with only eight maps, the four gameplay modes lend enough extra spice to make them work. Conquest mode is straightforward enough, with the destruction of your enemy's citadel resulting in victory. Other game types see you attempting to destroy outlying fortresses while protecting your own, or attempting to kill a certain number of enemy demigods. My favorite of the variants has players working to capture and hold the flags that provide their team with various bonuses for a certain amount of time. While it's true that there's nothing particularly ground-breaking here, each mode is different from the next and provides opportunities for different builds and styles to excel.
Demigod just wouldn't be a religious experience without some insidious, diabolical flaws, however, and the title does not disappoint. I've already mentioned the lacking single-player mode, which feels more like a fighting game than a strategy or role-playing campaign. Though the maps are simple and straightforward, pathfinding can still be spotty (usually at the worst of moments). Favor Points, the game's way of awarding you with persistent items for earning achievements and winning battles, are terribly bugged as well, which sometimes results in your hard-earned items disappearing entirely. Fortunately for Demigod, most of these are minor flaws that barely manage to bring down the game as a whole.
For that, we turn to Demigod's multi-player matchmaking system. I have personally spent hours attempting to get into a game of Demigod with no luck whatsoever. When the game was first released, the few matches that I did manage to participate in were so much fun that they only served as a painful taste of what could have been. I have forwarded ports, I have set up more DMZs than eastern Europe, I have sacrificed small animals to my router and yet no matter what I have tried, Demigod simply refuses to work.
Lest you think that somehow my technical ineptitude is the root of the problem, know that these are well documented issues affecting numerous players. Stardock and GPG have been hard at work since Demigod's release, furiously coding patch after patch to try and get the matchmaking system to where it should be, but with limited success. In this respect, Demigod is not entirely unlike an MMO with growing pains. Unfortunately, as of the time of this writing, the fixes remain in beta. Those people brave enough to install beta patches to their game have reported mixed results, indicating that further work will likely be needed.
Though Demigod is an exceptional offering with unique strengths, one that does a fantastic job of straddling the genre fence and moving gaming forward, the multi-player headaches beg the question: is it ultimately worth buying? That depends. Like any divine power, the game stands to benefit from a little faith. Gamers who trust that the kinks will eventually be ironed out and that the bugs will be properly addressed should run, not walk, to purchase the title. The more skeptical among our number will likely find themselves waiting for word from on high that things are finally going according to Demigod's plan. The only certainty is that Demigod is a fantastic game with one serious flaw preventing it from ascending to true godhood.
Freelance review by Frank Austin (May 10, 2009)
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